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Abdulmutallab Read Miranda Rights Nine Hours After Arrest

So much for the “50 minutes” talking point.

The 23-year-old Nigerian man accused of attempting to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day was read his Miranda rights nine hours after his arrest, according to a detailed chronology released Sunday by senior administration officials.

The timing of events during the arrest, initial interrogation and medical treatment of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was made available after Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) made statements about the process that administration officials believe are misleading. “It makes no sense to get a guy off an airplane who just tried to blow up the airplane and read him his rights within 50 minutes,” Graham said in an interview on Fox News.

Graham is one of several Republicans who have cited the handling of Abdulmutallab as an example of what they see as the administration’s faulty response to a terrorist assault on a U.S. airliner. On Feb. 3, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the American people and Congress wanted to know “why an al-Qaeda-trained terrorist fresh from Yemen and caught in the act of an attempt to blow up an airliner was handed over to a lawyer after a 50-minute interview.”

So where did the “50 minutes” talking point come from? Well, Abdulmutallab did have an interview for 50 minutes after being arrested, but medical difficulties prevented that from going further. When questioned again after receiving treatment, the suspect would say nothing further. At that point he was read his rights.

We should all keep in mind that Abdulmutallab, by virtue of being in FBI custody, already had these Miranda rights before they were read to him. It clearly does not magically shut down the interrogation process, as evidenced by the fact that questioners continued their pursuit of intelligence from Abdulmutallab, and with help from his family, eventually succeeded.

Walter Pincus does us a service with this Emptywheel-style timeline of events for the failed Christmas Day attack. I’m sure she’ll pick over it as well, but it’s pretty straightforward. The FBI interrogators were able to get what was called “actionable” intelligence in that first 50-minute interview, and then Abdulmutallab stopped talking after his surgery. And he’s talking now.

So what’s the problem, exactly?

UPDATE: Eli Lake reports that US authorities are searching for English-speaking terrorists trained in Yemen, acting on information from Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Who didn’t provide any actionable intelligence after a 50-minute interview. Or something. Right.

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David Dayen

David Dayen