Monday, May 10, 2010

You MAY Have the Right

If there's one thing Americans are all very proud of it's our Constitution. Liberal, Conservative, Dallas fan, Libertarian  or Glenn Beck, they will tell you that the Constitution is what makes America the great nation it is. I too think this 200+ year old piece of parchment is one of the most important government documents ever written. It has all sorts of great ideas, such as having three equal branches of government. Integral checks and balances to keep any of the three from becoming too powerful. Unquestioned rights to freedom of Speech, assembly and religion. And another that we Americans are rightfully proud of, assumption of innocence. In other words, no matter how much anger we feel or how much proof we are told exists, those arrested are still the 'accused' or the 'alleged' criminal. They are a 'suspect' until they are proven to be guilty in a court of law. Innocent until proven guilty.

Yet somehow in recent years, with the threat of terrorism more and more a part of our lives, it has become acceptable to start overlooking these Constitutional protections when they are inconvenient. The same politician who will thump his chest and vow that the Second Amendment is sacred will turn to the camera another day and proclaim that we should be able to take an American citizen and strip him of his Constitutional rights simply because he is "accused" of being a terrorist. In fact Senator Lieberman, with several co-sponsors, is introducing a bill that would give the State Department the power to revoke the citizenship of Americans abroad if they are believed to be associating with the wrong people. Never mind that this makes the individual, an American citizen mind you, guilty without arrest or trial. Guilty based on what? A sliver of hearsay intelligence? A picture of you standing near or talking to a person 'of interest'? The whole idea is not only un-American, but sounds blatantly un-Constitutional. Just as bad though is that the bill would prevent nothing, would provide no actual protection at all. Look at the most recent terrorist suspect arrested, Faisal Shahzad who is alleged to have planned the unsuccessful NY Time Square bombing and also an American citizen. Sure he was out of the country for something like 5 months in Pakistan, but we didn't know about any of his contacts there until after the fact. We still don't know very much for sure even now. So the bill inspired by Shahzad's case would have done nothing to prevent it. And on top of that, the bill will waste time in Congress better spent on any of a dozen other serious items, including changes that would actually matter and not tear a hole in the Constitution in the process. Perhaps time would be better served in confirming the current nominee to head the Transportation Safety Administration, an appointment held up for the better part of a year with no end in sight.

It's the same thing with the idea of reading a terrorist suspect his Miranda rights. You know, "you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you" speech we see regularly on every cop show. Miranda warnings have their roots in the 1966 Miranda v. Arizona Supreme Court decision that, to put it simply, said that before interrogation a suspect must be informed of their rights within the Justice system. See here for more info on Miranda Rights. It's just a requirement to ensure the person under arrest is aware of their rights, nothing more. Nobody seems to have a problem with Miranda for serial killers, rapists, pedophiles and the like. But read them to a terrorist suspect and suddenly half the country goes up in hysteria. I know we all hate terrorists. 9/11 has scarred us all to some degree or another. But this is America, and as we are so very proud, we have a justice system that is based on innocent until proven guilty. Yet as soon as we hear someone use the 'T' word we all start frothing at the mouth. Suddenly we are trying to come up with any possible way to circumvent our own justice system so we can rush them to the electric chair as soon as possible. Forgetting, of course, that they haven't actually been convicted of anything yet. I'm sure someone will say, "yeah, but so-and-so confessed!" So? Many criminals do confess, yet we still have a trial or at least go through the prescribed legal steps for judgment and sentencing. Some will point out that terrorists are evil monsters who don't deserve the rights of our legal system, citizen or not. To tell you the truth,  while I do hate terrorists, I'm actually more scared of serial killers. Yet I still support their rights to due process. And if it's good enough for the twisted sociopathic likes of Jeffrey Daumer and Charles Manson then I say it's good enough for Faisal Shahzad, the failed Yuppy bomber.

Some of this is political posturing, but that doesn't excuse it. Pandering to the 'hang 'em high' crowd in direct opposition to our legal system is pathetic.  We have laws and we have procedures for those who break them. The most important thing is that we follow the law. Otherwise it's just an arbitrary decision by whoever is in power that moment. America's justice system is based on strict codes and procedures to ensure it is as impartial as possible. Are we really ready to take these decisions away from the courts and hand them over to politicians and bureaucrats who are more interested in polls and campaigning than justice? It's easy, and darkly satisfying to take someone like Shahzad and dispose of him violently like a Bond villain. But this would require us to willingly sacrifice what it is to be an American. To say to our fellow Americans and the rest of the world that our laws are not impartial, that the law only applies to certain people, under certain circumstances who shall be determined at a later date and based upon criteria to be decided later. That would be a change in the very fabric of our society and way of life due to continued threats of violence, wouldn't it? Sounds kinda familiar to me . . .

Definition: Terrorism
"The deliberate commission of an act of violence to create an emotional response through the suffering of the victims in the furtherance of a political or social agenda."

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