The admission by the Yemen government Tuesday that possibly hundreds of al-Qaida operatives were using the country as a springboard for terrorism emboldened Rep. Peter King to repeat his call for the use of military tribunals to gain vital intelligence information.
In an interview with Newsday, King, the ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee, said Christmas bombing suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should be handled outside the usual civilian court system so he can be interrogated without the usual rights afforded defendants.
"Once a person gets into the criminal justice system, gets lawyered up, given Miranda [warnings], we can't develop intelligence out of them," King said.
"He could be a treasure trove of intelligence," said King, of Seaford. "This [Yemen] is one of the areas of the world we don't have as much information as we want."
But noted civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel said military tribunals were contrary to the American concept of fundamental fairness in criminal cases and historically not very effective.
King's suggestion that terror suspects would be more likely to talk to investigators if they are not given a Miranda warning "is not a very persuasive argument; he should do better than that," Siegel said.
Abdulmutallab is being held without bail in a Michigan federal jail on a criminal complaint accusing him of trying on Dec. 25 to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam on its approach to Detroit. He is scheduled for a court hearing on Jan. 8 and is being represented by a court-appointed lawyer.
On Monday, Yemen's foreign minister, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, not only admitted to a British newspaper that the country was a staging area for al-Qaida but also asked for help from the international community to beef up counterterrorism efforts by Yemeni security forces. "Of course, there are a number of al-Qaida operatives in Yemen and some of their leaders. We realise this danger," al-Qirbi told the Times of London, which posted the remarks online.
"They may actually plan attacks like the one we have just had in Detroit. There are maybe hundreds of them - 200, 300," al-Qirbi said.
Terrorism experts have known for years that al-Qaida has used Yemen as a haven and Tuesday's remarks by al-Qirbi put the issue squarely on the table. King said he knows the Obama administration is planning a number of initiatives to fight the presence of terrorism in Yemen but declined to elaborate because of the classified nature of the information. But based on U.S. activities in other terror havens, it is likely to include the use of increased intelligence operations and small, specialized military units.
Al-Qaida has shown it can move from country to country to protect itself and this means the U.S. has to be inventive in developing good information, King said.