Friday, May 14, 2010

If Miranda is the Question, what is the Answer?

Over the last several months, there has been much tumult and outcry from the deep thinkers on the American Political Right over Mirandizing suspects arrested on terror charges, and predictably, the Obama Administration finds this manufactured political outrage persuasive.  Now, in reality we know that this comes from their desire to torture people who are not like them, and more importantly, are NOT them.  But let's take what they say at face value and think about the impact of Miranda on terrorism investigations.

The first question we must ask is "does advising a suspect of his Miranda rights prior to interrogation have a negative impact on the government's ability to gather information?"  My assumption would be that at some point or another everybody has seen enough American television to be able to recite the Miranda warning right along with the arresting officers.  It is inconceivable to me that anybody arrested in the US, particularly an American citizen, would be unaware of his right to avoid self-incriminating statements and his right to request an attorney.  I bet you'd be hard pressed to find a six-year-old who couldn't recite the Miranda warning just as precisely as the Pledge of Allegiance.  Is it really a reasonable belief that a terror suspect would be unaware of his Miranda rights, and that somehow, by invoking them you provide him with a tool he didn't previously have?  That seems unlikely to me, but if this was a serious argument it would not be hard to establish whether or not this is actually the case.

But even setting that aside, if you think about the actual conditions being discussed here, Miranda serves only one purpose - that is to ensure that statements made during the post-arrest interrogation are admissible as evidence in court when that day comes.  There are really two possible conditions in the case of a suspect taken into custody in the immediate aftermath of an attempted terror attack.  Either he is a hardcore terrorist, trained in his craft, indoctrinated in his worldview and deeply committed to his actions, or he is a wannabe, an exploited kid with a head full of ideology and a heart drenched in fear.  If he is the latter, professional interrogators will quickly and effortlessly gain his cooperation, because they know precisely how to exploit the fear and helplessness of a suspect in their custody.  If he is the former, he will either resist or lie, or possibly an even more effective combination of both.  In either case, there seems to be no real reason to believe that explaining the suspect's rights under Miranda will have any impact upon the outcome of the immediate interrogation.  Rather it appears to be another red herring the Right uses to keep the administration appearing soft and indecisive.

Ultimately, this is another disingenuous argument that really isn't worth having, but once again, until President Obama is willing to say no to the fascists on the extreme right wing, it's the kind of argument that will continue to lend credibility to their un American, anti-democratic fever dreams.  They would like to erode constitutional guarantees of civil liberties into a set of suggestions, to be applied or ignored as it suits them.  It's especially tragic that they lack the historical awareness to recognize the likely consequences of these policies.

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