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Gates Defends the Administration on Abdulmutallab

Carrying forward a conservative attack on the Obama administration’s handling of the interrogation and prosecution of would-be Christmas bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), at this morning’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates whether Abdulmutallab should be tried in a military commission instead of a federal court. Gates deferred, not wanting to be dragged in. McCain pressed him for a “candid” answer. “I think the attorney general is in the best position to determine where these people should be tried,” Gates replied. Attorney General Eric Holder, of course, opted to try Abdulmutallab in civilian court — and McCain, in frustration, said that Holder has “botched this very, very badly.”

McCain tried to get Gates to say that military interrogators should have interrogated Abdulmutallab, but Gates replied that “a team of high-expertise FBI and other interrogators could be as effective at interrogating prisoners as anyone operating under the military field manual.” That’s a reference to the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, whom Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, erroneously told Congress last week was capable of interrogating Abdulmutallab, even though it isn’t operational yet. McCain didn’t care about this fact, and got Gates to reiterate that the so-called HIG ought to have been on scene. He gave up after failing to get Gates to affirm that FBI interrogators didn’t have enough time to extract information from Abdulmutallab.

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