Fred Hiatt, the Washington Post’s editorial-page editor, has a perceptive piece in today’s paper. He notes that Democratic critics mercilessly attacked the Bush administration over port security, demanding that the administration do a better and more comprehensive job of protecting our nation’s ports (Hiatt further notes that Democrats have fallen silent on this issue now that President Obama is in charge). The principal lesson he draws from the port imbroglio and the current controversy over the Obama administration’s handling of Abdulmutallab is that positive policy change can emerge from public debate. This may not seem like the most original thought, but consider that it is coming from the editor of the Washington Post editorial page, which endorsed President Obama in the last election.
As Hiatt writes, “Republicans want to depict Obama as weak on terrorism and gain electoral advantage from that. But their probing helped reveal a stunning failure by the Obama administration to weigh its options before committing the Christmas bomber to the judicial system — and that, presumably, will lead to a more considered process the next time around.”
That is precisely what is happening. The administration allowed its High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group to languish for months, and it wasn’t until people began questioning the process that led up to Mirandizing Abdulmutallab that the White House woke up. Now, National Security Adviser James Jones has made it clear that Mirandizing captured terrorists won’t be automatic in the future, and that their handling will be thought through with intelligent deliberation by the full national-security team, not just the Justice Department.
A similar dynamic has played out regarding the KSM trial. The administration has abandoned New York as the venue and all but thrown in the towel on trying the case in civilian court. This is in no small part because ordinary people, most notably many family members of 9/11 victims, made their voices heard in opposition.
We’re not running for elected office, so we have no interest in any supposed electoral advantage from speaking out. But we are private citizens concerned about protecting the country and pointing out problems in the hope that someone somewhere might hear and do something about it. Contrary to John Brennan, we don’t think that helps al-Qaeda.
– Dana M. Perino is former press secretary to Pres. George W. Bush. Bill Burck is a former federal prosecutor and deputy counsel to President Bush.