Christmas Day Bombing Attempt Should Have Been Wake-Up Call for Obama Administration, But It Wasn’t, McConnell Says

By Penny Starr | February 4, 2010 | 6:16 AM EST

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) spoke at the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2010. He says the Obama administration is making a mistake in treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue. (Photo by Penny Starr/

Washington ( – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the attempt by an al-Qaeda-trained Nigerian to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day is just the latest in a series of failures by the Obama administration to protect U.S. citizens from terrorist attacks.
“Unfortunately, there are all too many signs that the current administration has a blind spot when it comes to prosecuting this war,” McConnell said at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. “Its handling of the Christmas Day bomber may have been the most egregious example, but it was no isolated case.”
McConnell said that eight years after the September 11 attacks, the nation is continually reminded of the need to remain vigilant.
“In September we learned of a plot to bomb the New York City subway,” McConnell said. “Soon after that, there was the tragic massacre at Ft. Hood. Then, on Christmas Day, there was the failed attempt by a foreign-born terrorist to kill nearly 300 innocent civilians in a commercial airliner in the skies over Detroit.
“Our elected leaders have no greater duty than that of protecting the American people from harm,” McConnell said. “And anyone who believes that the urgency of this responsibility has somehow faded or diminished since September 11, 2001, is horribly mistaken. We are very much at war.”
McConnell said the Obama administration is making a mistake in treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue, and he specifically criticized the decision to try 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in U.S. civilian court. He pledged he would lead the effort to deny the federal funding needed for such a trial.
McConnell said the administration is repeating its mistake in the way it is handling the attempted Christmas Day attack.
“Many Americans were troubled by the administration’s response to the Christmas Day attack,” McConnell said. “And they’re equally outraged by its decision to treat the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant who deserved a lawyer, instead of a terrorist who could provide us with vital information to help stop new attacks.
“Americans wanted us to get every bit of information we could about al Qaeda from this man. Instead, the administration put a higher priority on reading him his Miranda rights and getting him an attorney.”
Treating terror attacks as a law enforcement matter also has put the wrong person in charge of waging the war on terror, McConnell argued:
“Since his very first days in office, the president has been placing the attorney general [Eric Holder] in charge of key intelligence and military and defense matters,” McConnell said. “The closing of the military detention facility at Guantanamo is being coordinated by the attorney general. The special task force on interrogation and transfer policies is chaired by the attorney general. The Interagency Task Force on Detainee Disposition is co-chaired by the attorney general.”
Policies involving enemy combatants should be left to military and intelligence officials, McConnell said. But instead, President Obama, through executive order, has turned those policies over to his chief law enforcement officer.
“So it’s no wonder that time and time again, we see a law enforcement mentality intrude into military and intelligence operations. This is wrong. The attorney general should not be running the war on terror.”
McConnell said the Obama administration has not fully accounted for the events of Dec. 25, including the decision to read Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab a Miranda warning. McConnell said Holder has not responded to his request that the attorney general testify before the Senate about the case.

In this Dec. 16, 2009 file photo, Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington. Holder said Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2010, he made the decision to charge the Christmas Day terror suspect in civilian court rather than the military system, with no objection from all the other relevant departments of the government. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

However, in a letter to McConnell on Wednesday, Holder said he’s the one who made the decision to charge the Christmas Day terror suspect in civilian court rather than at a military proceeding. Holder said no administration officials objected to his decision.
"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," the attorney general wrote.
Holder said his decision to prosecute Abdulmutallab in civilian court is consistent with Bush administration practice. "The Bush administration used the criminal justice system to convict more than 300 individuals on terrorism-related charges," including the Richard Reid/shoe bomber case, Holder wrote to McConnell.
Holder also defended the decision to read Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights, which Republicans have criticized. 

“The attempted Christmas Day bombing should have been a wake-up call,” McConnell said on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, there’s no evidence it was.
“The administration still appears more interested in managing its message than explaining to the American people and to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle why an al Qaeda-trained terrorist fresh from Yemen and caught in the act of attempting to blow up an airliner was handed over to a lawyer after a 50-minute interview.”
Read McConnell’s remarks