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Dennis Blair & the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group

By Kamika Dunlap on January 21, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Barring some serious turn of events, the civil trial process is already underway for Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspect accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day.

But if the nation's intelligence chief Dennis Blair had it his way, the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group should have been brought in first.

Since the incident, others are also beginning to question how and why the government decided to place the 23-year-old Nigerian national in the civilian court system. National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair lamented before a Senate panel that the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) should have questioned Abdulmutallab in the hours after he was taken into custody on a landed Detroit-bound airliner.

What is HIG?

It is elite interrogation unit created by the Obama administration last year to handle suspects captured abroad. The interagency squad is housed administratively within the FBI and reports to the National Security Council.

What is the role of the HIG?

The group comprised of CIA, FBI, and other federal agency employees makes "case by case" decisions on Mirandizing detainees, creates a playbook of the most effective proven interrogation practices and travels around the world.

Why do we have the HIG?

HIG is in place to limit Obama and future Presidents from having too much control over the interrogation process. White House officials have said they would "not be involved in the "tactical and operational decisions" of the HIG.

Is the HIG up and running?

Currently, the HIG is not fully operational yet and law enforcement officials say it would have taken several hours at a minimum to get anyone assigned to the group to Detroit.

As previously discussed in Findlaw's Courtside, Blair, the nation's intelligence said HIG should have been been used to try and obtain actionable intelligence before Mirandizing Abdulmutallab.

He told the Homeland Security Committee that he was not consulted on whether Abdulmutallab should have been questioned by the HIG unit to determine whether he should be charged in civilian or military court.

Some critics say the government should have considered whether to delay placing Abdulmutallab in the civilian court system in order to gather any useful intelligence from him before he gained the legal protections of a lawyer.

As previously discussed, Abdulmutallab was charged by the Department of Justice in federal court, rather than by military tribunal.

Abdulmutallab pleaded guilty to six federal charges.


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