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Published: Wednesday, 2/10/2010

Holder's method

CRITICISM by some senators of Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to treat attempted airline bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a prisoner to be handled according to U.S. standards of justice is unjustified.

When Mr. Abdulmutallab was arrested Dec. 25 in Detroit, he was questioned briefly and read the Miranda rights that cover anyone arrested on American soil.

Mr. Holder says he made the decision to handle Mr. Abdulmutallab in that fashion after consultation with the FBI. The Nigerian was clearly both an alleged criminal and a potential source of intelligence.

The charge by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and others is that in dealing with Mr. Abdulmutallab in that fashion - as opposed to labeling him an enemy combatant, turning him over to the military and the CIA, and grilling him with irregular methods such as waterboarding (as might have been his fate during the Bush administration) - the attorney general risked losing useful intelligence that could possibly have been extracted from the suspect.

Mr. Holder's response has been twofold. First, if a convincing case is to be made against Mr. Abdulmutallab in U.S. civilian courts, as is appropriate, U.S. constitutional procedures assuring due process of law needed to be followed, as they were.

Second, it appears that Mr. Abdulmutallab has been influenced to provide considerable intelligence, not through torture but by the simple procedure of bringing some of his family members from Nigeria to the United States to encourage him to talk.

Some politicians' approach to the rule of law turns out to be without justification, as well as a threat to the principled functioning of U.S. justice.

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