Underwear Bomber Proves Obama Was Right

Abdulmutallab's sentencing makes the frenzied panic of three years ago look rather silly.


Something remarkable didn't happen last week: Nobody blew up Detroit.

This is a stunning development. It is stunning because Detroit is the city where, on Thursday, a federal judge sentenced Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to life behind bars.

Abdulmutallab is the infamous Underwear Bomber – the man who tried to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day in 2009 in a suicide mission for al-Qaida. Four months ago he pleaded guilty to the charges. In civilian court, in Detroit.

Which, last time anyone checked, is still standing.

This is not what was supposed to happen, if you will recall. Three years ago, a lot of people – Republicans and conservatives, mostly – were pulling their hair out in (pardon the term) sheer terror at the very thought of trying terrorist suspects in civilian court.

The Obama administration had proposed doing just that with the detainees being held at the military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It was going to put 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad on trial in New York. Other terrorist suspects would be tried in Washington. Pending trial, some of them were to have been held in custody here in Virginia.

Conservatives went berserk. Virginia Reps. Eric Cantor, Frank Wolf, and Randy Forbes strenuously opposed the idea. As this newspaper reported at the time, "The Republicans raised fears that the presence of detainees could make domestic jails targets of international terrorists and create local security risks in cases of escape. The lawmakers also were concerned that terrorists would try to recruit gang members."

Forbes introduced legislation to block federal funds for any transfer of prisoners from Guantanamostateside. Bob McDonnell, then running for governor, issued a press release supporting the measure. The United States District Courthouse in Alexandria, he noted, "is located in the city, only 190 feet from a new Westin Hotel, and close to apartment buildings, shops and restaurants. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, with 7,000 employees, is only a block away."  The clear implication: Their lives would be in danger.

Former Bush administration Attorney General Michael Mukasey agreed that any terrorist suspect's mere "presence would generate serious security concerns for any person or place associated with their prosecution or confinement."

Ditto Charles Krauthammer, who fretted that "any such trial will be a security nightmare and a terror threat to New York." What better propaganda, he asked, "than blowing up the entire courtroom,making KSM a martyr and making the judge, jury and spectators into fresh victims?"

Not only that: Granting KSM a civilian trial offered him "the greatest propaganda platform imaginable – a civilian trial in the media capital of the world – from which to proclaim the glory of jihad and the criminality of infidel America." In other words, it would be a grand recruitment opportunity for al-Qaida.

Many Americans shared such concerns. According to one 2009 poll, "nearly two out of every three respondents – 61 percent – said they think it is likely that New York City will experience a terrorist attack, either before, during, or immediately after the terrorist trials."

The pressure proved too great. On the same day Obama announced his bid for re-election, his administration caved on civilian trials for the prisoners at Gitmo, who would get military tribunals instead.

Abdulmutallab's sentencing makes the frenzied panic of three years ago look rather silly. Swarthy Middle Eastern commandos did not spring Abdulmutallab in a daring nighttime raid. He did not tunnel his way out of jail with a plastic spoon, or incinerate Grosse Pointe with a homemade nuke. He made a few remarks in court, but referring to his undies as a "blessed weapon" and his life sentence as a "victory" does not seem to have inspired legions of imitators.

Abdulmutallab will spend the rest of his days rotting in an isolation cell at a supermax prison inColorado. But he won't be entirely alone: The Alcatraz of the Rockies is home to Richard Reid, the shoe bomber; Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber; Ramzi Yousef, who helped bomb the World Trade Center in 1993; and Terry Nichols, who helped Timothy McVeigh bomb the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It also holds Ali Salah al-Marri, an al-Qaida sleeper agent, and Jose Padilla, the dirty bomber.

All those terrorists were tried in civilian court without incident, too. Ramzi Yousef was tried in New York. Most of those just named were tried and sentenced well before the Obama administration announced plans to close Guantanamo. Unlike his conservative critics, the president demonstrated some faith in the ability and dedication of the nation's courts, security guards, prison staff, and counterterrorist operatives.

And his critics? All they demonstrated is that pandering to public fear to score cheap political points can make you look like a fool.

A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where this article originally appeared.

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  1. Article headline precluded reading of article.

    1. Mentioning the underwear bomber without mentioning Kurt Haskell is folly.


  2. Thank you, A. Barton Hinkle, for this rare dose of Reason.

    1. Stop spelling my name wrong!

  3. Sure everyone* was hyperventilating about trying Khalid in New York City for “no good reason”. That being said, some guy who tried to blow up his underwear is not really the same caliber as a top Al Queda operative.

    1. I have my suspicions he was a government plant, so they could search inside our pants.

      1. Don’t be silly, you’d have to assume they needed a reason to search our pants.

      2. Actually, I planted him so the government would search inside my pants.

  4. If you catch them in the US, you can usually try them in US criminal courts. The problem arises when you catch them on a battlefield or somewhere like Yemen. We have a whole prison full of people in Cuba for whom there is no doubt they are terrorists but for whom none of the evidence that shows that would be admissible in a federal court. And that is not because the evidence isn’t legitimate. It is because the federal rules of evidence require you to prove it is legitimate by providing things like a complete chain of custody.

    What do you do with those people? You can’t try them without changing the federal rules of evidence. And no President is going to turn them lose only to see one of them kill an American somewhere and said President take the blame.

    1. The problem arises when you catch them on a battlefield or somewhere like Yemen.


      If they’re really that much of a threat to our security, they should be tortured until they want to die for information, then granted their request.

      I mean, it’s only fair to send em on to see their 72 virgins.

      Disclaimer: I realize the argument “But what if you were an enemy of the nation!?” and reserve this logic only for those that wish to kill/maim us on our land, after we’ve quit playing world police.

    2. Battlefield is easy. They are POWs and can be tried by whatever means is typical. Put together a war crimes tribunal or something.

      Yemen is trickier. It would have been easier if Letters or Marque and Reprisal had been issued for them. I think someone suggested that. Who was it again?

      1. I agree with you about the battlefield part Rob. And it should be easy. But the world had a fainting fit when Bush went to do that. We have a military tribunal now. And we don’t use it enough. And it is not a kangeroo court. The big case was Obama’s chauffeur. And that guy basically got time served. A military tribunal is perfectly capable of handling these cases in a fair manor. We should have been using them from the beginning.

        1. Or you could try the Obama method, which is bomb that shit out of them from a drone and then you don’t have to worry about their legal status within the court system.

          Dead terrorists are a lot easier to deal with, apparently.

          1. I’m sure Pakistan’s government would agree!

          2. That is why Obama kills them. By objecting to tribunals, he has no way to deal with these people. So he kills them and doesn’t have to bother.

        2. “”A military tribunal is perfectly capable of handling these cases in a fair manor. We should have been using them from the beginning.””

          In general I agree. But many prosecutors at Gitmo have had complaints about the system. If we used the tribunal system in place before 9/11, it would have worked but for some reason the Bush admin wanted to rework the process just for these folks which screwed up what should have been a fairly easy process.

          1. That is because Bush and Yo and the other idiots at OLC were just that, idiots. They didn’t know shit about international law. And they convinced themselves that international law had been so corrupted by the NGOs and the communists that it was worthless in these cases. It hadn’t been and it wasn’t. Nuremburg is still valid international law. The military told them how to deal with these cases and had plans to start doing so. But OLC and the assholes at DOJ, who knew nothing about the subject, swooped in and stopped them. It was one of the biggest blunders of the Bush Administration.

            1. I don’t buy into the “they were idiots” meme. They may have screwed up, or not. It depends on what they were really trying to achieve and I won’t claim to know exactly what that was.

              1. What they were trying to achieve was protecting the country. I don’t think they were malevolent. But I do think they talked themselves into believing some things that just were not true.

            2. I’m going to have to flag you for overuse of initialisms; five yard penalty, still… first down.

    3. “”We have a whole prison full of people in Cuba for whom there is no doubt they are terrorists “”

      Blind faith in our government.

      I would bet there are many that we do doubt are terrorist, if you properly define that word. Government likes to bend the defintion of terrorist to fit their ends.

      1. I would bet there are many that we do doubt are terrorist, if you properly define that word. Government likes to bend the defintion of terrorist to fit their ends.


        I mean, the founders of our own country could be considered terrorists by today’s definition.

      2. It is not blind faith. If you don’t believe me, go find the wikileaks stuff. All of the TS files on those guys were dumped by Wikileaks. Read them. They make for interesting reading. And what you find is, that yes, the majority of them are really dangerous people and are guilty as hell.

        And if you don’t believe that, think about Obama. You don’t think he wanted to close GUTMO and give all of his liberal supporters a pony? Of course he did. But what he found out when he got into office and finally had security clearance to know what was going on, was that it wasn’t so easy to release or try these guys. You don’t have to have blind faith in the government to realize that Obama didn’t keep that place open for fun. He did because he had no choice.

        1. “”We have a whole prison full of people in Cuba for whom there is no doubt they are terrorists “”

          “” the majority of them are really dangerous people and are guilty as hell.””

          The majority isn’t the “whole prison”.

          And guilty of what? Like I said, the term terrorism is bent like a pretzel that would convict our founding fathers. It is well known that some at Gitmo where a product of warlords collecting money and what the person of accused of is hearsay. For some, the gov would rather keep them locked up than have such flimsy evidence fail a military tribunal. Time served for Obama’s driver is considered a failure by some.

          Why would it be so difficult to try people who are so obviously guilty unless the facts don’t meet the rhetoric?

          The wikileaks are of government files, no? so you are still taking the government’s word for it.

          1. Go read the files and you will find out what they are guilty of. And yeah, they are government files. But it is not like they were made for public consumption. They are the actual no kidding internal evaluation of what evidence we have on these people and what we can do with them.

            To save you the trouble of reading them, there is a wide variety of people there, mostly low level losers. There are a few high level ones. And the evidence against them consists of them being caught, usually in Pakistan, at various safe houses that were staging areas for radical fighters going into Afghanistan. What do you do with a Yemni who is found in a safe house in NW Pakistan with several people that are known leaders and operatives in Al Quada, and under his bunk he had a nice set of Al Quada drafted bomb making instructions he was studying before being sent out to parts unknown?

            Now we don’t have the chain of custody to get the bomb making instructions admitted into court. And the intelligence that tells us that the people who ran the house were senior Al Quada operatives is all deeply classified and entering it in open court would require us outing all of the ways that we eavesdrop on Al Quada. So convicting him is impossible. But he is clearly a radical who will go right back to building bombs and killing people if we turn him lose.

            1. “”Go read the files and you will find out what they are guilty of.””

              You mean accused of? Or is faith in the government’s word good enough for you?

              1. Vic,

                they didn’t invent those files. And they never intended them for release to the public. The things in there are true. There is no reason to think they are not.

                1. “”The things in there are true.”‘

                  How do you know other than blind faith in what the government said? It doesn’t matter if they were intended for public use or not.

                  1. Probably because the information contained in those documents were never meant for public consumption so why would the goverment go and falsify that data? I am with John on that point, to assume that documents that were leaked unintentionally, contains intentionally misleading information makes the goverment look way more competent than it really is.

                    1. “”why would the goverment go and falsify that data””

                      I’m not claiming the data has been falsified, but that doesn’t mean the data is true either. The information could be wrong.

                      If I said warlord x claims person A,B, and c did Y, the government doesn’t really know if it’s true.

                      Is everything in a government indictment always true? When the government has more at stake it often stretches things to make one believe the case is more solid that what it is. Even internally.

          2. Like I said, the term terrorism is bent like a pretzel that would convict our founding fathers.

            Speaking of this, they were, to be perfectly honest. I do not disagree with most of our FF or some of their methods. But, they were terrorists of their days. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. It doesn’t make them evil.

            1. Terrorism is pretty much exclusively used to denote those activities which target innocent civilians. In this, the Founding Fathers were definitively *not* terrorists.

              I don’t think much of this talking point, if that wasn’t obvious by now.

              1. This has changed. Now even attacks upon uniformed troops on the battlefield are “terrorism”.

    4. Civilian US court is confusing. He was tried in a US criminal court, as opposed to a civil, military, tax etc. court.

  5. Battlefield is easy. They are POWs

    Technically, they don’t qualify as POWs because they are not in uniform, not fighting for a sovereign nation, etc.

    If they are engaged in hostilities, what they are is war criminals.

    SCOTUS has already told us what would be adequate due process for these folks – a military tribunal that meets certain minimums. I think a speedy tribunal, followed by release on the spot where they were apprehended (if acquitted), or execution (if convicted), would be the way to go. Executions could be stayed pending cooperation with our inquiries, of course.

    1. Executions could be stayed pending cooperation with our inquiries, of course.

      See, I disagree with this. If they were willing to die for their cause on the battlefield, what makes you think they’ll give reliable intel anyways?

      tl;dr. If they want to die, help them.

    2. Their failure to qualify under the Geneva Conventions does not change that they are in fact
      prisoners of war (if not de jure Prisoners of War), nor does it prevent us from taking the high moral ground and treating them in a way consistent with the Geneva Conventions.

      Or as you say, with some other well define process meeting some basic standards of fairness and humanity. Though I have to say that military prosecutors resigning does nothing to bolster my confidence in “minimum standards of fairness”.

  6. “”Technically, they don’t qualify as POWs because they are not in uniform, not fighting for a sovereign nation, etc.””

    Everytime I see that it makes me think of contractors like Xe. They do not fight in uniforms, and they are mercs who fight for a paying customer.

  7. The poor terrorist dupe. He looks so sad!

    Alt picture.

    1. Into the deep fryer for you, Imperialist Sitting Dog!

  8. Nobody blew up Detroit

    Wouldn’t that be kinda like blowing up Hiroshima on August 7th?

  9. I never understood this debate. I think it is pretty simple. If they are captured by LE they get tried in a criminal court. If they are captured outside the country by the military or CIA they are POWs. If there is evidence the POWs committed war crimes, you try them in a military tribunal.

    This isn’t rocket surgery, and it’s not like there is no precedent.

    Where am I messed up here?

    1. I never understood this debate

      The one in this chat room? It’s called “narcissism.” Next question.

    2. “”and it’s not like there is no precedent.””

      What precedent is there for holding POWs until the end of hostilities for a never ending war (WoT)?

      “”Where am I messed up here?””

      You’re not. The idea that this is a new type of war is what screws the pooch.

      1. War is war. You shoot and you get shot. It lasts until one side is no longer willing to fight (for whatever reason).

        You’ll get no argument from me that the WoT was/is horribly implemented. There are no measurable goals/outcomes on which to base an end of hostilities. Perhaps if our gutless Congress had actually declared war there would have been a measure of accountability.

        But I really don’t see how this war is any different, concerning prisoners, than anything we’ve done previously.

        1. Congress did declare war with both afghanistan and iraq.

          They aren’t going to declare war with Islam. That’s an even more ambiguous and aimless target to shoot at.

          1. Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002


            Not a declaration of war. IOW, do whatever you want for as long as you want and we don’t have to accept any responsibility.

            1. You’re just playing semantics. Everyone knows what that resolution is.

              You aren’t required to use the actual words “declaration of war” in order to be in a state of war. That’s just mumbo jumbo conspiracy theory types use to gin up phony controversy.

              1. You’re right about Iraq; you’re wrong about Afghanistan.

              2. In cases of this import these kinds of semantics are important. If they meant a Declaration of War they damn well should have said so.

                If we’ve going to allow “everyone knows” to rule that we have, in fact, no rules.

        2. “”Perhaps if our gutless Congress had actually declared war there would have been a measure of accountability.”‘

          Feature, not a bug.

          Ambiguity favors authority.

    3. Yeah, that seems about right to me. If they can be tried in civilian courts, then they should be. If they were captured in circumstances that makes that impossible, military tribunals seem appropriate. John has a good comment above about how it was a major fuckup by the Bush OLC to confuse the issue so much.

      1. I think Bush’s problem was he viewed EVERYBODY on the other side as a terrorist and not simply soldiers. IOW, a POW camp wasn’t suitable (harsh enough) for terrorists. He needed to turn them into something else so he could punish them for things he couldn’t prove they’d done.

        1. “”He needed to turn them into something else so he could punish them for things he couldn’t prove they’d done.””

          I agree with that. That’s why Gitmo is a mess that you can’t believe everyone is guilty of what is claimed.

      2. Bush didn’t screw this up. They created this legal nebulousness deliberately so we could torture captured suspects.

        1. I largely agree. But it wasn’t just about torturing suspects. It was about leaving enough ambiguity to morph the process as the legal/political situations changed.

          1. Sure, it was not just about that, but it was a big motivation. In order to assert that the detainees were not subject to Geneva, Bush claimed they weren’t POWs (because of the irregularity and lack of uniforms and blah blah), but he also claimed they weren’t subject to US law. This is basically creating a “black hole” legal category where you can do whatever you want. Now, torture is still against 18 USC 2340, but in order to get around that, they had doctors present to advise how to torture so as to deny the specific intent “to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering”

  10. Would Chick Hearn call “No Harm, No foul” On The Underwear Bomber?

  11. BTW, he was a boy who couldn’t get laid; if he grew up here, he would have been a libertarian

    His intenet diary: Google “Farouk1986?

    1. projection, projection.

  12. There’s a difference between people that were actively engaged in fighting with enemies of the U.S. and some idiot domestic terrorist.

    We’ve been trying terrorists in courtrooms for decades, there is nothing new about that. The debate was over whether prisoners of war should be essentially declared defacto U.S. citizens and afforded all the same rights and priveleges. This case does nothing to answer that question or ease the fears people had. This was an idiot domestic terrorist acting on his own with no connection to any group other than admiring them. He’s as much a prisoner of war as timothy mcveigh was

    1. Yep — this was a crime. The civilian courts are where it should be played out.

  13. faith in the ability and dedication of the nation’s courts

    I just threw up a little in my mouth.

  14. Why do we need a trial for guys like KSM? Pump them for info and then a bullet in the head.

    1. Because we are supposed to have higher standards, that’s why.

  15. “Detroit is still standing.”

    Er…only kinda.

    1. Yeah, I’m not sure how they’d be able to tell if terrorists attacked.

      1. It would be cleaner.

  16. I dunno man, the whole thing sounds kinda crazy to me dude.


  17. No one blew up Detroit? It is still standing?
    Maybe Hinkle needs to go have another look at Detroit.

  18. A WWII vet told me a story once. When the german resistance mostly folded in france, we engaged in an all out race with the russians to see who could get more of germany. In the course of that race this guy’s unit came across a little town. They captured three germans just outside of town; one officer and two enlisted men.
    They tied they guys up and he asked the officer ” Do you have any tanks in town?”. The officer told him to go fuck himself. So, he pulled out his bayonet and cut the guy’s throat. He tapped the bayonet’s tip on one of the enlisted men’s shoulder and asked again ” Do you have any tanks in town?”. The german looked at his officer who was still choking on his own blood and said ” YES! YES! THERE ARE TWO BEHIND THE CHURCH!”

    War really is hell and we have no right to judge the activity of soldiers in battle. If they catch fighters on the battlefield, then they should do what they have to do to defeat the enemy. If LE catches them here, then treat them as we have in the past ala Timothy McVeigh.

    The whole war on terror is being used as an excuse to obfuscate legal issues and create legal vagaries so that police powers are unlimited. We are kidding ourselves if we think that is for use against our enemies.

    1. Bullshit.

      But if you want to play that way, you have no reason to complain when an enemy decides it “should do what they have to do to defeat the enemy”.

      1. +1.

        I’m all for allowing soldiers on the battlefield the freedom to “do what they have to do to defeat the enemy,” but I find it hard to believe that slitting the throat of a captured and detained enemy officer qualifies as “what they have to do.” Doesn’t strike me as all that different than the al-Queda types that saw people’s heads off on TV to make a political point.

  19. It’s always seemed pretty simple to me – it’s all a matter of jurisdiction, i.e., who actually took the terrorist into custody in the first place. If it was civilian authority, as was the case with the underwear bomber, then it’s the jurisdiction of civilian court. If it was military authority – i.e., captured on the battlefield – then military courts should handle it.

  20. THE UNDERWEAR BOMBER–Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was allowed to board Delta flight 253 by the U.S. government. “In reality, the State Department was ordered not to revoke Abdulmutallab’s visa by “federal counterterrorism officials” even though the accused bomber had known terrorist ties, in addition to the fact that his own father had warned U.S. intelligence officials of the threat posed by Abdulmutallab a month before the attempted attack.” … “Flight 253 passenger Kurt Haskell, an attorney who witnessed a well dressed Indian man force airport officials to let Abdulmutallab board the plane despite the fact that he had no passport and was on a terror watchlist.” RESEARCH IT IF YOU DONT BELEIVE ME.

    1. All true. And his diplomat father went to the embassy and told them “hey my son may do something violent”. And they still let his ass on the plane.

      1. Not true according the investigation by Dutch counter-terrorism (the flight departed from Amsterdam).


        “Abdulmutallab was carrying a valid Nigerian passport and had a valid U.S. visa, the Dutch said. His name did not appear on any Dutch list of terror suspects.”

        1. Kurt Haskell testimony on youtube is more convincing than CBS.

          1. And the Bush administration masterminded 9-11.

            And Oswald was framed.

            1. And the sky is blue.

  21. What a completely absurd article.

    So because the U.S. government was able to successfully prosecute an individual arrested on American soil, who was provided his due U.S. constitutional rights, for violating any number of U.S. criminal laws …. that means that there won’t be any problem having a foreign national, who had never set foot on American soil, apprehended overseas, in a paramilitary operation where U.S. constitutional rights were not contemplated, and who was never accorded any meaningful U.S. constitutional protections (and, indeed, was tortured)… prosecuted in a U.S. Court?

    Um… okay.

    The logical fallacies are jumping off the screen just reading this article.

    The UnderBomber and KSM are not only completely different people, involved in completely different kinds of activities, hunted by entirely different types of organizations (law enforcement vs. the military) for entirely different types of violations (U.S. criminal law vs. war crimes)….

    indeed, there similarities are quite few.

  22. This would be an absolutely perfect analogy if the cases were even remotely similar to one another. But they aren’t. KSM was captured in a war zone on foreign soil and interrogated by means that would be inadmissible in civilian American courts. It is likely that a large amount of the evidence against him would not have been allowed to be shown to a jury at trial because of the way it was obtained. In that case, a guilty verdict would be much more difficult to secure, and in the event that no guilty verdict were secured, then what? Are we really going to release one of the most notorious terrorists in the world because we couldn’t convict him in our civilian courts? Then we’re right back to the whole argument on indefinite detention.

    This kid was caught inside the United States trying to perpetrate a crime, handled by civilian law enforcement agencies in accordance with civilian law, and tried in a civilian court. That’s as it should be, but it is not a remotely similar comparison to KSM or the other detainees at Guantanamo Bay being shoe-horned into civilian courts after having been captured overseas by the military, during the course of military operations, kept in military detention, interrogated by military intelligence, and then subject to military law.

  23. “Detroit is still standing” ,just like a guy who is hunched over after getting punched in the balls.

    Obama blows them all to hell, “we don’t need no stinkin tribunals ” .

  24. Guantanamo prisoners and the underwear bomber are not the same. The underwear bomber was arrested by civilian authorities operating in the US. These agents are trained in gathering evidence, marandizing,… The prisoners in Guatanomo were captured largely by US military — not trained in bureaucratic (but providing useful safeguards for US citizens) aspects of gathering evidence. ABSOLUTELY terrorists captured on US soil should be tried and managed by our normal court system. However, military prisoners should not. To ask military men/women to get the add’l training to meet civilian court req’ts and to do so in hostile environments or for the U.S. civilian courts to set a different standard is problematic. AND that is also one of the reasons why the recent law passed by Congress/signed by Obama allowing the military to detain/arrest folks in the United States is a BAD move.

  25. I don’t believe he acted alone and there was some very real government involvement in all this. The more I look the more it all stinks to high heaven!

    1. Kurt Haskell sounds legit to me…Government lies again….or are you in the “Golf of Tonkin, surely it would only happen once” crowd?

    2. Yep I agree. People like to holler conspiracy theorist but if people would look into it Israel has been pulling false flag terrorist attacks throughout their history like something like the Levon Affair.

  26. I would have loved to see the 9/11 mastermind tried in New York. The last images that he would see outside of a prison before being executed or sent to rot in jail would have been of New York city still standing, and the people in the jury, alive free, and not at all scared.

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