The Obama administration said on Tuesday that it has gained "useful and actionable intelligence" from the would-be Christmas airplane bomber even as conservative critics slam the president for putting Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab through the criminal justice system.
Speaking to reporters during the first daily briefing since the president returned from Hawaii, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said interrogations of Abdul Mutallab have thus far been productive.
"The subject, as you know, was taken from a plane in Detroit. FBI interrogators spent quite some time with him. I don't want to get into all the specifics. But... I would say he has provided, in those interrogations, useful intelligence," said Gibbs. Pressed on what information was provided, he replied: "I'm not going to get into all of what he said, but, again, I think that the interrogators believe he has provided them with useful intelligence."
The Obama White House has come under heat in the days since the incident for deciding to send Abdul Mutallab through the criminal justice system rather than to a military tribunal. In doing so, conservatives argue, the administration is limiting the type of interrogations it can pursue and, as a consequence, the information it can extract.
There are legitimate concerns about the type of information that can be extracted through the enhanced interrogations favored by conservatives. In addition, the White House is pursuing a similar path to the previous administration, under President George W. Bush, which subjected would-be terrorist Richard Reid to the criminal justice system.
"The decision was made in this case similar to previous decisions which were made with Richard Reid, with Zacharias Musawi, with Jose Padilla -- the FBI investigators believe they got useful information from this terrorist," said Gibbs. "And I don't see, despite what you hear otherwise, I honestly don't see the point that is being made when you look at past decisions that were made by other administrations."
Gibbs stressed on Tuesday that the president remains committed to ensuring that the systemic and personal failures to prevent the near-attack will be remedied in the weeks ahead and that the goal is a better-streamlined security system. But he added that the president is not interested in engaging in some type of blame game. "We're going to move beyond agency finger-pointing," said Gibbs.
As for the safety of air travel, Gibbs emphasized that Americans should not be fearful. "I believe that the system that we have right now, with enhanced security procedures that have been implemented, provide a measure of safety and security..."
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