The Obama administration’s most egregious national security blunders over the past year can be traced back to the Department of Justice. From the handling of the interrogation and incarceration of the accused Christmas Day bomber to the decision to try the 9/11 terrorists in civilian courts, these national security misjudgments have made the United States less safe in the War on Terror. While the buck ultimately stops with President Obama, it is now clear, after a year of mistakes, that Eric Holder has failed in his role as Attorney General. He must go.
When Eric Holder was nominated for the post of Attorney General there was a small glimmer of hope among some conservatives that he would be reasonable when it came to war on terror issues. That hope was almost entirely based on a 2002 interview with CNN where Holder stated, correctly, that it was “hard for me to see how members of Al Qaeda could be considered prisoners of war” and thus entitled to the “protection of the Geneva Convention.”
“One of the things we clearly want to do with these prisoners is to have an ability to interrogate them and find out what their future plans might be, where other cells are located,” he told then-CNN anchor Paula Zahn. “Under the Geneva Convention…you are really limited in the amount of information that you can elicit from people.”
Unfortunately, this small glimmer of hope has been dashed during Holder’s first year in office.
In the aftermath of the disastrous handling of the interrogation of the accused Christmas Day bomber, we have learned that it was most probably Eric Holder’s Justice Department that decided to read Umar Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights and try him in federal court, essentially giving him a pretext to stop talking before he could be extensively interrogated.
Asked at a White House Press briefing “who made the decision to try him [Abdulmutallab] in federal court,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs replied “I believe that decision is made by the Attorney General.”
Having spent months in Yemen, Abdulmutallab could have potentially provided vital intelligence that could have been used to protect the American homeland. But because of DOJ’s decision to Mirandize him, Abdulmutallab initially exercised his right to remain silent after only 50 minutes of interrogation. What an outrage.
Despite White House spin and reports that Abdulmutallab may have started talking again, there is little question that this was an astounding error. And it is not just the Dick Cheneys of the world who think so. No less than our current Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, has said that Abdulmutallab should have been treated as a terrorist detainee instead of as an ordinary criminal.
This decision alone is enough to dismiss Holder. Yet, this is just the most significant error in a long list of serious errors the Attorney General has made during his short tenure.
In April, President Obama authorized the Justice Department to release the enhanced interrogation memos [sometimes erroneously called the “torture memos”] on the recommendation of Attorney General Holder. Calling the release of the memos “unnecessary as a legal matter” and “unsound as a matter of policy,” former CIA Director General Michael Hayden and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey wrote in The Wall Street Journal that the “effect” of the move “will be to invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past, and that we came sorely to regret on Sept. 11, 2001.”
The two continued by noting that “public disclosure of the OLC opinions, and thus of the techniques themselves, assures that terrorists are now aware of the absolute limit of what the U.S. government could do to extract information from them and can supplement their training accordingly and thus diminish the effectiveness of these techniques…”
In August, despite President Obama’s insistence that his administration would look forward not backwards and despite the fact that they had already been previously investigated by career prosecutors, Eric Holder decided to reopen investigations into CIA officers who employed enhanced interrogation techniques. This unnecessary move, which even the president decided to distance himself from, only served to further weaken morale at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
In November, it was Eric Holder who decided that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad would be tried in civilian courts despite the fact that the terrorist kingpin had already declared his intention to plead guilty in a military tribunal. In addition to serving as a propaganda platform for Mohammad, the trial will likely cost huge sums of money to orchestrate and make New York City an even a bigger target for attack than it already is.
All the decisions that have been made by Attorney General Holder and his Justice Department have already damaged America’s security. They rank as some of the Obama administration’s most troubling errors during its first year in the White House. The United States has been ill served by Attorney General Holder. It is time for the president to relieve him of his duties.
Jamie Weinstein holds a master's degree in the history of international relations from the London School of Economics and is a columnist for The North Star National. He can be reached through his blog at www.JamieWeinstein.com.