We’re Getting Intel From Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab Because, not Despite, Handling Him Through the Criminal Justice System


Something I should have said yesterday is that not only has the US Department of Justice normally handled terrorism prosecutions, one important advantage they have over a military detention system or the CIA is that the FBI actually conducts investigations on a regular basis. The FBI breaks the back of organized crime outfits, exposes political corruption, etc. The international dimension of al-Qaeda and the possibility of al-Qaeda being sheltered by foreign governments or militias requires participation of the military and the Intelligence Community but fundamentally neither of these organizations is set up to actually investigate dangerous conspiracies. That’s what the FBI does, by contrast.

And it’s working:

The Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day has provided “useful, actionable” intelligence to U.S. authorities after the FBI flew his relatives to the United States to urge him to cooperate, U.S. officials said on Tuesday. […]

The bombing suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, started talking again after FBI agents brought family members from Nigeria to help convince him to provide information on how the botched December 25 bomb plot was arranged and whether further attacks were in the works, a senior U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It’s true that as an investigative technique “convince the guy’s family to convince him to cooperate” isn’t quite as bad-ass as “use Khmer Rouge torture tactics against him.” On the other hand, the non-torture way actually produces reliable information. And note that these are really inconsistent ideas. A family that has confidence in the basic fairness of the US criminal justice system is prepared to help the FBI secure cooperation from their son. A family that believes the US government holds suspects in “black sites” where they’re tortured and/or tries them in kangaroo courts is much less likely to cooperate.

But most of all, when you’re faced with serious problems you want to rely on seasoned investigators and their proven investigative techniques. You don’t take a problem “more seriously” by handing it over to the military or the CIA. The you take a problem seriously by having it addressed by the appropriate agencies. If we’d handled this in the blood-soaked manner preferred by the right, who knows what kind of nonsense information people would be sorting through right now.