Flight 253 Threat: Spencer Ackerman, Pat Buchanan Duel Over Law Enforcement Reaction

On today's edition of "Morning Joe", Washington Independent reporter Spencer Ackerman took on MSNBC contributor Pat Buchanan over the law enforcement response to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's crotchfire terror attack on NWA Flight 253.

On today's edition of "Morning Joe", Washington Independent reporter Spencer Ackerman took on MSNBC contributor Pat Buchanan over the law enforcement response to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's crotchfire terror attack on NWA Flight 253.

The basic point of contention boiled down to Ackerman advocating for the sensible law enforcement and investigatory process that has successfully prosecuted terrorists by the score, and Buchanan suggesting that Abdulmutallab should have been carted off to some star chamber and tortured.

Unsurprisingly, it's Buchanan that basically comes off as a madman.


GEIST: Let's get right into that question. Pat Buchanan has said this guy is not an American citizen, should not be treated like one in a court of law. What's your take?

ACKERMAN: He's already been indicted by federal authorities. It doesn't seem to make sense especially if we're talking about promoting the rule of law overseas in places like Yemen not to try him in a federal court.

GEIST: Pat Buchanan, I suspect you disagree with that assessment.

BUCHANAN: Well, yeah, I do. I think -- well, I think maybe the -- you mean the horse is out of the barn, but there's no doubt I think when this fellow was apprehended, he was a foreign national, not an American citizen engaged in an act of terrorism. And I think he should have been put under immediate hostile interrogation, not read his Miranda rights, not be allowed to see a lawyer. And if that happened, he obviously could get off in any kind of Federal court. But I think maybe the decision has already been made. But if it has, I think it was a mistaken decision.

GUTHRIE: Spencer, on the flip side of it, understanding that you think that GITMO has not ultimately accrued to the benefit the national security interests of this country, Pat does raise a point. They would have had a lot better luck interrogating this young man if they had made him an enemy combatant and not immediately indicted him, as you pointed out, where he gets all the rights and privileges as a U.S. citizen, all those legal privileges. What's your argument to that?

ACKERMAN: Well, is that really true? We've seen we've gotten a lot of bad information from torturing people. I don't really understand the argument that because every single time we have a new emergency, we have to forget about the hard lessons we've learned in the past over this. And then secondly, by every standard that we've seen so far, every piece of reporting, the guy cooperated. He immediately said he's a member of al Qaeda. He started talking threateningly about how there were other attacks coming. So I'm not sure where we make this jump to the idea that we're not getting information from the guy. Certainly that's not what Janet Napolitano or President Obama said.

GUTHRIE: Go ahead, Pat.

BUCHANAN: Well, what I'm saying is, the first and highest priority when you apprehend him is not to make sure he gets his Constitutional rights, he's not even a citizen, but to get all of the information you can about where he came from, who trained him, where they are, are there other attacks coming? Where are they coming? And if that means, frankly, you have to deny him pain medicine because he's badly burned, I think you go ahead and do that. I'm not arguing for torture. I'm arguing for hostile interrogation of this fellow because our job is to protect American lives. It's not to make sure his Miranda rights haven't been violated.

ACKERMAN: So you're arguing for torture but with a different euphemism for it?

BUCHANAN: No, I'm arguing for the fact that this is an enemy soldier who's about to try to commit a mass atrocity, and the idea that you're treating him like some guy that held up 7-11, it seems to me preposterous. We are in a war on terror and American citizens is a different thing.

ACKERMAN: Except for -- sorry, go ahead.

GUTHRIE: Go ahead, Spencer, respond to that.

ACKERMAN: Except for all of the hundreds of terrorists that we've convicted in Federal courts over the years. They were able to hold. They were able to incarcerate successfully and they were able to get information out of. I mean, the fact is is that al Qaeda is a dangerous and really important threat. But they're also not a super army of supermen with Muslim Heat Vision and so forth. It's ludicrous to think that we should inflate how dangerous they are because that's exactly what they want us to do.

BUCHANAN: Well, look, there are 3,000 dead people who can testify to how dangerous they are. And, again, when you have --

ACKERMAN: No one's denying that.

BUCHANAN: But look, these are not normal -- take Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. If we find out where his friends are, we don't send him a warrant, we don't send the ACLU out there to read him his rights. You send him a cruise missile and you may kill members of his family. We can't do that with John Gotti on Long Island. so there's a difference between these criminal organizations. What some people don't seem to understand, this is a war.

Really. Where to even begin. The ACLU is not some outward-bound, international rights-reading organization. We don't drop a bomb on John Gotti because the same criminal justice system that convicted and incarcerated terrorists also convicted and incarcerated him. Abdulmutallab, when he was apprehended, was not "an enemy soldier who's about to try to commit a mass atrocity," he was a terrorist who was, uhm... apprehended. And the reason you give Abdulmutallab pain medication for his burns is because you don't tend to get comprehensible intelligence out of someone who's howling in pain.

But, once again, we see the Fallacy Of The Ticking Time Bomb being promoted as a serious, rational response to terror. Clearly, the idea of denying Abdulmutallab pain medication would be a successful methodology if our larger counter-terror goals were to validate the irrational vindictive impulses of Pat Buchanan. Unfortunately, if Abdulmutallab is in possession of key information about a coming wave of airborne crotchfire attacks, he could easily thwart any attempt to extract that information via torture by simply lying about it. False information leads investigators nowhere, and if Abdulmutallab doesn't have the information, the effort is simply a waste of time.

"What some people don't seem to understand, this is a war," Buchanan says. Clearly, Abdulmutallab should have really thought long and hard about this because he ignited his underwear on an airplane.

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