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Pen Pals: The Attorney General and the Kentucky Senator

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February 5, 2010

As you know there has been a lot of politically-motivated criticism of the Obama administration for holding Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in federal custody. This week, Attorney General Eric Holder responded to that criticism with an outstanding letter that comprehensively goes through the reasons why the criminal justice system is more than capable of prosecuting terror suspects.

The five-page letter to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) defends the detention and interrogation of Abdulmutallab by federal law enforcement, and the use of the criminal justice system to successfully prosecute suspects on terrorism-related charges. Holder points out that the Obama administration is adhering to policies that were set by previous administrations without challenge:

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the practice of the U.S. government, followed by prior and current Administrations without a single exception, has been to arrest and detain under federal criminal law all terrorist suspects who are apprehended inside the United States.

By the way, that underlined part? Not us. All Holder.

The Attorney General then goes on to list a veritable Who's Who of high-profile terror suspects successfully tried by U.S. courts, including "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid and "20th Hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui. He states that "there are many other examples of successful terrorism prosecutions…which I am happy to provide upon request." Over 300 examples, actually. Hopefully, Sen. McConnell has a lot of reading time set aside.

Sen. McConnell has been overtly critical of the Obama administration's approach to handling terror suspects and has pledged to do "everything we can to deny them the funds they'll need" to try terror suspects in federal court, rather than before military commissions. He's also joined former Attorney General Michael Mukasey in complaining that Abdulmutallab should not have been provided with a lawyer, arguing that this prevents the U.S. from learning valuable intelligence about al-Qaeda. Never mind that recent reports have stated that Abdulmutallab has been cooperating with FBI agents.

In his letter, Holder attempts to set both Sen. McConnell's and Mukasey's mind at ease by reminding them of a judge's ruling in a similar case:

In fact, when the Bush administration attempted to deny Jose Padilla access to an attorney, a federal judge in New York rejected that position, ruling that Padilla must be allowed to meet with his lawyer. Notably, the judge in that case was Michael Mukasey, my predecessor as Attorney General.

Well, that's embarrassing.

The letter also defends the work of our nation's law enforcement officers, pointing out that they are, in fact, dedicated to protecting America, and do not seek out ways to make life easier for suspected terrorists.

Over the past year, we have used the criminal justice system to disrupt a number of plots….The backbone of that effort is the combined work of thousands of FBI agents, state and local police officers, career prosecutors, and intelligence officials around the world who go to work every day to help prevent terrorist attacks. I am immensely proud of their efforts.

While we may disagree with Attorney General Holder on some matters, it's encouraging to see a senior member of the administration stand up for the rule of law and those that enforce it. The Constitution and the rule of law cannot be subverted for the sake of mere politics. It's a lesson that the administration would do well to remind itself of at times, as well as its critics.

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