Had he not proven incompetent to detonate his lap bomb, Umar Farouk Abdulmullatab would have carried off an air massacre to rival Lockerbie. We would all have ended Christmas day watching TV footage of 300 mangled bodies being picked up around Detroit.
The system breakdown was total. His father had reported to the U.S. embassy that Umar had gone extremist, disowned his family and vanished in Yemen. Though the 23-year-old Nigerian had been put on a U.S. terrorist watch list and denied a visa to enter Britain, his U.S. visa was not revoked.
Though he had been in Yemen for months, bought his plane ticket in cash and boarded without luggage, he was neither red-flagged nor screened or body-searched.
We were spared the horrible consequences of our incompetence, only because of his incompetence. The episode raises questions not only about airline security, but about how we are fighting the real war we are in.
Defeating al-Qaida calls for ways and means different from dealing with domestic crime families like the Gottis or Gambinos.
Organized crime is the province of police and prosecutors.
Crime bosses are read their rights and granted access to a lawyer. They come into court in suits to undergo a fair and equal contest to ascertain guilt or innocence. If acquitted, they walk free.
This 23-year-old Nigerian is an enemy combatant whose way of war is mass murder. Under the rules of war, he may be shot. The immediate imperative was not to read him his Miranda rights or to phone Ron Kuby. It was to subject Abdulmullatab to intense and hostile interrogation so that U.S. forces can quickly find, fix, attack and kill his comrades and camp followers.
Unlike the war on crime, or the war on drugs, this is not a metaphorical war. There is no presumption of innocence, rather a presumption that Umar is a terrorist and did not act alone.
The questions he should have been asked as soon as he was pulled off the plane and hauled to a prison hospital are these:
Who taught you to detonate a bomb? Who sewed the underwear in which you concealed the components? Who was with you in Yemen? What are the names of those you trained with? Who helped you get on that plane? Who did you stay with on your visits to the U.S.? Who gave you cash? Who paid your bills? Where is your computer? And if you want pain medicine for those burns, you will tell us.