Monday, May 10, 2010

You Have the Right to Remain Silent (Sorta)

Attorney General Backs Miranda Limit for Terror Suspects:

The Obama administration said Sunday it would seek a law allowing investigators to interrogate terrorism suspects without informing them of their rights, as Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. flatly asserted that the defendant in the Times Square bombing attempt was trained by the Taliban in Pakistan.

Mr. Holder proposed carving out a broad new exception to the Miranda rights established in a landmark 1966 Supreme Court ruling. It generally forbids prosecutors from using as evidence statements made before suspects have been warned that they have a right to remain silent and to consult a lawyer.
He said interrogators needed greater flexibility to question terrorism suspects than is provided by existing exceptions.

The proposal to ask Congress to loosen the Miranda rule comes against the backdrop of criticism by Republicans who have argued that terrorism suspects — including United States citizens like Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in the Times Square case — should be imprisoned and interrogated as military detainees, rather than handled as ordinary criminal defendants.

Right, even if they are U.S. citizens accused of criminal conduct.

For months, the administration has defended the criminal justice system as strong enough to handle terrorism cases. Mr. Holder acknowledged the abrupt shift of tone, characterizing the administration’s stance as a “new priority” and “big news” in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“We’re now dealing with international terrorists,” he said, “and I think that we have to think about perhaps modifying the rules that interrogators have and somehow coming up with something that is flexible and is more consistent with the threat that we now face.”

None of this is "new" of course. Terrorists, both homegrown and abroad, have been threatening the U.S. since we were founded. The "threat we now face" is that the Obama administration has been as cowed by the politics of fear as the previous two administrations, who suffered 9/11 and Oklahoma City, respectively.

I haven't written much about the Times Square flame out, mainly because of finals last week. But even excepting that, other than 50 hours or so of good police legwork, what was there to write? In relation to the "terrorist attack on U.S. soil" in February, where a "terrorist flew an airplane into a building," killing an "innocent American," this incident produced nothing but a lot of "what ifs".

With one minor exception: this guy was an Arabic-descent young male. That's why we didn't hear that this was an "isolated incident" or "lone wolf" or "no cause for alarm" or that he was a member of a "Muslim Militia group" from law enforcement. It was only because he fit the terrorist profile that the label shifts from "extremist" to "enemy combatant" (the funniest is people saying it was al-Qaeda).

Meanwhile, Holder opened a Pandora's box with this potential legislative "exception."

Conservatives have long disliked the Miranda ruling, which is intended to ensure that confessions are not coerced. Its use in terrorism cases has been especially controversial because of concerns that informing a suspect of his rights could interrupt the flow of the interrogation and prompt him to stop disclosing information that might prevent a future attack.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and Republican presidential candidate, said Sunday on “This Week” on ABC that he supported Mr. Holder’s proposal. However, he also suggested that enacting it would not quell conservative criticism, arguing that it would be even better to hold suspects like Mr. Shahzad as military detainees for lengthier interrogation.

“I would not have given him Miranda warnings after just a couple of hours of questioning,” Mr. Giuliani said. “I would have instead declared him an enemy combatant, that would have given us the opportunity to question him for a much longer period of time.”

Even though there is no evidence (none) that Miranda got in the way of interrogating the underwear bomber, the shoe bomber, the Fort Hood shooter, this dope from Times Square, or any other terrorist wannabe. And even though there is no constitutional mechanism for prosecutors to just summarily declare someone an "enemy combatant" on the spot (yet, anyway).

But don't let a few facts get in the way. Miranda, of course, is not the issue here; politics is. As I've noted for years, terrorism is an important issue only in an even numbered year, and lo behold, it's 2010.

We can certainly discuss how far law enforcement should or shouldn't go when interrogating terrorist suspects, but limiting Miranda's application to U.S. citizens accused of crimes (terrorism) is just another bugaboo of extremist rhetoric designed to scare the citizenry politically and take more freedoms. Nothing sells political soap quite like fear.

As a corollary, you know what scares me? Rain. The very same weekend we were in a tizzy over the Times Square car bomb that fizzled, nearly 30 people died in Nashville from flooding.

I'd like to see rain declared an enemy combatant and then waterboarded.

UPDATE: The NYT has an excellent editorial today spelling out further concerns over this Holder idea of "carving out exceptions" to Miranda (emphasis mine).

For nearly nine years, the threat of international terrorism has fueled a government jackhammer, cutting away at long-established protections of civil liberties. It has been used to justify warrantless wiretapping, an expansion of the state secrets privilege in federal lawsuits, the use of torture, and the indefinite detention of people labeled enemy combatants. None of these actions were necessary to fight terrorism, and neither is a dubious Obama administration proposal to loosen the Miranda rules when questioning terror suspects and to delay presenting suspects to a judge.

1 comment:

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