This administration has lost sight of the reality that actionable intelligence — not criminal prosecution — is the only way our country can detect and foil the next al-Qaeda plot. Despite repeated terrorism attempts on our soil, and several close calls, there still does not appear to be a coherent protocol in place for acquiring such intelligence when high-value terrorists are apprehended. While testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in November 2009, Holder said there would be no need to interrogate Osama bin Laden if he were captured because there was already overwhelming evidence to convict him in a court of law.
Yet in February this year, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that the administration still has not resolved how it would handle the detention or interrogation of bin Laden or other high-value targets such as Ayman al-Zawahiri if they were captured tomorrow. And last month, FBI Director Robert Mueller said that it continues to be the attorney general’s position that the FBI will administer Miranda warnings to high-level terrorists captured on American soil. As a consequence of this misguided approach, the would-be Christmas Day bomber was Mirandized shortly after his capture in 2009, costing us an opportunity to gain potentially invaluable timely intelligence from a foreign terrorist dispatched by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
These actions and policy statements demonstrate a dangerous return to the pre-Sept. 11 focus on a criminal-law solution to terrorism — an approach that the Sept. 11 commission found “contributed to widespread underestimation of the threat” posed by terrorism. The intelligence community should not be hampered in this way but instead allowed the crucial flexibility to pursue intelligence that will lead to the capture of those who are at war with the United States and committed to its destruction. Our intelligence officers need affirmation and support — not more constraints and second-guessing.
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