The Miranda Conundrum in the Shahzad Arrest

John McCain is saying we shouldn’t mirandize an American citizen who has been arrested for his participation in the Times Square bomb plot:

It would have been a serious mistake to have read the suspect in the attempted Times Square car bombing his Miranda rights, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Tuesday.

McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a longtime leading Republican on national security issues, said he expected the suspect in the case could face charges that might warrant a death sentence if convicted.

“Obviously that would be a serious mistake…at least until we find out as much information we have,” McCain said during an appearance on “Imus in the Morning” when asked whether the suspect, 30-year-old Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen from Pakistan.

“Don’t give this guy his Miranda rights until we find out what it’s all about,” McCain added.

First of all, it is never a “mistake” to follow the law. Mr Shahzad is an American citizen, and even if he had murdered thousands, he would still be entitled to the protections guaranteed under our Constitution.

And yet, this is one instance where the “ticking bomb” scenario might very well be a reality. Newsweek reports there may be a connection between Shahzad and the Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud:

A prominent expert on Jihadist media says there is an apparent link between the new video message in which Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, once thought to have been killed, proclaims he is still alive, and a message posted overnight Saturday in which the Pakistani Taliban appears to claim credit for the failed Times Square car bomb attack.

Rita Katz, founder of the Site Intelligence Group, a private organization that monitors and translates extremist Web postings, late on Monday outlined a timeline her organization put together that suggests that the Hakimullah video and the U.S. attack claim were both posted, at least on some sites, by the same person or persons.

Terrorists are notoriously full of bombast but just for the record, Meshud made some bloodthirsty threats toward America in his latest video:

In the videos, Hakimullah Mehsud vows attacks on U.S. cities, which he says his suicide bombers have penetrated. The videos provide the first solid evidence that he survived the missile strike, and they come after the Pakistani Taliban’s widely dismissed claim of responsibility for the failed attack in New York’s Times Square. In that case, authorities were zeroing in on a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan. A suspect was arrested late Monday, though reports of his ties to extremist groups in Pakistan could not be substantiated.

Might there be other terrorists in other major American cities waiting to strike as I write this? And would that be a good enough excuse for the government to arbitrarily waive Mr. Shahzad’s Constitutional rights, designate him an “enemy combatant,” and interrogate him using all legal means at our disposal (I take it as a given that President Obama has rejected “enhanced interrogation” as an option)?

For some on both sides of the argument, this is an easy question to answer in the affirmative or negative. However, knee jerk ideological reactions from civil liberties absolutists or bloodthirsty right wingers are just not good enough in this situation.

The threat is real and immediate. Hundreds – perhaps thousands – of American lives may be at stake. Wouldn’t it be easier just to forget the Constitution in this one instance and treat this terrorist as the enemy he himself claims to be?

It would be easier. But would it be the right thing to do? I daresay if there is another terrorist attack – this one successful – and we followed the law to the letter by allowing the suspect to remain silent despite the fact that it is later revealed he could have given us information that would have stopped the attack, the political ramifications would be severe. And the fact that our police obeyed the Constitution would give cold comfort to the families of those who lost a loved on in a preventable attack.

It’s an easy choice – unless you lose someone because of that choice. Then it becomes a little more complicated, yes? Or, on the other side of the coin, if Mr. Shahzad knows nothing of any other attacks and precious little about his overseas connections, violating his constitutional rights would be seen as dramatic overkill. The law would have been violated for, what in retrospect, would be seen as no good reason.

You might argue that postulating outcomes is a fool’s game and that holding fast to Constitutional principles or making the exception in Shahzad’s case is a decision for the moment and no thought should be given to relative consequences. I disagree. This decision would be all about “relevant consequences.” If we violate the suspect’s Constitutional rights and the information we are able to wean out of him prevents an attack, is that justification for tossing the Constitution aside? Or if he has no information relevant to accomplices or other plots, must we automatically assume that what was done was a travesty?

Herein lies the conundrum over Mirandizing Shahzad. Whether we do or don’t, our actions will have profound consequences. Even if no other terrorist attacks are being planned, finding that out is almost as important as discovering another plot to kill Americans. And as with any other decisions made by policymakers, the potential harm must be weighed against any positive outcome to their actions.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be confronted with choices like this. But in the real world where lives may be at stake and the responsibility weighs heavily on our national leaders, the simplified view of the ideologues is a luxury not vouchsafed those who are charged with protecting American citizens.

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