Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has expressed concern about being left out of some congressional oversight of Justice Department intelligence matters.
In a written follow-up question to Attorney General Eric Holder following his Nov. 18, 2009, appearance before the Senate panel, Leahy said that over the last few years certain intelligence matters, particularly activities dealing with the FBI, have seemed to have fallen into the jurisdiction of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. The chairman said he wants to make sure the Judiciary Committees are not being left out of the complete Justice Department oversight process.
“While I am happy to share oversight jurisdiction as appropriate, I believe strongly that the Judiciary Committees, with their long tradition of oversight of all aspects of Department work and their considerable expertise in these matters, should not be shut out of important Justice Department activities,” Leahy said. (His question can be found on page 7 of the document, which was released Monday.)
Leahy asked Holder to comment on whether the Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over the entire department.
The Attorney General said in his response that he generally agrees that the Judiciary Committees have oversight jurisdiction over the Justice Department.
“[W]e note that certain activities of the FBI are scored to the National Intelligence Program, which we understand falls under the purview of the Intelligence Committees,” Holder said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a Senate Judiciary Committee member, told Main Justice she’s never had a conflict with Leahy over DOJ oversight jurisdiction and said that intelligence matters can be handled in both committees.
“There’s no question that Judiciary has oversight over Holder. So if I want to ask an intelligence related question I can do it in Judiciary or I can have Holder up before … the Intelligence Committee,” Feinstein said.
Posted in News | Comments Off
The Democratic chairs of the Senate Judiciary and intelligence committees told President Barack Obama today they support Attorney General Eric Holder’s handling of terrorism suspects.
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary panel chairman, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said they disagree with the barrage of recent criticism of the Attorney General and the Obama administration over decisions on terrorism cases.
“We should not let partisan distractions lead us to cast aside such valuable tools as the experienced terrorism interrogators of the FBI or forego convicting terrorists in our Federal courts,” the senators wrote in a joint letter to the president.
For months, Republicans have condemned Holder’s decision to try self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged coconspirators in a New York City federal court, arguing a military tribunal is a better forum. Democrats last month joined the criticism after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) raised concerns about the costs and disruptions to Lower Manhattan of a lengthy trial requiring high security.
Republicans have also been upset over the decision to treat alleged Christmas Day airplane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a civilian and allow the FBI to read him the Nigerian national his Miranda rights after a brief interrogation. Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin have suggested Holder resign over the issue.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced legislation earlier this month that would prohibit the Justice Department from using funds to prosecute KSM and his alleged accomplices in federal court. The bill has 27 co-sponsors, including Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Jim Webb of Virginia, all of whom represent conservative-leaning states. Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who caucuses with the Democrats, also is a co-sponsor.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) introduced a companion bill in the House earlier this month. The bill has 49 co-sponsors, including Democratic Reps. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, Dan Boren of Oklahoma and Bobby Bright of Alabama.
“Congress should not tie the hands of our national security and law enforcement agencies, but should instead ensure they have the flexibility to use every means available,” Leahy and Feinstein said in their letter. “Congress should be working with you in a shared mission to most effectively protect our national security and to ensure that just convictions, once obtained, will be sustained and upheld.”
Posted in News | 2 Comments »
Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-Mo.) today became the second Senate Republican and third prominent conservative to suggest that Attorney General Eric Holder should resign over his decisions on terrorism cases.
Conservatives have been critical of the administration’s decision to charge the alleged Christmas Day attempted airline bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in federal court as a criminal rather than put him in military custody for interrogation.
Bond said yesterday that John Brennan, President Obama’s chief homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, “needs to go” because of his role in the events surrounding the decision on how to handle alleged bomber.
And today, Bond told The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire blog, “I think Eric Holder has been totally wrong, and he should go too. It’s a question of trust,” adding: “They [Holder and Brennan] both came up short.”
Bond also took a dig at Holder for the Attorney General’s decision to try five alleged 9/11 plotters in a New York City federal court. The terrorism suspects will now likely be tried elsewhere after immense criticism from local politicians and members of Congress.
“Eric Holder said the 9/11 trial in New York will be the defining moment of his tenure,” Bond told the Washington Wire. “I hope it is.”
The White House has supported its national security leaders, according to the blog. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs earlier this week called on Bond to apologize for his barbs, the Washington Wire said.
Posted in News | Comments Off
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, told his colleagues today that he will formally ask the Justice Department to identify who decided that the alleged Christmas Day airplane bomber should be treated as a civilian and not as an enemy combatant.
The FBI — not the military — took Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab into custody on Dec. 25 on U.S. soil after he allegedly attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair testified yesterday on Capitol Hill that his office was not consulted about the use of FBI agents and that special terrorism investigators should have handled Abdulmutallab, according to The Washington Post.
It is unclear who made the decision to treat Abdulmutallab as a civilian. FBI Director Robert Mueller testified yesterday before the committee that the events were “fast-moving” and authorities had “no time” to get other investigators in place. But Mueller said decisions were made “appropriately,” including the decision to read Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights.
Sessions said yesterday that it seemed the decision was made “on the fly.” He added that the FBI’s handling of Abdulmutallab could have precluded the U.S. government from obtaining valuable intelligence.
“I think this is a matter of serious import,” Sessions said yesterday. “I don’t think we have clarity of rules. We need to get it straight.”
Democrats voiced support for the decisions made in the aftermath of the alleged attempted bombing. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said yesterday that the FBI’s actions were “totally appropriate.” Senators were unable to point to an example of authorities putting an alleged terrorist apprehended on American soil immediately into military custody.
Here’s the letter Sessions and Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John Cornyn (Texas) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) sent today to Attorney General Eric Holder about the matter:
We are writing to ask who within the Department of Justice made the decision on Christmas day to treat Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a criminal suspect, entitled to Miranda warnings and the right to counsel, rather than as a unprivileged enemy belligerent subject to military detention and a full opportunity to gain intelligence. We would also like to know the basis for this decision, including whether the administration has a protocol or policy in place for handling al Qaeda terrorists captured in the United States.
At yesterday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller described how Joint Terrorism Task Force agents initially interrogated Mr. Abdulmutallab without Miranda warnings for the purpose of obtaining intelligence information. He stated that this short initial interrogation occurred before the terror suspect was taken into surgery and that the decision to provide Miranda warnings and pursue criminal charges was made shortly thereafter “in consultation with the Department of Justice and others in the administration prior to the agents going back in later that evening to interview him.” Director Mueller declined to name the person within the Department who made the decision, stating that he would first have to get approval from the Department. Nonetheless, he made clear the decision was not made “at the local level.”
The Department of Justice’s decision to afford this terrorist Miranda warnings and a civilian prosecution appears to have been made without soliciting input from the Department’s administration partners in the war on terrorism. According to testimony before both the Judiciary Committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Department officials who made this decision failed to consult key officials who also have a major role in counterterrorism and intelligence gathering. Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, testified that he was not consulted. Similar testimony was provided by Director Mueller, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter. Furthermore, Director Mueller testified he did not know whether Defense Secretary Robert Gates was consulted on this decision, which is remarkable given that Mr. Abdulmutallab appears to fit cleanly within the Military Commissions Act definition of an “unprivileged enemy belligerent.”
We believe the Department’s hasty decision to pursue criminal charges against Mr. Abdulmutallab deprived our intelligence agencies of a critical opportunity to interrogate an al Qaeda-trained terrorist who was fresh from training in Yemen. Had Mr. Abdulmutallab been transferred to military custody as an unlawful enemy belligerent, our government would have had more time to gain an understanding of the terrorist training and recruiting network on the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the activities of al Qaeda in Nigeria. More importantly, a thorough and unrushed interrogation might have revealed information to detect and disrupt the next terrorist attack. However, because Mr. Abdulmutallab was given Miranda rights and ceased cooperating, that information is now lost.
It is important that Congress fully understand the basis for the decision in this case and the process by which it was reached so that we can be assured that an appropriate process is in place to address the next terrorist who is captured and detained. To that end, please let us know who within the Department made the decision on Christmas day, as well as the basis and rationale behind the decision. Additionally, please let us know whether a protocol or policy is in place to guide the administration’s action in the next terrorism case.
This post has been updated from an earlier version.
Posted in News | 3 Comments »
Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball at Newsweek offer an interesting analysis of Sen. Kit Bond’s (R-Mo.) announcement last week that he was pulling the entire GOP staff off a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into Central Intelligence Agency interrogation practices.
The move appears to be part of a broader campaign by congressional Republicans and the U.S. intelligence community to pressure [Attorney General Eric] Holder to rescind his recent appointment of a special counsel to investigate allegations of torture during the Bush administration.
The flare-up is significant because, whatever the results of Holder’s criminal probe, the Senate panel’s investigation offered perhaps the only opportunity for a full public accounting of the U.S. intelligence community’s conduct in the aftermath of September 11 attacks.
The result, Isikoff and Hosenball write, is the interrogations inquiry has become “hopelessly politicized.”
Bond, the ranking Republican on the intelligence panel, said he objects to Holder’s decision to empower a special prosecutor, John Durham, to examine whether criminal laws were broken during interrogations. Among the methods the CIA used against terrorism suspects is waterboarding, a method both Holder and President Obama have described as torture.
According to the Washington Times:
“Had Mr. Holder honored the pledge made by the president to look forward, not backwards, we would still be active participants in the committee’s review,” said Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, the panel’s vice chairman. “Instead, DOJ sent a loud and clear message that previous decisions to decline prosecution mean nothing and old criminal charges can be brought anytime against anyone — against these odds, what current or former CIA employee would be willing to gamble his freedom by answering the committee’s questions?”
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she regretted Bond’s decision to boycott the investigation.
Bond’s move came after seven former CIA directors wrote Obama, urging him to overturn Holder’s decision. The Sept. 18 letter reads:
Attorney General Holder’s decision to re-open the criminal investigation creates an atmosphere of continuous jeopardy for those whose cases the Department of Justice had previously declined to prosecute. Moreover, there is no reason to expect that the re-opened criminal investigation will remain narrowly focused.
Posted in News | 12 Comments »
House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appears to have known more about the harsh interrogation methods used against terrorism suspects than she previously let on, ABC News reported last night.
Pelosi was told about the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on alleged terrorist Abu Zubaydah in September 2002, according to a Director of National Intelligence report sent to the Senate Intelligence Committee members among other members of Congress and obtained by ABC News. Although it is unclear what interrogation methods were discussed with Pelosi, one of the “torture memos” released last month said Zubaydah was waterboarded at least 83 times.
The House speaker previously said she was only aware of the Bush administration’s authorization of the interrogation methods described as torture by many Democrats. She was, however, not aware of the actual use of the techniques, she said.
“In that or any other briefing . . . we were not, and I repeat, were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation techniques were used,” Pelosi said at an April news conference. “What they did tell us is that they had some legislative counsel . . . opinions that they could be used, but not that they would.”
Pelosi spokesperson Brendan Daly disputed the report to The Los Angeles Times.
“As this document shows, the speaker was briefed only once, in September 2002,” he told the L.A. Times. “The briefers described these techniques, said they were legal, but said that waterboarding had not been used.”
The L.A. Times went on to say there were 40 briefings with members of Congress including then-Senate Intelligence Chairman Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and then-Senate Intelligence ranking member Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) about the authorized interrogation methods.