White House Adviser Forcefully Defends Civilian Trials for Terrorist Suspects
By Mary Jacoby | March 19, 2022 12:40 am

It was just over a year ago that Attorney General Eric Holder was getting slammed politically for advocating civilian trials for accused terrorists  - with the White House even at one point hanging him out to dry on a controversy over the reading of Miranda rights to one terrorism suspect.

On Friday, an administration official forcefully defended the role of federal courts and law enforcement in fighting terrorism. But it wasn’t Holder - it was John O. Brennan, the counter-terrorism adviser to President Barack Obama.

Brennan defended the decision (that Holder ultimately took responsibility for) to tell alleged “underpants” bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab he had a constitutional right to remain silent after he was arrested for trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane en route to Detroit on Christmas day 2009 using explosives hidden in his underwear. Before reading Abdulmutallab his rights, the FBI also interrogated him under a “public safety” exception that allows law enforcement to question suspects if lives could be at stake.

“I know that many argued that he should have been placed in military custody and that he should never have been given his Miranda rights,” Brennan said Friday. “The plain fact is that his arrest ultimately produced valuable information.”

He added: “When faced with the fair but heavy hand of American justice, terrorists have offered up valuable intel about Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”

Brennan also defended Obama’s recent decision to resume military trials at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention facility after a two-year suspension. But he criticized lawmakers in Congress for restricting the White House’s ability to transfer prisoners from Cuba to the U.S. and take other actions to close the facility. “A one-size-fits-all policy in the area of detention and prosecution would be harmful to our national security,” Brennan said.

“Law enforcement and intelligence are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can and must reinforce one another,” he said.

A copy of Brennan’s remarks at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law are here.

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