In Eric Holder’s letter on drone killing today, he used Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s UndieBomb attack as the most extensive evidence justifying the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki.
For example, when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab — the individual who attempted to blow up an airplane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 — went to Yemen in 2009, al-Aulaqi arranged an introduction via text message. Abdulmutallab told U.S. officials that he stayed at al-Aulaqi’s house for three days, and then spent two weeks at an AQAP training camp. Al-Aulaqi planned a suicide operation for Abdulmutallab, helped Abdulmutallab draft a statement for a martyrdom video to be shown after the attack, and directed him to take down a U.S. airline. Al-Aulaqi’s last instructions were to blow up the airplane when it was over American soil. [Emphasis original]
That version of what Abdulmutallab said about his attack draws on Abdulmutallab’s confession to the High Value Interrogation Group at Milan Correctional Facility, last presented in a narrative submitted at Abdulmutallab’s sentencing. I commented on some oddities in that narrative here and will likely return to it.
Contrast that with how Abdulmutallab pled guilty to conspiracy to commit terrorism in court in October 2011.
In the name of Allah, the most merciful, if I were to say I the father did not do it, but my son did it and he conspired with the holy spirit to do it, or if I said I did it but the American people are guilty of the sin, and Obama should pay for the crime, the Court wouldn’t accept that from me or anyone else.
In late 2009, in fulfillment of a religious obligation, I decided to participate in jihad against the United States. The Koran obliges every able Muslim to participate in jihad and fight in the way of Allah, those who fight you, and kill them wherever you find them, some parts of the Koran say, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
I had an agreement with at least one person to attack the United States in retaliation for U.S. support of Israel and in retaliation of the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Palestine, especially in the blockade of Gaza, and in retaliation for the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and beyond, most of them women, children, and noncombatants.
As a result, I traveled to Yemen and eventually to the United States, and I agreed with at least one person to carry an explosive device onto an aircraft and attempt to kill those onboard and wreck the aircraft as an act of jihad against the United States for the U.S. killing of my Muslim brothers and sisters around the world.
I was greatly inspired to participate in jihad by the lectures of the great and rightly guided mujahideen who is alive, Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki, may Allah preserve him and his family and give them victory, Amin, and Allah knows best. [my emphasis]
He pleads to a conspiracy (the first crime he was charged with), but he doesn’t name the person or people with whom he conspired.
Then, immediately after not naming his co-conspirators, he says he was inspired to conduct this act by Anwar al-Awlaki. But even there, he doesn’t attribute Awlaki’s influence to conversations he had with Awlaki in Yemen — even Awlaki acknowledged to having contact with Abdulmutallab, though he maintained he did not order the attack. Rather, Abdulmutallab points to speeches Awlaki published, speeches which, according to other court documents, he listened to as early as 2005.
Thus, at a moment when Abdulmutallab controlled his own speech, when there was no question of coercion (though his current lawyer now challenges his competence at the time), in a speech in which he boasted of Awlaki’s role in inspiring his terror attack, he did not name Awlaki as his co-conspirator.
You could argue, I suppose, that Abdulmutallab did so out of some belief the government or news had lied about Awlaki’s death almost two weeks before (as he makes clear, he refused to believe Awlaki was dead), in an attempt to get him to implicate Awlaki, and that his tribute to Awlaki’s influence but not co-conspiracy was an attempt to push back. The FBI appears to have badgered Abdulmutallab about the likelihood Awlaki would be killed after he got put on a kill list, so it is possible he worried that if he implicated Awlaki he might lead to his death (which had already happened).
Whatever the explanation, these two narratives present two of the three confessions Abdulmutallab gave (the other being the one he gave just after he had been captured, as presented by AUSA Jonathan Tukel at trial, in which Abdulmutallab did not name Awlaki at all). And as the Administration’s newfound transparency rolls out tomorrow, it’s worth keeping in mind that the confession that implicates Awlaki is just one of three Abdulmutallab made, and not even the most recent known one.