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Intel Chief’s Abdulmutallab Testimony Mess Gets Worse

What were the wages of Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair’s botched Senate testimony Wednesday about being cut out of the loop on the interrogation of would-be Northwest Airlines Flight 253 bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab? Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Robert Bennett (R-Utah) announced Friday that they plan to introduce a bill preventing the Justice Department and the FBI from making unilateral decisions on a foreign terrorist suspect’s interrogation, a move that will limit the Mirandization of those suspects and potential jeopardize their prosecution.

Collins said in a statement that the fact that the FBI read Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights “likely foreclosed the collection of additional intelligence information.” But over the weekend, The Associated Press published the most comprehensive account to date of Abdulmutallab’s interrogation and found no evidence that Mirandization inhibited interrogators’ access to valuable information. FBI interrogators, to the contrary, read him his Miranda rights after they were satisfied that he had no further information about any further attacks. From the piece:

The suspect spoke openly, said one official, talking in detail about what he’d done and the planning that went into the attack. Other counterterrorism officials speaking on condition of anonymity said it was during this questioning that he admitted he had been trained and instructed in the plot by al-Qaida operatives in Yemen.

The interview lasted about 50 minutes. Before they began questioning Abdulmutallab, the FBI agents decided not to give him his Miranda warnings providing his right to remain silent.

Lawmakers and commentators who claim that Mirandizing Abdulmutallab jeopardized his interrogation still can’t point to a shred of evidence. But they can point to an embarrassing and inconvenient bit of testimony from the top U.S. intelligence official, despite his attempts hours later to walk it back. If this forthcoming bill provokes an actual legislative battle, will Blair testify* in favor *of it? Or will he say it’s unnecessary, before a panel of justifiably skeptical conservative senators? Or will he not stick around in the Obama administration long enough for the question to matter?

The American Civil Liberties Union has already come out against the proposal. Its executive director, Anthony Romero, said in a statement, ”It is extremely disturbing that members of the U.S. Congress are essentially calling for Obama administration officials to discard the Constitution when a terrorist suspect is apprehended – as if the Constitution should be applied on a case by case basis. The whole idea of having constitutional protections is that they be applied across the board for all those accused of a crime. That is the only way for us to rely on our justice system and its results. Obeying the Constitution is not optional.”

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