Questions for Abdulmutallab
The would-be airplane bomber needs to be
December 30, 2009
Wall Street Journal
On the third day after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's
attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner, President Barack Obama finally
interrupted his Hawaiian vacation to announce that our government "will not
rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable." But how
are we going to do that now that the terrorist is lawyered up and is even
challenging what should be a legal gimme: giving the government a DNA
It was not wise to try enemy combatants such as
Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker in the 9/11 attacks, in our
regular criminal courts. And it is unwise that Mr. Obama has decided to try
some Guantanamo detainees in New York City. Never in our country's history
prior to 2001 have we done so, for good reason.
The constitutional protections designed to ensure a
person is not wrongfully convicted have no relevance to wartime military
needs. The argument that our system is strong enough to try a terrorist is a
non sequitur. It equates to the argument that if a person is in excellent
health, she can withstand being set ablaze.
Moussaoui tied the Virginia federal court in knots
for over three years, principally by insisting on the Brady rule, which
requires that the defendant be given access to any evidence that could be
exculpatory. (Moussaoui was convicted because he pleaded guilty, not because
there was a trial and jury decision.)
The Brady rule is a needed constitutional
protection for the accused bank robber, where the government wants to
produce only the one witness who identifies the defendant as the perpetrator
but not the other six witnesses who cannot identify him. It does not work
where a terrorist demands access to all the servicemen and women who
witnessed his capture on the battlefield.
Yet even the legal issues of a trial are of little
importance compared to the threat to our security putting this terrorist
into the regular criminal justice system presents. Abdulmutallab is in
effect in possession of a ticking bomb, but we cannot interrogate him. His
right to remain silent, as required by the Miranda rule, thwarts Mr. Obama's
hollow attempt on Tuesday to "assure" us he is "doing everything in [his]
power" to keep us safe.
Questions need to be answered. Where was
Abdulmutallab trained? Who trained him? Where is the training facility
located? Where is the stash of PETN, the explosive used in the bomb? What
are the techniques he was told to use for getting through airport security?
Was there a well-dressed man who helped him board the plane without a
passport as claimed by another passenger? And, most important, are future
Yes, we could try him first and then interrogate
him. But by then the information is stale, especially if he utilizes the
same legal challenges Moussaoui did to drag out the process for years.
As the president told us, there were indeed "human
and systemic failures" that "contributed to this potential catastrophic
breach of security." By placing this terrorist into the regular criminal
process, he continues and magnifies those failures, which could leave to an
Abdulmutallab is not a United States citizen. By
detonating a bomb on an airplane filled with 269 civilians, he committed an
illegal act of war. A military commission, which has been used for such
conduct since Gen. George Washington, will give him due process. But first,
he must be interrogated.
Ms. Toensing was deputy assistant attorney
general in the Reagan administration, where she supervised all terrorist