FBI Director Pressed on Terrorist Custody

Sen. Jeff Sessions pressed FBI Director Robert Mueller Wednesday on the Obama Administration’s policy of trying terrorists arrested in the U.S. in civilian courts rather than the military system. 

Sessions (R.-Ala.), ranking member of the committee, expressed concern during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing over the Justice Department’s policy that terrorists arrested in the United States aren’t presumptively held in military custody. 

Sessions called the current policy “unwise” and asked Mueller if he had the authority to change the policy.

“We would follow the policies as set by the attorney general in pursuant to the legal policies set by the President,” Mueller said. “We do believe the President has the authority to make the decision as to where an individual will be tried.”

“So that’s where the responsibility lies, with the President of the United States, and they’re persisting in an unwise policy, in my view” Sessions said.

Sessions referred to a previous discussion with Mueller where the director said the attorney general has lead responsibility for terrorist acts committed within the U.S. and that the FBI would conduct an investigation compliant with the attorney general’s guidelines for domestic FBI operations.  

Sessions also quoted Mueller, “The FBI has no legal authority to proceed against a terrorism suspect who is arrested within the United States in any venue other than an Article 3 court” (civilian court).

Sessions argued there’s more flexibility for the U.S. government in dealing with a suspected terrorist in the military system than the civilian system.

“I am every bit as interested and concerned that we get intelligence as soon as possible with regard to other potential attacks,” Mueller said. “In each of the instances that have reached the newspapers recently, there has been a variety of positions taken early on as to whether to Mirandize or not. In each case…we have gotten the intelligence we have needed.”

“I’m not worried what has happened anecdotally in some individual case,” Sessions said. “Clearly, the policy, in my judgment, would be better if you took the other view and they were presumptively held by military custody.”

In his written statement to the committee, Mueller detailed several of the other challenges facing the FBI, including cyber-security and the Southwest border.  Mueller said that in the past ten years, al Qaeda and its affiliates “have created a potent online presence” and the FBI is trying countering these and other cyber-threats through cyber squads in each of the agencies 56 field offices.  

Mueller also warns in the statement that traditional agent networks, such as the recent case of ten Russian spies, are being complimented by new methods.

“Foreign adversaries, however, do not rely exclusively on such traditional agent networks, as they increasingly employ non-traditional collectors—such as students, visiting scientists, scholars, and businessmen—as well as cyber-based tools to target and penetrate United States institutions,” Mueller said.