In his interview with Chris Wallace on FOX News Sunday yesterday, Obama administration Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan defended the administration’s treatment of Umar Abdulmutallab as a criminal defendant rather than an enemy combatant. The questions culminated in this exchange:
WALLACE: Just briefly, what’s the downside of treating him as an enemy combatant?
BRENNAN: There’s — there are no downsides or upsides in particular cases. What we’re trying to do is to make sure we apply the right tool in the right instance. In this case, we made a determination that he should be tried in U.S. criminal court.
The reason Brennan danced around Wallace’s questions regarding the treatment of Abdulmutallab is that there was no good answer to them. The case of Abdulmutallab is the reductio ad absurdum of the administration’s higher wisdom in the conduct of our struggle against Islamist terrorism: the closing of Guantanamo, the repatriation of Guantanamo detainees to Yemen and other terrorist havens, the conflation of criminal prosecution with the means of war, and the conferral of the rights of American citizens on enemy combatants.
John Brennan was sent forth to defend the administration’s handling of the Abdulmutallab affair on the Sunday talk shows because he is a high official in the administration’s security apparatus and he makes a good appearance. Yet he made a fool of himself. He made a fool of himself not because he is a fool, but rather because he was defending foolish policies.
They are policies whose rationale the administration itself refuses to elaborate for the public even in the outrageous case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. At this late date the buck stops with Eric Holder, who has had to go no further than declaring Mohammed will be tried in federal court like an American civilian because he decided that he should be.
What’s the downside of treating KSM like an American civilian? Yesterday John Brennan gave us the answer. It is an answer that illuminated the downside of Barack Obama somewhat more than the question it purported to address.