Byron York

It seems like a simple question. Who made the decision to charge Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the accused terrorist arrested for trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet on Christmas Day, as an everyday criminal, as opposed to an enemy combatant?

After all, Abdulmutallab was trained by al-Qaida, equipped with an al-Qaida-made bomb, and dispatched by al-Qaida to bring down the airliner and its 278 passengers. Even though the Obama administration has mostly abandoned the term "war on terror," the president himself has said clearly that the United States is at war with al-Qaida. So who decided to treat Abdulmutallab as a civilian, read him the Miranda warning, and provide him with a government-paid lawyer -- giving him the right to remain silent and denying the United States potentially valuable intelligence that might have been gained by a military-style interrogation?

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Recently that simple question -- who? -- became more complicated after several of the administration's top anti-terrorism officials testified on Capitol Hill. The director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, said he wasn't consulted before the decision was made. The Director of National Intelligence Director, Dennis Blair, said he wasn't consulted, either. The Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, said she wasn't consulted. And the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, said he wasn't consulted.

So how did it happen? We know from a new Associated Press report that after Abdulmutallab was taken into custody, he was questioned for all of 50 minutes -- yes, less than one hour -- before going into surgery for treatment of the burns he suffered trying to blow up the plane. While Abdulmutallab was in surgery, the Justice Department in Washington made the decision to read Abdulmutallab the Miranda warning and provide him with a court-appointed lawyer.

And that was that. "Isn't it a fact, that after Miranda was given ... the individual stopped talking?" Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions asked Mueller.

"He did," Mueller answered. But Mueller declined to say who made the decision to grant Abdulmutallab the right to remain silent.

Byron York

Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner