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Plan calls for intelligence consultations before reading of rights in terror cases

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department and the FBI will consult with the intelligence community on information about terrorism suspects arrested in the United States before deciding whether to read them their Miranda rights under a plan being reviewed by the White House, the Washington Post reported.

The proposal follows a controversy over the handling of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is accused in the attempted Christmas Day bombing in Detroit and who was read his constitutional rights 10 hours after his arrest. Republicans said the decision cost the Obama administration valuable intelligence.

A senior administration official told the Washington Post that officials are analyzing lessons learned in the Detroit case on how to handle terrorist suspects. The official said the final decision about Miranda and other law enforcement decisions will continue to lie with the FBI and Department of Justice.

Some law enforcement officials have expressed concern that public pressure is pushing the White House to establish new standards based on the Detroit incident, even though the nature of the case might be unique.

A senior law enforcement official told the Post that authorities had immediate access to Abdulmutallab's passport and to background information on him that had only recently been entered into the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment database maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center.

The officials spoke to Post on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

GOP criticism

Republican lawmakers have criticized the administration for not consulting the heads of U.S. intelligence agencies before FBI agents read Abdulmutallab, 23, his Miranda rights.

"The leaders of the intelligence community, the director of National Intelligence, the director of the Counterterrorism Center were shocked to hear he had been Mirandized because he had very valuable information," Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Thursday on Fox News.

On Friday, told of the changes being contemplated by the White House, Bond said: "While there are a lot of unanswered questions, I hope this is a signal that the White House is now more interested in getting lifesaving information from captured terrorists than getting them a lawyer."

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, said he does not think new administration protocols will solve the problem of the treatment of terrorism suspects.

"This attempt to finesse it is not going to fix it," Sessions said. "A captured high-value al-Qaida member should be immediately placed in military custody and should be immediately interrogated vigorously in a sustained interrogation."

Although Sessions and others have recommended that terrorism suspects arrested on U.S. soil be immediately put into military custody, such an action could take place only if the suspects are found to be enemy combatants.

Law enforcement officials, however, say putting terrorism suspects arrested on U.S. soil immediately into military custody is not as easy as it sounds. A government attorney told the Post that the decision had to be a military one, but would be complicated when the arrest is in the United States.

A suspect has to be a member of al-Qaida or linked to a terrorist group associated with al-Qaida under the legal approach used by the Bush administration, and that has not been tested in court.

Jose Padilla, who was accused of planning a "dirty bomb" attack in 2002, spent years being questioned while in a Navy brig, but he provided no practical intelligence. In the end, the Bush administration charged him in federal court with conspiring to aid terrorist organizations. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Plan calls for intelligence consultations before reading of rights in terror cases 02/13/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 13, 2010 7:54pm]
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