Are you scared yet?
Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan's appearance on Fox News Sunday yesterday (transcript) -- as well as the other Sunday talk shows -- to discuss the handling of would-be Northwest Airlines terrorist Abdulmutallab may have been intended to reassure the country, but had the opposite effect. He demonstrated an unwillingness to answer important questions, instead evading and ignoring them in favor of memorized talking points.
His statement, in response to a question about what the downside might be to treating Abdulmutallab as an enemy combatant -- "there are no downsides or upsides in particular cases" -- should be placed in front of CIA headquarters (Brennan spent decades at the CIA and was a senior official there) as a testament to the agency's mindset. Perhaps the statement can be amended to read: "There are no downsides or upsides to a given approach to dealing with a terrorist or with terrorism; there is only implementing and trying to defend the policy preferences of the politicians until such time as it becomes convenient to undermine them through leaks."Brennan attempted to defend the decision to treat Abdulmutallab like an ordinary criminal defendant through the normal Obama dodge: Bush did it too. This is weak enough coming from an administration flack -- the issue is whether the administration's policy is sound, not whether it resembles the policy of the previous administration. Coming from the adminstration's counterterrorism chief, this dodge is sickening.Worse yet, it is dishonest in this instance. In response to questiioning by Chris Wallace about why Abdulmutallab was allowed to "lawyer up" as if he were an ordinary criminal defendant, Brennan responded: "There were people who were arrested during the previous administration -- Richard Reid, the shoe bomber; Zacarias Moussaoui; Padilla; Lyman Faris; others -- all were charged and tried in criminal court and sentenced, some cases to life imprisonment."But Wallace wasn't raising the issue of how Abdulmutallab should be tried; rather the issue was how he should be interrogated. Padilla was removed from the ordinary criminal system, treated as an enemy combatant, and harshly interrogated. Abdulmutallab was not. Thus, Brennan was not being candid in pretending that Abdulmutallab's treatment is the same, in the key respect Wallace was asking about, as Padilla's.