Yesterday, a US judge sentenced Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to life in prison without parole for eight felony counts, including attempted murder and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. You will recall that on Christmas Day 2009, Nigerian-born Abdulmutallab boarded a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit with an explosive device planted in his underwear. The bomb did not go off, though Abdulmutallab was burned in the effort.
Several interesting facts to note: First, Abdulmutallab, unlike Anwar Al-Awlaki, was not a US citizen. Second, Abdulmutallab received a US criminal trial, and by many accounts, seems to have been accorded due process: He was charged publicly; he was read his Miranda rights; and he was given a court-appointed lawyer, whom he dismissed. As Glenn Greenwald suggests, due process is possible when trying suspected terrorists. Third, the evidence on which Abdulmutallab was convicted was given by several witnesses who were on the plane (more evidence of due process). Fourth, Abdulmutallab has apparently admitted under questioning by the FBI, to have trained with Anwar Al-Awlaki and Al-Qaeda in Yemen. Fifth, we are not privy to the conditions under which the confession was obtained. Sixth, there are many statements by British newspapers, US officials, and Yemeni reporters that link Abdulmutallab to Al-awlaki, but we don’t have any official evidence.
NPR’s reportage of it was a remarkable act of breathless apologia. Dina Temple-Raston, who wrote a well-researched expose of the FBI’s attempt (in an act of unmitigated racist profiling) to infiltrate a group of Muslims after September 11, 2001, covered the sentencing. I used to appreciate her work in the early days after September 11, especially her sober and balanced attempt to consider how Muslims were being received in the American Political Arena. Temple-Raston and Melissa Block, pointed breathlessly to Abdulmutallab’s confession, given as testimony in his trial, that he had joined Anwar Al-Awlaki for several days of intense training in preparation for this event.
Here’s an excerpt from their exchange:BLOCK: Dina, we heard you mention the American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Talk about his role in this plot. TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes. Well, you remember Awlaki is that radical cleric who may be best known as a propagandist for al-Qaida’s arm in Yemen. He had this huge presence and a Facebook page and a lot of English-speaking followers. What we knew about Abdulmutallab was that he had said he was inspired by him. What is new are these details that came out in this court document that was supposed to help the judge make a decision about the sentencing. And that document revealed the extent of Awlaki’s role in the plot. Abdulmutallab told investigators that he went to Yemen in search of Awlaki, and he wanted to martyr himself. And he eventually actually went to Awlaki’s house in the desert and trained with him for several days. And he said Awlaki connected him with an al-Qaida bomb maker who actually constructed the underwear bomb and even helped him make his martyrdom video. BLOCK: Was Abdulmutallab basically saying that al-Awlaki was the mastermind, the instigator ordering this attack then? TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, essentially. And the reason why this is so important is because Awlaki was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen late last year. And it was a very controversial strike because Awlaki was born in New Mexico. He’s an American. And the Obama administration said he was operational – was an operational threat. But they provided any (sic) evidence to back that up. The release of these details from the Abdulmutallab case are a start. And we’re expecting the attorney general, Eric Holder, to talk about the legal justification for killing Awlaki any time now. I mean, we understand that there’s a speech being prepared to at least address the issue. And we don’t know when that speech is going to be given, but it seems that the details in this Abdulmutallab filing could be readying the ground for that. (my emphasis)
This confession, to hear Block and Temple-Raston, would confirm—no, prove—that President Obama was correct to have assassinated Al-Awlaki even though he gave no evidence for the killing. The two stenographers, as Glenn Greenwald has aptly described, seemed to concur that the confession would become post-facto proof that would vindicate the POTUS and the AG Eric Holder in their decision. They completely—forgot? ignored? the fact that Abdulmutallab’s confession had little to do with the initial controversy over Al-Awlaki’s murder—namely the absence of due process, the absence of any (let alone objective) evidence, the decision to kill an US Citizen by sending Navy Seals into another sovereign nation without permission. Abdulmutallab’s confession has little bearing on exculpating Obama’s use of the unilateral, autocratic, power in ordering the killing of Al-Awlaki as a US Citizen. The supposed confession seems to confirm some bizarre post-assassination fact to Block and Temple-Raston, along the lines of an “I told you so”: “See, he (POTUS) was right to use arbitrary autocratic power!!” Indeed, it would appear that Temple-Raston and Block have given up nearly all critical skills, which I suppose is what is owed to become foremost stenographers on National Public Radio.