Interrogating Abdulmutallab

INTERROGATING ABDULMUTALLAB…. About a millisecond after Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was on the ground on Friday, federal officials took Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab into custody. He was soon after charged with attempted terrorism. Conservatives aren’t happy about this for a variety of reasons, but one concern in particular is especially wrong.

Tom Ridge, for example, told Americans this week that Abdulmutallab will only provide information “if he volunteers it.” Similarly, the Weekly Standard‘s Michael Goldfarb complained that “we can’t interrogate” the suspected terrorist.

Obviously, no one should expect much from Goldfarb, but Ridge doesn’t have any excuses — he has a law degree and, not incidentally, he led the Department of Homeland Security, where presumably this issue came up more than once.

In reality, Abdulmutallab — even after having been read his rights, and securing counsel — can be, probably has been, and will be interrogated. As Spencer Ackerman explained yesterday, “Just because the guy lawyers up doesn’t mean we can’t interrogate him.”

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials I’ve talked to in the last several hours have been flabbergasted to hear this line of argument, because at its heart, it betrays a fundamental ignorance of the process. One who has experience in these matters called it “flat-out ignorance” to claim that the “criminal justice system or law enforcement methods impede the collection of actionable intelligence. There is no basis in fact.”

Why? Let me turn this over to a U.S. official deeply familiar with intelligence matters who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the Abdulmutallab case. “I cannot speak from first-hand knowledge of the present matter, but if a terror suspect like Abdulmutallab invokes [his] right to silence, it does not mean law enforcement officials must cease the interview,” the official said. “It simply means inculpatory information probably will not be used in court.”

Got that? Mirandization is about admissibility in court. This ought to explain why law enforcement and intelligence officials aren’t complaining about Abdulmutallab. It’s just Obama’s political enemies, who have no problem inventing a concern based on absolutely nothing and then promoting their ignorance about security matters to a pliant media.

If I had a nickel for every time Republican talking points reflected a “flat-out ignorance,” I could retire a wealthy man.

It’s possible, of course, that Republican activists like Ridge, Goldfarb, and others aren’t hopelessly confused. Rather, maybe they understand the process very well, and are simply lying shamelessly this week in the hopes of scoring cheap points by exploiting public fear and confusion.

That, however, would be worse.