Intel Chief Says New Interrogation Unit Ought to Have Questioned Abdulmutallab
All three officials testifying before the Senate’s homeland security panel — Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence; Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center; and Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security — all said they were not consulted about charging Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the culprit of the near-attack on Northwest Flight 253, in civilian court. But Blair went further.
“I have been a part of the deliberations which have established this High-Value [Detainee] Interrogation Unit,” Blair said. The purpose of establishing that unit last year was “for exactly this purpose” — to make a decision about whether to prepare an interview of a detainee “for federal prosecution or other means.” But “we did not invoke the HIG,” Blair said. “In this instance, we should have. … We need to make those decisions more carefully. It was made on the scene. Should have been taken using the HIG format. It was not.”
Blair did not say that the Justice Department should not have charged Abdulmutallab in civilian court. He was making a point about following a process established about pre-charge interrogation. But Blair’s comments represent the closest thing to the first dissent within the Obama administration about charging Abdulmutallab in civilian court, something the Republican Party has relentlessly attacked President Obama and the Justice Department for doing. From a policy perspective, Blair is certainly endorsing, for the first time, using the HIG for domestic interrogation.