Sessions to Mueller: Why Didn’t We Torture Abdulmutallab?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 2:49 pm

It’s quite a spectacle to watch members of Congress — all of whom have sworn an oath to support the U.S. Constitution — brag about their disdain for the right to due process, which is guaranteed by the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment (even for foreign nationals suspected of crimes in the United States).

And yet that’s exactly what Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, did when he sent out a press release boasting of an exchange he had today with FBI Director Robert Mueller during a hearing to examine the intelligence failures leading up to the unsuccessful Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253. From Sessions’ release:

FBI DIRECTOR MUELLER: “In this particular case, in fast-moving events, decisions were made—appropriately, I believe, very appropriately—given the situation…”

SEN. SESSIONS: “I don’t think you can say it’s appropriate. We don’t know what that individual knows, learned while he was working with al Qaeda, and we may never know, because he now has got a lawyer who’s telling him to be quiet.”

Let’s recall a point Spencer made on MSNBC last month in response to Pat Buchanan’s laments that the Nigerian suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was not immediately subjected to “hostile interrogation” — or what most of us would call torture.

We’ve seen we’ve gotten a lot of bad information from torturing people. I don’t really understand the argument that because every single time we have a new emergency, we have to forget about the hard lessons we’ve learned in the past over this. And then secondly, by every standard that we’ve seen so far, every piece of reporting, the guy cooperated. He immediately said he’s a member of al Qaeda. He started talking threateningly about how there were other attacks coming. So I’m not sure where we make this jump to the idea that we’re not getting information from the guy.


The White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, has said Mr. Abdulmutallab provided “useable, actionable intelligence,” but declined to specify what it was. A law enforcement official said Mr. Abdulmutallab explained who gave him the bomb, where he received it and where he was trained to use it, among other things.

Eventually, Mr. Abdulmutallab stopped talking and asked for a lawyer, which he received about 30 hours after his arrest. It was not clear when in that timeline that the F.B.I. read him his Miranda rights.

But Sessions continued:

SESSIONS: “It’s not just the ability to prosecute this individual, but whether, if he were properly interrogated over a period of time, we may find out that there are other cells, other plans, other Abdulmutallabs out there boarding planes that are going to blow up American citizens.”

Here we go. What does Sessions mean by “properly interrogated”? What evidence is there, in the wake of news reports that Abdulmutallab immediately started talking upon his arrest, to suggest that he was not properly interrogated?

Make no mistake — when Sessions is talking about “proper interrogation,” this is a euphemism. He’s talking about waterboarding. He’s talking about torture. Elements of the Republican Party have become so completely Cheney-ized that they view due process, which is enshrined in the Bill of Rights, as “inappropriate” and maintain that torture should be the tactic of first resort whenever someone is suspected of being a terrorist.

And as Adam Serwer deftly pointed out this morning, Senator-elect Scott Brown (R-Mass.) represents the GOP’s continued acceptance of torture as standing operating procedure during interrogations. From Brown’s acceptance speech last night:

And let me say this, with respect to those who wish to harm us, I believe that our Constitution and laws exist to protect this nation — they do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in wartime. In dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them.

Raising taxes, taking over our health care, and giving new rights to terrorists is the wrong agenda for our country.

Serwer notes:

This is the new normal for Republicans: You can be denied rights not through due process of law but merely based on the nature of the crime you are suspected of committing. Brown’s rhetorical framing, that jettisoning the legal system we’ve had for 200-plus years represents “tradition” while granting suspected criminals the right to legal counsel represents liberalism gone mad is new, and I suspect we’ll hear it again. “New rights” recalls the term “judicial activism,” which conservatives have redefined to mean “decisions Republicans don’t like” instead of decisions that overturn precedent. “New rights” can be broadly defined as upholding the legal rights of individuals based on the Constitution, rather than arbitrarily according to the whim of politicians. For Brown and the GOP, if you’re accused of terrorism, you’re automatically guilty, so legal representation is frivolous. These guys look at the Constitution like David Vitter and John Ensign look at the Ten Commandments.

Let’s also be clear: Brown, a former military lawyer, isn’t merely talking about denying people their day in court, he’s talking about torturing people who are suspected of being terrorists. Brown says he doesn’t think waterboarding is torture, which is on par with thinking evolution is fake and global warming is a hoax. He thinks not torturing people suspected of a crime or detained by the military is granting them “new rights.” We know where this goes.

Ladies and gentlemen, the new face of the Republican Party.



Comment posted January 20, 2010 @ 4:57 pm

Abmutallab couldn't keep his mouth shut from the time he was taken into custody. He produces actionable intel, so what EXACTLY is the problem? Or is it that that pesky Constitution gets in the way much, MUCH too often?

And the baggers want to align themselves with the GOP?

Sessions to Mueller: Why Didn’t We Torture Abdulmutallab? | The Lie Politic
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Mie's America
Comment posted January 21, 2010 @ 1:55 pm

Your article is absurd and you should be ashamed.

NOWHERE did Sen. Sessions suggest the crotch bomber should be tortured. Sessions only concern was that the decision to place him in the criminal courts as opposed to a military tribunal seems to have taken place on some junior level.

President Obama recognizes he has the authority to designate terrorists as enemy combatants. Does that make him a believer in torture too?

There is no doubt we missed actionable intelligence that might help foil future attacks. If so, we can thank the numbskulls like yourself who seem to prefer protecting terroists to protecting Americans.

Shame on you.

Mike's America
Comment posted January 22, 2010 @ 10:56 am

The minute the crotch bomber was informed he had the right to remain silent he stopped talking.

He could have told us so much more about where he was trained in Yemen and who else might be training there for other attacks.

But instead, he is being treated as a common criminal instead of soldier in war.

He's laughing at us and you.

Comment posted January 22, 2010 @ 3:39 pm

Did you see my statement about actionable intel?

He's on American soil. The Constitution applies. Period. I suggest you read the document before making ridiculous statements about civilian court vs.military tribunal.

Your fear-mongering is reminiscent of Chickenhawk Cheney. Personally, I don't live in fear, as you apparently do.

Abmutallab isn't laughing at all. He'll be languishing in a cell for the rest of his worthless life, but I'm laughing at you! LOL!

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[...] the Constitution, has voiced his concern that the Christmas bomber really needed to be “properly interrogated” instead of being allowed to ask for a [...]

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Comment posted February 15, 2010 @ 11:14 pm

I hate to inject a thoughtless comment into this sort of discussion, but here goes, after several hours of watching him in action in the Senate Finance Committee on C-Span (during a snow storm, I was working from home), the impression I have is that Sessions is an idiot

Comment posted February 16, 2010 @ 4:14 am

I hate to inject a thoughtless comment into this sort of discussion, but here goes, after several hours of watching him in action in the Senate Finance Committee on C-Span (during a snow storm, I was working from home), the impression I have is that Sessions is an idiot

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Comment posted December 3, 2010 @ 4:26 am

President Obama recognizes he has the authority to designate terrorists as enemy combatants. Does that make him a believer in torture too?

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