Congressional Sparring Ignores Practical Reasons For Miranda

As lawmakers in Congress duke it out over whether the Times Square bombing suspect ought to have been read his Miranda rights, it's worth considering the real-life impact of reading a suspect his rights - and of withholding them. The consequences of not reading rights to terrorist suspects that we later want to prosecute are now on display at the military commissions in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And it's not looking good for the government.

Omar Khadr, whose pre-trial hearing continues, was not read his rights, pursuant to Bush administration policy. Of course, Khadr was captured in Afghanistan, following a deadly shootout with U.S. forces. The Obama administration isn't reading Miranda rights to battlefield captures either.

Withholding Miranda rights makes sense in the heat of a battle, because we don't usually prosecute warriors; instead, we try to defeat their forces, and send prisoners home when the war is over. But once the government decides it may want to prosecute someone and bring him to justice - whether he's captured in an Afghan desert or at JFK airport in New York - there are very practical reasons for informing him of his rights.

In the case of the Times Square suspect, Faisal Shahzad, U.S. officials initially questioned him without reading him Miranda rights, under what's known as the "public safety exception" to the Miranda rule. Statements made in that initial period when the FBI is collecting information about any imminent threats are still admissible in court later. But once investigators determine that the imminent threat is over, they must deliver those Miranda warnings if they want to use any of the evidence they gather from the suspect later in a prosecution. In Shahzad's case, they did - and hereportedly kept right on talking.

That's typical - as Human Rights First's report "In Pursuit of Justice" notes, empirical studies from both supporters and opponents of the Miranda rule have found that giving the warnings has little real effect on whether a suspect speaks to police without a lawyer.

Still, to some, the idea of telling a suspected criminal that he has the right to remain silent sounds kind of silly. After all, why would you want to encourage him not to talk?

But the Miranda rule developed for a very good reason, and has withstood several legal challenges. The Constitution (and the Uniform Code of Military Justice) provides suspects the right against self-incrimination, and the right to the assistance of an attorney. By informing a suspect of those rights, the FBI basically immunizes itself - anything the suspect says afterwards can then lawfully be used against him.

The Miranda rule means the government doesn't later have to spend months arguing in court over whether a suspect's statements were voluntary or coerced, as it's now forced to do in the Khadr case. Because even military commissions forbid reliance on involuntary confessions, except those made at the point of capture or during active combat - a rule that's similar to the federal court's public safety exception.

The Khadr case is a perfect example of how hard it is for the government to show that a suspect confessed voluntarily if he was never told of his right not to.

Khadr, who was 15 when he was captured, claims he was mistreated in custody and coerced into saying things that weren't true. His hearing is ongoing, and although some evidence has emerged to support his claims, it's impossible to know yet what really happened. (As I've explained before, themilitary commission rules make finding the truth in such cases particularly difficult.) But if Khadr can show that he was coerced into confessing, his statements have to be thrown out even under the military commission's rules. That's because coerced statements are considered inherently unreliable - in any U.S. court of law.

To argue that Shahzad shouldn't have been read his Miranda rights, as Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) did yesterday, makes even less sense than in a case like Khadr's, because Shahzad is a U.S. citizen who cannot legally be tried in a military commission. (Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who reportedly said Shahzad should be tried in a military commission, apparently didn't understand that.) So the result of not reading him his rights after the public safety threat has subsided would be to undermine his subsequent prosecution - and to risk having to let him go free.

Surely Sen. Christopher Bond of Missouri, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence committed, didn't mean to suggest we should free terrorists when he said yesterday that the U.S. has "got to be far less interested in protecting the privacy rights of these terrorists than in collecting information. . . ." But that could be the logical result of the current campaign to deny terror suspects basic rights.

Even Glenn Beck, the conservative Fox News commentator, defended the Obama administration's handling of the case yesterday, saying that "we uphold the laws and the Constitution on citizens....We don't shred the Constitution when it's popular."

Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman's response to that, of course, was that Shahzad, who hasn't yet been convicted of anything, should be stripped of his citizenship. (In fact, if he were convicted of fighting with an enemy military force he would be stripped of his citizenship anyway.)

Setting aside the many compelling arguments for why the United States on principal shouldn't be cowed by terrorists into abandoning our own Constitution, it's worth remembering that the Miranda rule serves a very important practical purpose: it ensures that suspects' confessions are usable in court against them, and that terrorism convictions in any U.S. legal forum will stand.

You’re Surprised

Hell and destruction are never full, so the eyes of man are never satisfied. – Proverbs 27:5

I find it amazing the degree of surprise so many people are feeling while witnessing the level vitriol being spewed at President Barack Obama the first non-white president in our nation’s history. Who thought that a country who only less than 50 years ago allowed black folks the right to participate in our democracy and still have not fully integrated non-whites into our society would quietly accept this change with open arms. It never fails to amaze me how dumbfounded white folks are when they have to face the racism of their fellow citizenry. I remember the horror of my white friends as they watched the dogs, water hoses, and bombings televised on their television sets as they were forced to accept the hatred that has permeated America for centuries.

The thing that surprises me is that racism is now being used to make a profit for those who are willing to traffic in it. At least in the old days the leaders were true believers and not hucksters marketing gold, books, and other trinkets. Unfortunately, today there are plenty of folks who are willing to exploit the true believers hatred for short-term political and personal gain. Not only do we have individuals willing to profit from the spewing of hatred but also major media outlets in which to disseminate it. My question is how do you win national elections if you continue to alienate persons of color? The demographics of this country do not lie. The days of white majorities controlling elections on a national scale are over and no matter how much the tea-party protests they are not coming back.

My guess is that the only way this strategy can work is by marginalizing the non-whites while you play up the fears of whites to the point that it becomes an us versus them scenario. This strategy may have worked 50 years ago, but today even the white population is too diverse to accept this obvious ploy. How many times have white supremists attempted to start the dreaded race war by providing provocative acts to rally whites only to not be able to find enough takers to materialize. It is difficult to find revolutionaries when you have all the money, systems and power. Despite the claims of the tea party and their ilk that white folks are being discriminated against in this country by this black president and his extremist white sidekicks there appears to be few outside the movement who are taking these claims seriously. And who could argue with the numbers. Nearly twice as many whites as non-whites graduate from college, 91% of the richest 1% of the population is white, and the average net worth of white families is 10 times higher than black families.

There is fear in this country today among whites that they are losing their wealth and it is not completely unfounded. The problem is not that non-whites are stealing wealth from whites. The problem is that rich whites have stolen wealth from middle-class whites. We have witnessed the greatest transfer of wealth in our nation’s history and that wealth has moved from the middle income brackets to the top income brackets. The wealth that middle-class families once had in their homes, stocks, and retirement plans has evaporated. The wealth was not taken by non-white home invasion robbers; no it was taken by greedy white men in suits. You have to admit though that they are good, they have turned attention away from their pillaging of the national treasury by putting the focus on folks who are barely making a living in this country.

Whether it is Arizona or Washington, DC the game is the same. Despite many volumes being written by white authors about the corporate and individual thefts of our economy by their white brethren we still have the racist rants of the tea-partiers and their corporate overlords distracting the debate from the real culprits to some “bogeymen” who are not like us. If we as a nation following this corporate theft of historic proportions cannot recognize once and for all that we are not each other’s enemy but are all at risk from the rich and powerful then we will surely deserve our fate.

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived and dishonest -- but the myth -- persistent, persuasive and unrealistic - John F. Kennedy

The Disputed Truth

You’re Surprised

Hell and destruction are never full, so the eyes of man are never satisfied. – Proverbs 27:5

I find it amazing the degree of surprise so many people are feeling while witnessing the level vitriol being spewed at President Barack Obama the first non-white president in our nation’s history. Who thought that a country who only less than 50 years ago allowed black folks the right to participate in our democracy and still have not fully integrated non-whites into our society would quietly accept this change with open arms. It never fails to amaze me how dumbfounded white folks are when they have to face the racism of their fellow citizenry. I remember the horror of my white friends as they watched the dogs, water hoses, and bombings televised on their television sets as they were forced to accept the hatred that has permeated America for centuries.

The thing that surprises me is that racism is now being used to make a profit for those who are willing to traffic in it. At least in the old days the leaders were true believers and not hucksters marketing gold, books, and other trinkets. Unfortunately, today there are plenty of folks who are willing to exploit the true believers hatred for short-term political and personal gain. Not only do we have individuals willing to profit from the spewing of hatred but also major media outlets in which to disseminate it. My question is how do you win national elections if you continue to alienate persons of color? The demographics of this country do not lie. The days of white majorities controlling elections on a national scale are over and no matter how much the tea-party protests they are not coming back.

My guess is that the only way this strategy can work is by marginalizing the non-whites while you play up the fears of whites to the point that it becomes an us versus them scenario. This strategy may have worked 50 years ago, but today even the white population is too diverse to accept this obvious ploy. How many times have white supremists attempted to start the dreaded race war by providing provocative acts to rally whites only to not be able to find enough takers to materialize. It is difficult to find revolutionaries when you have all the money, systems and power. Despite the claims of the tea party and their ilk that white folks are being discriminated against in this country by this black president and his extremist white sidekicks there appears to be few outside the movement who are taking these claims seriously. And who could argue with the numbers. Nearly twice as many whites as non-whites graduate from college, 91% of the richest 1% of the population is white, and the average net worth of white families is 10 times higher than black families.

There is fear in this country today among whites that they are losing their wealth and it is not completely unfounded. The problem is not that non-whites are stealing wealth from whites. The problem is that rich whites have stolen wealth from middle-class whites. We have witnessed the greatest transfer of wealth in our nation’s history and that wealth has moved from the middle income brackets to the top income brackets. The wealth that middle-class families once had in their homes, stocks, and retirement plans has evaporated. The wealth was not taken by non-white home invasion robbers; no it was taken by greedy white men in suits. You have to admit though that they are good, they have turned attention away from their pillaging of the national treasury by putting the focus on folks who are barely making a living in this country.

Whether it is Arizona or Washington, DC the game is the same. Despite many volumes being written by white authors about the corporate and individual thefts of our economy by their white brethren we still have the racist rants of the tea-partiers and their corporate overlords distracting the debate from the real culprits to some “bogeymen” who are not like us. If we as a nation following this corporate theft of historic proportions cannot recognize once and for all that we are not each other’s enemy but are all at risk from the rich and powerful then we will surely deserve our fate.

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived and dishonest -- but the myth -- persistent, persuasive and unrealistic - John F. Kennedy

The Disputed Truth

Reading the Tea Leaves: Will the Empire Break Up the Party?

Originally posted at FDL and OpenLeft

The Tea Party wants small government, right? Actually, it’s not so simple. In fact, you could drive a Bradley tank right through an ideological schism within the Tea Party.

On Tax Day, my CODEPINK colleagues and I conducted 50 interviews with Tea Party members about the cost of war and empire. With military spending eating up 20 percent of the federal budget and half of all discretionary spending, we figured that any serious effort to shrink government would have to deal with this bull in the china shop.

While a recent New York Times/CBS poll showed the Tea Partiers to be a relatively homogeneous group of older, white, mostly males, we found that this group certainly doesn’t speak with the same tongue when it comes to the U.S. role in the world. On one side are the neo-con interventionists who think the United States is God’s gift to the world. On the other side are non-interventionists who want to slay the warfare state. The extreme fissure is bound to upset the tea cart as more Tea Party leaders are forced to articulate their foreign policy positions.

There's more...

"(Pre)Viewing the Right-Wing Playbook on Immigration"

From the Restore Fairness blog.

As we continue to fight for immigration reform, one thing that we can be sure about is a right-wing attack. A preview of this came about in the days building up to the successful immigration march in D.C. when fringe right-wing groups like Numbers USA, The John Tanton Network and the Tea Party Movement started pulling out all the stops to counter the building momentum for immigration reform. Predictably, their approach mirrored the strategies they employed a few years ago, during the last big push for reform that took place in 2007 under former President George Bush.

A report by liberal advocacy group People for the American Way called “(Pre)Viewing the Right-Wing Playbook on Immigration” has pulled from years of expertise on the right to lay out a list of the key strategies that are traditionally employed to defeat immigration reform, followed by tools to retaliate against these irrational and unsound attacks.

One of the most common strategies employed by the right is an appeal to racial fear. This is carried out in a number of ways, including the positing of the “Brown” threat to a “White America,” and the outrageous portrayal of immigrants and their supporters as invaders and enemies of the United States. Inciting prejudice against Latinos, Rep. Tom Tancredo commented in November 2006-

Look at what has happened to Miami. It has become a Third World country…. You would never know you’re in the United States of America. You would certainly say you’re in a Third World country.

Not to be left behind, former Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan continued in the vein of this fear-mongering around the “immigrant invasion”. He wrote in 2007-

What is happening to us? An immigrant invasion of the United States from the Third World, as America’s white majority is no longer even reproducing itself. Since Roe v. Wade, America has aborted 45 million of her children. And Asia, Africa and Latin America have sent 45 million of their children to inherit the estate that aborted American children never saw.

It goes without saying that claims that America has been built by and for White people are historically incorrect and intensely racist. More importantly, this country continues to be shaped by immigrants and draws immense political and economic strength from its diversity.

Continuing in the vein of racial divisiveness is the idea that immigration rights advocates are themselves racist, a notion that has emerged in the post Obama election days. While television personality Glenn Beck has referred to President Obama as someone who was opposed to white people, he has generated the idea from numerous accusations of racism thrown at pro-immigration advocates during the 2007 push for reform. At that time, the radio host Michael Savage attacked the National Council of La Raza by calling it “the Ku Klux Klan of the Hispanic people.” He went on to say that it was “the most stone racist group I’ve ever seen in this country”.

Portraying undocumented immigrants as responsible for terrorism and crime waves, as well as positing them as “unclean” carriers of disease and bio-terrorism is one of the tactics that the far right has employed on both local and national levels during past debates around immigration. Such as when  Lou Dobbs claimed immigrants were causing an epidemic of leprosy in the country which was simply untrue. Or when during the debates over immigration reform, Rep. Steve King, of the House Republicans’ “Immigration Reform Caucus” extrapolated fictional statistics claiming that 12 American citizens “die a violent death at the hands of murderous illegal aliens each day”. If that’s so, then why is it that the President’s Council of Economic Advisers reports that immigrants have lower crime rates than U.S. citizens and that immigrant men ages 18 to 40 are less likely than other U.S. residents to be incarcerated.

While we hope that most of you would be taken by the impulse to laugh off these strategies as racist, rabble-rousing garbage, we must take note that such nativist fear-mongering has the power to garner significant support from many, especially within the current climate of an unstable economy. Work such as People For the American Way’s “Right Wing Watch: In Focus” series gives us the best tool to fighting these attacks – truly understanding the reasoning behind them, and countering them on their own territory.

Let’s fight racism on our route to humane immigration reform!

Photo courtesy of usatoday.com.

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