By Tony Romm - 01/30/10 11:00 AM EST
Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) on Saturday hammered the Justice Department for treating Flight 253 terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a "common criminal" -- a move she described in her party's weekly address as a "failure" of the entire justice system.
The decision to read Miranda rights to Abdulmutallab -- better known as the Christmas Day bomber -- is symptomatic of the White House's general "blindness" in its handling of the larger War on Terrorism, Collins stressed.
“President Obama recently used the phrase that ‘we are at war’ with terrorists. But unfortunately his rhetoric does not match the actions of his administration," said Collins, the ranking member on the Senate's Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.
“The Obama administration appears to have a blind spot when it comes to the War on Terrorism," she added. “And, because of that blindness, this administration cannot see a foreign terrorist even when he stands right in front of them, fresh from an attempt to blow a plane out of the sky on Christmas Day."
Collins is among a growing group of GOP lawmakers who are apoplectic at the administration's treatment of Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian terror suspect who tried to bomb Flight 253 above Detroit last year.
Her concerns stem from testimony at her own committee's hearing last week, during which one Justice Department official admitted the White House did not speak with top intelligence officials before reading Miranda rights to Abdulmutallab. That decision, Collins said at the time, meant the suspect was only interrogated for an hour before he was granted a lawyer, and thus was able to stop speaking to investigators.
Collins characterized that decision as a grave mistake in her address Saturday, stressing it has so far deprived the Justice Department of key counterterrorism information.
But other Republicans too have skewered the administration for its now-controversial legal call.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) expressed his concerns to Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter Wednesday, writing, “We remain deeply troubled that this paramount requirement of national security was ignored — or worse yet, not recognized — due to the administration’s preoccupation with reading the Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights."
Earlier this month, 22 other senators wrote a similar letter to the president, stressing Abdulmutallab's likely trial in a civilian setting would send the message that terror suspects would always have a "panopoly of rights" in U.S. courts.
But Collins' remarks this weekend perhaps signal GOP lawmakers are readying a larger push against the White House's approach to the Abdulmutallab case. Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Collins suggested one route earlier this week: immediately transferring custody of Abdulmutallab to the Defense Department, which could then try him before a military commission.
However, White House officials are unlikely to acquiesce to the two senators' request. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs as recently as last weekend described the Justice Department's move as the "right decision," adding the White House gained "valuable intelligence" despite only interrogating Abdulmutallab for a short time.
Still, Collins and others in her caucus remain staunchly unsatisfied with the Obama administration's response. Her radio address Saturday pined the Justice Department to consider revising its approach -- not just with respect to the Abdulmutallab case, but to all of the White House's forthcoming terror trials.
“This charade must stop. Foreign terrorists are enemy combatants and they must be treated as such. The safety of the American people depends on it," Collins said.