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The Washington Independent

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

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

Paolo Reyna
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | Jan 20, 2010

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.

Paolo Reyna | Paolo is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, majoring in International Studies with a Latin American emphasis. During the fall semester of 2012, he had the opportunity to study abroad in Peru, which piqued his interest in international growth. He learned about the disparities that impact indigenous peoples, got a taste of Peruvian culture, and improved his Spanish skills. Mitchel interned with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, conducting research on food security in Latin America, after being inspired by his foreign experience. He wants to work in international development and for a government department, writing legislation. He loves playing intramural basketball and practicing for the Chicago marathon when he is not thinking about current events in Latin America.


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