Scott and John have already eviscerated the dreadful performance of Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan on FOX News Sunday. Before his appearance, the Washington Post had reported that “the normally reclusive Brennan is scheduled to appear on several Sunday TV talk shows.” We now have a pretty good idea of why Brennan is “normally reclusive.”
By departing from his norm, Brennan has shown himself to be a hack and has undermined any lingering confidence that the Obama administration has a clue about how to fight terrorism. His statement, in response to a question about what the downside might be to treating Abdulmutallab as an enemy combatant — “there are no downsides or upsides in particular cases” — should be placed in front of CIA headquarters (Brennan spent decades at the CIA and was a senior official there) as a testament to the agency’s mindset. Perhaps the statement can be amended to read: “There are no downsides or upsides to a given approach to dealing with a terrorist or with terrorism; there is only implementing and trying to defend the policy preferences of the politicians until such time as it becomes convenient to undermine them through leaks.”
Brennan attempted to defend the decision to treat Abdulmutallab like an ordinary criminal defendant through the normal Obama dodge: Bush did it too. This is weak enough coming from an administration flack — the issue is whether the administration’s policy is sound, not whether it resembles the policy of the previous administration. Coming from the adminstration’s counterterrorism chief, this dodge is sickening.
Worse yet, it is dishonest in this instance. In response to questiioning by Chris Wallace about why Abdulmutallab was allowed to “lawyer up” as if he were an ordinary criminal defendant, Brennan responded: “There were people who were arrested during the previous administration — Richard Reid, the shoe bomber; Zacarias Moussaoui; Padilla; Lyman Faris; others — all were charged and tried in criminal court and sentenced, some cases to life imprisonment.”
But Wallace wasn’t raising the issue of how Abdulmutallab should be tried; rather the issue was how he should be interrogated. Padilla was removed from the ordinary criminal system, treated as an enemy combatant, and harshly interrogated. Abdulmutallab was not. Thus, Brennan was not being candid in pretending that Abdulmutallab’s treatment is the same, in the key respect Wallace was asking about, as Padilla’s. In addition, as Marc Thiessen has pointed out, Reid was captured early in the war on terrorism, before the mechanisms used in the case of Reid were fully operational. Moussaoui was arrested before 9/11.
At the back end of the process, after foreign terrorists have been interrogated, It is a serious mistake and something of a travesty to try them in federal court (Padilla is not a foreigner, though). But it is close to criminal, at the front end, to give foreign terrorists rights enjoyed by ordinary defendants that make it more difficult for us to obtain information from them that might well prevent future attacks and save lives.
In the most telling moment of his interview with Wallace, Brennan was unable to deny that this is what the adminstration has done in this case.
WALLACE: But wait, wait. Let me ask you specifically. After Abdulmutallab got lawyered up, did he stop cooperating with authorities? Did he stop talking?
BRENNAN: I’m not going to address exactly what he did before or after he was — talked with his lawyer. We got information. We continue to have opportunities to do that.
Maybe the CIA should put that exchange up at its Langley headquarters too.