It wasn't just the future of health care that had the Obama administration flummoxed Wednesday. Also confusing was what the administration thought about its decision to try the Detroit underpants bomber in civilian court.
The Republicans, of course, have blasted this decision, conveniently forgetting that the Bush administration chose civilian court to charge (and convict) Richard Reid, the shoebomber whose effort to blow up a Miami-bound airliner in 2001 was eerily similar to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's try at blowing up the Detroit-bound flight.
The decision for a civilian trial seems easily defensible. Obama officials said as far back as July that the difference between a civilian trial and a military one has to do with where the crime/attack took place and what its target was. In the case of an attack on a U.S. military target overseas, such as the USS Cole, that means a military tribunal for Abd al Rashim al Nashiri, who's being held at Guantanamo in the November 2000 attack.
Those same parameters were behind the decision to try accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York -- a civilian target, in the United States, in which the victims were civilians.
Which makes Wednesday's testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee all the more astounding. Of the three Obama officials there — Homeland Security boss Janet Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and Counterterrorism Center chief Michael Leiter — none defended the decision. Blair even said it was a mistake that Abdulmutallab had been questioned by the FBI instead of the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, an entity announced over the summer to deal with terrorist suspects outside the usual Miranda rights questioning. Here's AP's account.
At least FBI Director Robert Mueller defended the FBI's role before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
It gets worse, as Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent points out here. Not only did Blair, Napolitano and Leiter go AWOL on civilian prosecution, they turn out apparently to be under-informed about the status of the HIG. It's not yet operational and couldn't have been called in, even if that had been a good idea. Blair issued a restraction.
Maybe it's no wonder that Abdulmutallab got on board the plane.