Undie Bomber Gets Life

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab<a target="_blank" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:UmarFarouk.jpg">Wikimedia</a>

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


Judging by its lethality, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempt to blow up a plane en route to Detroit on Christmas 2009, using a bomb hidden in his underpants, was a spectacular failure. The would-be terrorist burned himself horribly and was subdued by nearby passengers. 

Abdulmutallab received multiple life sentences for his crimes Thursday afternoon. When discussing terrorism however, there are ways to measure the success of an attack other than its deadliness—such as whether or not the attack is successful in, well, terrorizing people. In that sense, it’s difficult to view Abdulmutallab’s botched bombing as anything but an unqualified victory. Shortly after the attack, Republicans proclaimed the attack a “success” as part of a campaign to make the president look weak on national security. Some demanded that he be subjected to co-called enhanced interrogation techniques and placed in military detention. They insisted that by allowing federal agents rather than military officials to interrogate him, that America had made itself vulnerable to another attack—Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) likened an FBI interrogation of Abdulmutallab to an interview with CNN’s Larry King. 

The Abdulmutallab incident was just one of several that came during a spike of homegrown terrorist incidents in 2009, a trend that has subsided but also involved numbers so small that any decrease or increase was bound to look dramatic. Nevertheless, Abdulmutallab’s impact has been substantial. While Republicans failed to overturn Obama’s executive order banning torture, his arrest lead to a bipartisan effort in Congress to force federal agents to ask permission from the military to investigate terrorism cases where the suspect is believed to be a member of Al Qaeda. While the administration managed to force changes to last year’s National Defense Authorization Act that make its provisions “mandating” the military detention of noncitizen terror suspects apprehended on US soil almost meaningless, there is now a presumption in the law that the military has a domestic role in counterterrorism. 

You’d think that someone who couldn’t even blow himself up right would be a joke, a punchline. Instead, in accidentally setting himself on fire, Abdulmutallab managed to inspire a panic that culminated in the Congress altering the law. Imagine what could have happened if he had actually killed someone.

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate