Even before he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama proclaimed he wanted to appoint a Lincolnesque cabinet, a “team of rivals.”
Lincoln, as ABC’s Jake Tapper reminded us way back in May 2008, appointed three of his rivals for the GOP presidential nomination to his cabinet, people who disagreed with him and at least one — Edward Stanton, who became Secretary of War — who had hurled personal insults at Lincoln, calling him a “long-armed ape.”
But Obama’s cabinet is no team of rivals, and his national security team is a concatenation of radical liberals like himself, a curious admixture of fools, miscreants and worse.
Consider their consistent record of bad decisions only one year into Obama’s presidency: to close the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; to move Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other al Qaeda varsity out of the military commissions system and try them in civilian criminal court; to war against the intelligence community; to put the White House in charge of interrogations of captured terrorists; and, most recently, the hasty decision to put the Christmas Day underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in civilian custody thus preventing professional intelligence interrogators from having access to him.
At the center of all these decisions is a White House staffer with a fancy title: John O. Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. Mr. Brennan is a special case: his arrogance and flat-out fibs about the Abdulmutallab case have created a roadblock of antagonism between the White House and congressional Republicans.
If Team Obama’s handling of Abdulmutallab weren’t so serious, it would be something only Mel Brooks could have scripted. It was only by luck and the bravery of passengers on Northwest Flight 253 that the youthful terrorist didn’t succeed in blowing the aircraft out of the sky. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano then proclaimed “the system worked.”
Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) told me in a Wednesday telephone interview that these actions bespeak what he called an “ACLU mentality” in the Obama administration. It stems, he says, from a core mistake: putting the Attorney General in charge of the war on terror.
Taken into custody by the FBI, Abdulmutallab was questioned for about fifty minutes before being read the Miranda warnings and clamming up. In a subsequent press session, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told Fox News’ Chris Wallace that the FBI got all the information that could be obtained from Abdulmutallab in those few minutes, which is entirely absurd. Intelligence interrogators can milk good information out of terrorists over days, weeks and months as they have proved repeatedly at Gitmo.
Then came the carefully-crafted release to media friends that Abdulmutallab was — despite the Miranda warnings — cooperating. Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo), ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence committee told me last week that publication of Abdulmutallab’s supposed cooperation came within a day of Bond’s being told by FBI Director Bob Mueller that keeping the terrorist’s cooperation secret was essential to other counter-terrorist actions.
Now comes John Brennan in a USA Today op-ed earlier this week which is a string of fibs and misleading statements so easily disproved it leaves observers wondering about Brennan’s sanity.
In the op-ed, Brennan makes several astounding assertions: that immediately after Abdulmutallab was captured he was “…thoroughly interrogated and provided important information,” implying that there was nothing else to get from the man who was trained, armed and sent to attack us by an al-Qaeda cell.
Brennan further asserts that, “It’s naive to think that transferring Abdulmutallab to military custody would have caused an outpouring of information. There is little difference between military and civilian custody, other than an interrogator with a uniform. The suspect gets access to a lawyer, and interrogation rules are nearly identical.” Which is false.
Gitmo detainees aren’t entitled to counsel, and don’t get access to lawyers until they are charged with war crimes by a military commission or are seeking release in a habeas corpus proceeding.
Brennan also says, “Cries to try terrorists only in military courts lack foundation.” Apparently Brennan is willfully ignorant of the exclusive use of military courts to try people who commit acts of war against the United States since the Revolutionary War era, the Constitutional basis for military courts, their affirmation by the Supreme Court over fifty years ago in Ex Parte Quirin and the statutory basis in the post-9-11 Military Commissions Act.
And, most outrageously, Brennan writes “We need no lectures about the fact that this nation is at war…Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda.”
John Brennan told “Meet the Press” host David Gregory that the top congressional Republicans were briefed when Abdulmutallab was captured and none objected to the plan to put the terrorist into the civilian justice system.
But those top Republicans — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), his House counterpart Rep. John Boehner (R-Oh), Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo), ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee and his House counterpart, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mi) — have very different recollections. Both Bond and Hoekstra said that Brennan told them of Abdulmutallab’s arrest and custody but not of any decision to Mirandize him or place him into the civilian justice system.
Responding to Brennan’s op-ed in a joint statement with Minority Leader John Boehner, Hoekstra said on Tuesday that, “Mr. Brennan’s cheap, irresponsible political smear doesn’t help keep the American people safe. We would like to think — given the public testimony given by Intelligence Community officials of the possibility of a terrorist attack within the next six months — that the Administration would become serious about closing such painfully obvious and public gaps in our security.”
Brennan can’t be trusted. As Pete Hoekstra told me in a telephone conversation on Tuesday night, “Why would I even take a call from this guy unless I could record it?”
If Obama can (or even wants to) learn how dangerous his actions are, he would fire his national security team and repopulate it with people who are capable of dealing with terrorism as it must be dealt with, and are equipped by experience and temperament to do so. First to go should be John O. Brennan.
Mitch McConnell isn’t one to venture into the dangerous business of making predictions. But he risked one Wednesday. Noting that he opposed the closure of Gitmo even when President Bush wanted to do it — and the sudden about-face by Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa), who has been consumed with the “rights” of terrorists until yesterday — McConnell told me, “I predict that over the course of the year, increasing bipartisan majorities in Congress will insist that terrorists be kept at Gitmo and not be brought into the United States.”
“The administration,” said McConnell, is going to learn that they will have to retreat on the issue of bringing these people into the United States.”