White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said defense and intelligence officials had the opportunity to object to a decision to criminally indict alleged Christmas Day airplane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. But no one registered objections at a Jan. 5 meeting with President Barack Obama, Gibbs said.
“I will say that anybody that wanted or needed to register their concern, the notion that somehow a forum wasn’t readily available to register anybody’s concern doesn’t certainly comport the way I understand events, having been in the room watching those present have an opportunity to ask questions about those procedures,” Gibbs said at a White House news briefing Monday.
The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room to review the intelligence failures that led to the accused al-Qaeda associate being allowed to board a Detroit-bound commercial airliner with explosives in his underwear. Attorney General Eric Holder, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Michael E. Leiter attended, Gibbs said.
Gibbs’s remarks lent support to a Los Angeles Times article today that said CIA officials were at the table with DOJ officials before a decision was made to read Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights, a move that has sparked fierce criticism from Republicans and some administration officials, including Blair.
Asked if the administration had ruled out treating Abdulmutallab as an “enemy combatant” without the protections accorded criminal defendants, Gibbs said: “I think that very experienced interrogators at the FBI made decisions about interrogation, and the Department of Justice made determinations to seek an indictment, and the President believes that’s the appropriate place.”
Gibbs did note there is precedent for reversing such decisions, citing the Jose Padilla and Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri cases.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the government charged U.S. citizen Jose Padilla, who was believed to have trained with al-Qaeda, with terrorism offenses. Later Padilla was sent to military custody for three and a half years. In 2007, Padilla was convicted in federal court in Miami of conspiracy to kill and sentenced to prison. Al-Marri likewise was arrested after the 9/11 attacks on suspicion of working with al-Qaeda, then later held in military custody. Last year he pleaded guilty in federal court in Illinois to supporting al-Qaeda.
Pressed whether the administration believed there’s “no more intelligence to be gained” from Abdulmutallab, Gibbs was more cryptic. “The White House is satisfied that the process of gaining that intelligence is working,” he said.
Gibbs also said Monday that “no decision” has been made to transfer the trial of accused 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others out of New York City, despite news reports to the contrary last week. “[D]ecisions that are being reported as having been made have not been made,” Gibbs said.