President Obama’s counter-terrorism approach — especially his decision to publicly reject torture — received a huge vindication yesterday with the news that the FBI has been working with the family of the failed Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouq Abdulmuttalab, and that “Abdulmuttalab has been cooperating with authorities and sharing intelligence since last Thursday”:
The agents and key family members arrived in back in the US on January 17th. The family members met with officials from the Justice Department and the FBI to plan a way forward.
“One of the principal reasons why his family came back is because they had complete trust in the US system of justice and believed that Umar Farouq would be treated fairly and appropriately,” the senior official said. “And that they would be as well.”
The FBI and Abdulmuttalab’s family approached the subject and “gained his cooperation. He has been cooperating for days,” the official said.
A key point here is that there is very little chance that Abdulmuttalab’s family would have agreed to cooperate with the U.S. government in getting Abdulmuttalab to talk if they suspected that he was in any danger of being tortured. This is a clear example of how President Obama’s bringing U.S. counter-terrorism practices back within the rule of law is making Americans safer.
A federal official told the New York Times that “the intelligence gained has been disseminated throughout the intelligence community,” and “the best way to get him to talk was working with his family.”
ABC also reported that “Abdulmuttalab was talking to FBI agents on Saturday, at the same time Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, issued the Republican response to the president’s weekly address, decrying Abdulmuttalab’s presence in the criminal justice system.”
It’s ironic that that Abdulmuttalab was providing information at the very moment conservatives were hyperventilating about the administration’s terrorism approach. The case also indicates that Obama’s decision to try the terrorist in criminal court has not served to cut off any information the U.S. could glean from Abdulmuttalab, as many critics have claimed. As CAP’s Ken Gude recently wrote, “The facts are clear: Criminal courts are a far tougher and more reliable forum for prosecuting terrorists than military commissions”:
The record of recent terrorism investigations demonstrates that interviews with terrorists who have attorneys have produced “an intelligence goldmine.”
False assumptions are driving the debate about the tools available to fight terrorism. President Obama needs to cut through the noise and use the tough and proven criminal justice system as a vital weapon in the fight against Al Qaeda.
Fortunately, it seems the president is doing just that.