Friday, February 5, 2010

The underpants bomber speaks

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who tried to blow up a plane in Detroit on Christmas Day, is only 23 years old. It seems unlikely that he has a very sophisticated view of the world. I can remember - barely - what I was like at 23, and much more recently, what my children were like at 23. While my children were a lot smarter and a lot more knowledgeable about the ways of the world than I was at that age, I think it is fair to say that none of us really understood the workings of the powers that ruled our world. I strongly suspect the same is true of the would-be underpants bomber.

He was susceptible to being led and misled and indications are that he was, particularly by an American-born Yemeni radical cleric named Anwar al-Awlaki. This man also allegedly had ties to the 9/11 attacks and to the soldier who shot up Fort Hood last November. Al-Awlaki is now supposedly somewhere in the mountains of Yemen. Abdulmutallab may have an idea as to where he is, and Abdulmutallab seems not at all reticent about telling authorities all he knows.

Abdulmutallab was captured, of course, during his attempted attack and has been in the custody of law enforcement since then. First, he was taken to the hospital and given medical treatment, because the only person he managed to injure was himself. Since then, he has been advised of his legal rights and, from all that we can tell, has been treated very humanely. Some of his family was flown from Nigeria to meet with him and talk to him. His uncle and his father, who had warned American authorities that his son had been radicalized and posed a threat, talked to the young man and persuaded him to cooperate with authorities and tell them what he knows. It seems that he is doing that. While the FBI has been pretty tight-lipped about the information he has given them, they have stated that he has provided "actionable intelligence."

All of this was accomplished without waterboarding or sleep deprivation or sexual humiliation or any of the other torture techniques employed by the previous administration. It was accomplished by respecting the individual's rights and our constitutional principles and by treating him and his family with dignity. Imagine.

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