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Bad signs

I find it deeply disturbing that members of a mainstream American political movement are arguing that the 5th Amendment should be suspended when dealing with certain kinds of criminals. Says some knucklehead over at National Review‘s Corner blog:

A terrorist like Abdulmutallab is not a common criminal who should be told he has the “right to remain silent.” He is an enemy combatant, who tried to commit an act of war against the United States of America. He possesses vital intelligence about the terrorist network that deployed him to attack America, and may be planning still more attacks. The Obama administration has a responsibility to make him give up that information. Treating him like a criminal is an abdication of that responsibility, and puts our nation at risk.

Noted conservative luminary Sarah Palin also stated that:

It simply makes no sense to treat an al Qaeda-trained operative willing to die in the course of massacring hundreds of people as a common criminal. Reports indicate that Abdulmutallab stated there were many more like him in Yemen but that he stopped talking once he was read his Miranda rights. President Obama’s advisers lamely claim Abdulmutallab might be willing to agree to a plea bargain – pretty doubtful you can cut a deal with a suicide bomber.

Lest you assume these opinions are limited to the right wing’s intellectual elite, small-town newspaper publisher and Browntown City, Minnesota, Councilman Chuck Warner had this to say:

“…perhaps action should be taken to reverse the decision to charge the alleged bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in a civilian court, rather than a military tribunal. His is an act of war against this nation. It is asinine to give these terrorists the benefits reserved for American citizens.

The time has come to remove the silk gloves and treat international terrorists for what they are.

I laughed when Bush declared war on an abstraction. Now it’s not so funny. It appears people believe we are at war, and that therefore our enemies in the War on Terror (even suspected enemies) do not have rights under the U.S. Constitution.

This is quite the slippery slope. What about the War on Drugs? Can the U.S. government suspend habeas corpus for drug traffickers, just because the executive has declared “war”? What about the soon-to-be-announced War on Irresponsible Journalism? War on Sexual Predators?

I’m being facetious, but only slightly. Spooked by a few ounces of explosives that threatened a couple hundred lives, a large segment of American society is willing – clamoring, even – to tear at our most fundamental civil rights. I take this as an early warning sign that the United States is one major terrorist event away from becoming a very ugly, very dark place.


  1. Will wrote:

    Couldn’t agree more. The Orwellian toying with language is, if not at the heart of some of these changes, very near to it. The moment the term “war” came to inherently include the eradication of “the enemy” at almost any cost—and I think this definition started with the War on Drugs, although there were elements of it in the mutually assured destruction aspects of the Cold War—the stage began to be set for this current mindset. I believe the issues Darrell Cole discusses here—that many people are willing to accept a “dirty hands” morality when they perceive their security to be at stake—factor in as well:

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 08:30 | Permalink
  2. pjk wrote:

    … and the truly amazing thing is that by any reasonable measure, our security is most definitely NOT at stake. Lucky for the terrorists, Americans are easily terrified.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 10:04 | Permalink
  3. gauche wrote:

    I thought this was a good illustration of how torture is not only strategically but tactically unproductive:

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 10:09 | Permalink
  4. pjk wrote:

    In addition, I seem to recall that veteran FBI interrogators were horrified at the CIA newbies’ “enhanced” tactics, mostly because they’re a terrible way to get reliable information out of someone (though they’re a great way to extract false confessions).

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 10:14 | Permalink
  5. Will wrote:

    Re: your 10:04 comment, Krupa, bear in mind that many of these same people play the lottery; the odds are probably about the same, and I would imagine that even a number of people who can be rational about the fact that playing the numbers is a waste of money are willing to bear the costs, if they perceive any at all, if they believe they could die otherwise.

    This doesn’t even take into account the fact that many of these folks are arguing that if torture of a known or suspected terrorist results in intelligence that saves even one American life, that the torture, though reprehensible, is justified. This is an argument that I’ve heard a number of times, and it leaves the probability of terrorist acts completely out of the discussion.

    As for the kind of intelligence you get from torturing, I really have my doubts that the same guys who defend tooth and nail their practices of wiretapping or reading the mail of whomever they darn well please, regardless of whether or not it turns up anything useful, care much at all about whether the information ends up being reliable.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 10:53 | Permalink
  6. bjorn wrote:

    Glad to see you blogging again krupa. Posts like this are what makes this one of my favorite blogs. Keep up the good work. Don’t disappear again.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 10:58 | Permalink
  7. pjk wrote:

    Will: great points.

    Bjorn: Thanks, I won’t 😉

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 11:34 | Permalink
  8. John wrote:

    “It appears people believe we are at war, and that therefore our enemies in the War on Terror (even suspected enemies) do not have rights under the U.S. Constitution.”

    Nigerian suicide bombers have protected civil rights (“our most fundamental civil rights” was the phrase you used) under the U.S. Constitution? I didn’t realize that.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 12:18 | Permalink
  9. pjk wrote:

    Yep, he tried to blow up the plane just outside Detroit. A basic tenet of the Constitution is that it applies to everyone within U.S. borders/territories.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 12:22 | Permalink
  10. John wrote:

    My point is that we have not always given saboteurs and terrorists constitutional protection. During WWII, 6 of 8 German saboteurs were executed after their capture by the FBI. FDR approved the executions and the Supreme Court upheld them. Should there be a marked difference in our response to captured Al Qaeda agents in 2010 versus our response to German saboteurs in 1942? And if so, why? Every serious person can agree that the term “War of Terror” is a joke (such language began with the “War on Poverty,” 50 years ago, btw). But the truth is that we are, in fact, in a kind of war. Not against “terror,” but against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups actively trying to attack us. Kind of seems like you’re setting up straw men here…

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 13:47 | Permalink
  11. pjk wrote:

    I see being “in a kind of war” and actually being IN a war as two significantly different things.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 13:56 | Permalink
  12. Will wrote:

    Hear hear. This “kind of war” is precisely the issue. The German analogy breaks down because Congress had actually declared war with Germany. And even in those very different circumstances, the President still personally authorized those actions, and then even he was held accountable to the Judiciary.

    I’m even willing to give the policymakers the benefit of the doubt at let them propose that the nature of these attacks requires a new way of thinking and new courses of action. If that’s so, what are those actions, and when are they permissible and against whom? Matters of such gravitas should not be played by ear, and until new guidelines are discerned and made public, the old rules should still apply. If we are “at war” with Al Qaeda, then we need to state that we consider it a sufficiently sovereign group against which to declare war, and that operatives of that group will then be treated in accordance with policies of war: deaths of those individuals may be justified if they are armed and engaged in acts of aggression/war (e.g. had there been an Air Marshall on board with the flight of the underwear bomber, he likely would have been found justified had he shot to kill). If these operatives are then rendered defenseless, then they are entitled to the same treatment as hostiles captured in legitimate war.

    If these policies are no longer satisfactory, then a new set of rules needs to be established, publicized, and subjected to public and international scrutiny. That’s one of the many prices of living in a free society.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 14:13 | Permalink

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