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Holder defends arrest of alleged airline bomb plotter

In his first public defense of the arrest of a Nigerian man accused of trying to bomb an airplane on Christmas Day, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said Wednesday that he personally made the decision to prosecute Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and that no one in the Washington intelligence community objected that the alleged Al Qaeda operative should instead be turned over to military interrogators as a prisoner of war.

Holder also applauded the work of FBI agents in Detroit, specifically those who spoke with the 23-year-old and have since been criticized for reading him his Miranda rights against self-incrimination.

The suspect initially stopped talking but has begun to cooperate again after meeting with his family while in custody.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said “Abdulmutallab has not been offered anything,” but the Justice Department would take his cooperation into consideration.

In a five-page response to the Republican Senate leadership that has been demanding his testimony on Capitol Hill, Holder took responsibility for deciding to prosecute Abdulmutallab.

“I made the decision to charge Mr. Abdulmutallab with federal crimes, and to seek his detention in connection with those charges, with the knowledge of, and with no objection from, all other relevant departments of the government,” he said.

Republicans, who have been critical of the decision to arrest Abdulmutallab and read him his rights rather than declare him an “enemy combatant,” said they were dissatisfied with Holder’s response and continued to press him to testify.

On Christmas night and into the next day, “the FBI informed its partners in the intelligence community that Abdulmutallab would be charged criminally, and no agency objected to this course of action,” the attorney general said.

Under the law of war, there could have been a decision to stop the federal prosecution of Abdulmutallab and have President Obama declare him an enemy combatant. He would have been taken to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or some other location and subjected to military interrogations and a possible trial by a military tribunal.

But, Holder said, “no agency supported the use of law of war detention for Abdulmutallab, and no agency has since advised the Department of Justice that an alternative course of action should have been, or should now be, pursued.”

That position appears to contradict remarks from some in the intelligence field, including Dennis C. Blair, director of National Intelligence, who told the Senate Homeland Security Committee it was a “mistake” to give Abdulmutallab a Miranda warning.

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, insisted that military custody was the proper place for Abdulmutallab in order to find out everything he knew about Al Qaeda plots -- especially since the Senate Intelligence Committee was advised Tuesday that terrorists were planning an attack on U.S. soil by July.

richard.serrano@ latimes.com


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