We Can Interrogate Abdulmutallab Even After He’s Mirandized

December 30, 2009 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

Yesterday I debated Pat Buchanan on MSNBC about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be bomber of Northwest Airways Flight 253. Out of nowhere, he started saying how we needed to deny Abdulmutallab pain medication to get him to speak, and that by charging him in federal court and reading him his rights we were jeopardizing our ability to collect intelligence about al-Qaeda in Yemen or potential follow-on plots. This is a purely hypothetical concern, I replied, and both on that show and on Rachel Maddow’s last night I tried to point out that no one I’ve talked to in intelligence or law enforcement has complained about not getting good information out of Abdulmutallab. It’s just a made-up thing.

But it’s a persistent thing. Tom Ridge, the former homeland security secretary, blanched, “He gets his Miranda warnings? The only information we get is if he volunteers it?” And sure enough, now that Abdulmutallab has gotten his lawyer and invoked his rights, the cry intensifies. Michael Goldfarb at The Weekly Standard laments, “Now he’s got a lawyer, and we can’t interrogate him, we can’t smack him around, we can’t lay a finger on him.”

Well, yes, we can’t smack him around, and that’s a good thing, particularly if we want good intelligence and to promote the rule of law. Just because the guy lawyers up doesn’t mean we can’t interrogate him.

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials I’ve talked to in the last several hours have been flabbergasted to hear this line of argument, because at its heart, it betrays a fundamental ignorance of the process. One who has experience in these matters called it “flat-out ignorance” to claim that the “criminal justice system or law enforcement methods impede the collection of actionable intelligence. There is no basis in fact.”

Why? Let me turn this over to a U.S. official deeply familiar with intelligence matters who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the Abdulmutallab case. “I cannot speak from first-hand knowledge of the present matter, but if a terror suspect like Abdulmutallab invokes [his] right to silence, it does not mean law enforcement officials must cease the interview,” the official said. “It simply means inculpatory information probably will not be used in court.”

Got that? Mirandization is about admissibility in court. This ought to explain why law enforcement and intelligence officials aren’t complaining about Abdulmutallab. It’s just Obama’s political enemies, who have no problem inventing a concern based on absolutely nothing and then promoting their ignorance about security matters to a pliant media.