Obama Abandons Miranda Rights

The debate over Miranda rights for terrorists is getting old and largely predictable. Conservatives argue against following U.S. law and reading terrorist suspects their Miranda rights, while the Obama administration stands behind legal precedent – until the pushback is too jarring and they cave. Attorney General Eric Holder has now announced that he is considering creating a broad exception to the Miranda rights when it comes to terror suspects. This nonsense has got to stop.

America is not a police state – we have the rule of law, and have applied it to every crime committed by an American citizen as long as we’ve had the Constitution. Not only that, we’ve applied it to foreign criminals as well. What makes terrorists so special that they have to be considered their own special brand of criminal? The political right argues that we shouldn’t read them their rights, because they are not civilians –  they are enemy combatants. After all, this is a war we’re fighting. Well, that’s obviously flawed logic. The War on Terror is not an actual war, so how does it make sense to throw terror suspects into a military tribunal? Any information we obtain through extra-legal means is likely not to be admissible in the event these suspects eventually end up in court, so I don’t see it as a risk worth taking.

All of this is déjà vu, of course. I wrote a piece on this very topic a few months back, when the news broke that the Obama administration wanted to try 9/11 perpetrators in New York. Since then they backed off of their strong stance and faith in our legal system, but the same arguments for and against the trials have been reborn in this Miranda argument. The difference this time is that the effect on our legal system may affect more people than just terrorists. Assuming there is a broader exception to Miranda rights, anyone deemed to be connected to terrorists is liable to be questioned without those rights that protect common criminals in any other case. Senator Lieberman even wants to create a new law that strips terrorist suspects of their American citizenship (assuming they have citizenship).

I am disappointed in President Obama for playing politics with fear the same way President Bush did. Obama was supposed to restore our faith in the rule of law and America’s legal system, to reverse the dangerous trend the previous administration began. Instead, he continues to give in to the right wing again and again. There is no reason to broaden the public safety exception to Miranda – the exception was used both for the underwear bomber and the most recent failed attack in Times Square. Questioning its validity is also ridiculous, as Shahzad and Abdulmutallab continued to talk after their rights were read. Once the terrorist suspect begins feeding information without extralegal measures, is there a need to question the use of the Miranda rights? They seem to work just fine.

We are stepping dangerously close to the edge of fascism. America, land of the free, is chipping away at long-cherished freedoms and a respected legal system. If we still are proud of that system, then we shouldn’t be afraid to be consistent, offering Miranda rights to terrorist suspects as well as any average Joe criminal. Considering the record of both successful interrogations and successful convictions in court, veering off that path is solely politically expedient and is no way to actually bring those terrorists to justice.

President Bush used to say that the terrorists hated us for our freedoms, and apparently so do those on the right when it comes to American terrorist suspects. When freedom is sacrificed for security, we have already lost, and the terrorists have dealt a far greater blow than any bomb could. The remedy is worse than the disease. James Madison’s metaphor is applicable here: removing freedom to make ourselves safer would be as bad as removing air so that fire could not spring up. None of us would be burned, but we wouldn’t be able to breathe either.

Kerry Wakely is a second-year political science major. He can be reached at kwakely@uci.edu.