Thursday, July 31, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

The Elephant in the Room: Who will collect the dots?

Nine years after 9/11, Obama's plan will make it more difficult to protect the country.

Friday will mark the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. (Mark Lennihan/AP)
Friday will mark the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Tomorrow is the eighth anniversary of 9/11.

I remember the vast destruction that rained down from the heavens. I remember the thousands of innocents slaughtered and the bravery of average Americans on the ground in New York and Washington and in the skies above Pennsylvania. I remember, too, the anxiety about the next terror attack, and I remember the dots.

Dots were the obsession in the weeks and months and years after 9/11. No, they weren't the latest fashion craze, but bits of raw intelligence about terrorist activity. Dots - had we connected them we might have prevented that brilliant September day's horror. Dots - we needed more of them, we needed better analysis of them, and we needed to connect them before the enemy acted again.

That's right "the enemy."

Eight years ago we decided that treating Islamic terrorism as a criminal law enforcement issue, as we had for decades, was not only out of fashion, but was also one of the causes of 9/11. This was an act of war by an enemy that did not adhere to any rules or conventions. Al-Qaeda terrorists were not criminals. They were "unlawful enemy combatants."

That is, until now.

After eight years without another attack here at home, dots have gone out of style. They're passé. Worse still, the very activity that created many of the dots is now subject to criminal investigation.

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder countermanded the decision of his Justice Department's career prosecutors and decided to investigate CIA agents who had interrogated unlawful enemy combatants. Holder's special prosecutor will undoubtedly prosecute and secure convictions. Like most political prosecutions, however, the charges will grow out of the agents' conduct during the special prosecutor's investigation, not the agents' conduct in questioning the terrorists. (See the Scooter Libby prosecution.)

But there's more. At the same time Holder announced the investigations and sparked much deserved outrage, came another decision that will impede dot collection. It's the formation of President Obama's High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group. Henceforth, the suspect CIA will no longer question high-value terrorists. Now, a committee of experts from several intelligence and law enforcement agencies - a committee housed at the FBI - will decide whether and how to question the enemy, or should I say "alleged perpetrators." This group will report directly to the White House.

It's hard to imagine a more effective strategy to ensure we do not collect dots than prosecuting agents who did and then handing the job over to a Beltway committee. And not just any committee, mind you. No, a committee of agencies with a long history of being unable to work together, a committee placed under a White House whose principle concern seems to be the image we project to our enemies.

It should come as no surprise that, according to the Washington Post, the administration has decided it will read captured terrorists - sorry, I did it again, the alleged perpetrators - their rights "on a case-by-case basis."

"It is not going to, certainly, be automatic in any regard that they are going to be Mirandized," one official said, referring to the reading of rights to criminal defendants. "Nor will it be automatic that they are not Mirandized."

Just eight years after 9/11, officials in the Obama administration are seriously contemplating telling captured high-level al-Qaeda terrorists that they have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and, if Osama bin Laden doesn't wire the funds, the right to a U.S.-taxpayer-paid lawyer.

Some of us, it seems, have learned a new 9/11 lesson: If there aren't any dots to connect, the president can't be blamed for not connecting them.

Let us continue the prayers for the safety of our nation as we mark this 9/11 anniversary. We need them now more than ever.

 


Rick Santorum can be contacted at rsantorum@phillynews.com.

 

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