Thursday, May 6, 2010

Michael Scott might call this a lose-lose negotiation

So it appears that neither side won.  The Times Square bomb suspect was informed of his Miranda rights, but only after 8 hours of questioning.  Those who would say he should have no rights have to swallow the fact that we at least made a show of acknowledging the constitution.  But those of us who think his rights must be protected lost, too, because they weren’t.  A reading of Miranda 8 hours into interrogation is nothing more than a show.

In the camp advocating not following the constitution when a U.S. citizen is suspected of a crime is Sen. John McCain.  Tuesday, John McCain told Don Imus that he thought it was a "serious mistake" if the Times Square bomb suspect was read his Miranda rights before he was questioned by authorities.  In what possible way can respecting the rights of a U.S. citizen accused of a crime be a serious mistake?  Sen. McCain apparently can see a way.  He would skip right over Amendments 4, 5, 6, and any others and go straight to labeling a citizen accused of a crime as an enemy combatant entitled to no rights.  (Would that include the poor guy wrongly suspected of setting off the Olympic Park bomb?  Or that Portland lawyer whose fingerprint was wrongly associated with the Madrid train bomb?)  Sen. Joe Lieberman would go even further and revoke the citizenship of terrorists and their supporters.  They think it's more important to harshly interrogate someone suspected of being involved in a bomb plot to find out if there might be other such attacks pending.

Let's put aside for now the question of whether non-citizens are entitled to the protections enumerated in the Bill of Rights.  (Reading the plain language of the amendments, I believe they act as limitations on government and apply to all persons, regardless of citizenship.)  The question of citizens receiving constitutional protections, though, is not relevant here, so let's not go there.  This particular suspect is a citizen.  And let's just ignore Lieberman's suggestion because, well, I just can't take him seriously anymore.

As a citizen, this suspect should be unquestionably entitled to all of those rights we claim to love so much, including the presumption of innocence. This is a man accused of a crime.  We have a method for investigating that accusation.  We have a method for proving it in court.  And we don't consider it anything more than an accusation until 12 people unanimously agree that the government has proven the accusation beyond a reasonable doubt.  The fact that the crime involves terror shouldn't change our approach.

I have never been comfortable with the idea of the War on Terror.  That approach may work in dealing with battles in Afghanistan and Iraq.  But it should not be extended to criminal acts, even acts of terror, that occur within this country.  The criminal justice system worked just fine in dealing with those behind the Oklahoma City bombing.  It should be allowed to work in the case of an individual accused of setting a bomb in Times Square.  We should not create a separate class of criminal acts that are treated as something other than criminal.  Where would we draw that line?  Would the kid who placed pipe bombs around Iowa a decade ago be considered an enemy combatant?  What about the Unabomber? 

So I would say all Miranda all the time because, well, that's how we handle criminal investigations.  Sen. McCain would say no Miranda ever if the crime is the kind he thinks shouldn't involve rights.  But neither one of us is getting our way.  Instead, we're in this weird netherworld of treating a bomb in New York City as an act of war for a few hours and then reverting back to recognizing that it's a crime.  Doesn't seem like a satisfactory compromise to me.

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