Monday, May 10, 2010

I can't stomach terrorism -- I don't have the constitution

There's been a lot of talk recently about Constitutional rights for terrorists after the attempted bombing in New York City. There was a lot of talk in theory about human rights and such before that, mostly about the use of torture. But in this case, much discussion has been made of whether terrorists deserve Miranda rights. In this instance, our perpetrator was a U.S. citizen. Should we suspend his rights to gain information? To me, so much of this is reactionary and based on arguments from people who, though they may have sworn to uphold the Constitution, have never bothered to read it. I stand up for all the rights contained in it, and not for rights not contained in it. Let's dissect the Constitutionality of some of the arguments.

Miranda rights are so called from a famous court case Miranda v. Arizona wherein the court found Ernesto Miranda's rights regarding self-incrimination had been violated. The name stuck for a piece of business that police are now required to give when arresting. It's essentially an arresting officer spouting fine print at you, reminding you of your rights so that you can't use ignorance of the law as a defense. It's even become a verb, mirandize. Now, sometimes it seems to me that cops will bend the law and try to get all the information they can out of people before they are officially arrested, so that Miranda doesn't trip them up. I see this all the time on Cops, especially during drug busts. Sometimes they don't even seem to mirandize people, though that may just be due to television editing. I don't want to sound like I'm maligning police, though. Frankly, most criminals are too stupid to remain silent anyway. So let's not pretend that reminding them of their rights will magically prevent us from getting information.

I heard Joy Behar say today on The View that Miranda is not in the Constitution. (Before you ask "Why were you watching The View???", let me tell you that I flip over when Price is Right is on commercial sometimes, to see if anyone says anything stupid.) While technically the phrasing of the Miranda rights are not explicitly in the Constitution, she is essentially totally wrong. Those rights are all in the Constitution, that's why the Miranda exists. The Fifth Amendment states that no person "shall be compelled in any case to be a witness against himself." The meaning of this is extended to any statements made which could be used as evidence. By making statements regarding circumstances of your guilt, you in essence testify against yourself. So to prevent that, the law clearly states that any testimony you give is purely of your own volition, and that neither the courts nor the police can "compel" you to give such statements. You have the right to remain silent; you aren't required to remain silent. However, the federal powers cannot coerce testimony from you. Furthermore, the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to legal counsel. So the two essential elements of Miranda, the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, are indeed specified in the Constitution. Joy Behar is a dope.

So do I believe that a terrorist who is an American citizen should be afforded the right not to talk, and perhaps even be found not guilty of his crimes? Yes I do. If we start bending our laws for this reason or that reason we became a nation of chaos. I'm fiercely against innocent people doing time and the only way to prevent it is to uphold these laws even in the face of certain guilt. The laws of our nation, especially the Bill of Rights were never designed to protect the victims; they were designed to protect the accused. That is, not victims of crime, but victims of our government. Our Founders were pretty clear on their mistrust of governmental power, and the Constitution as a whole was established for the people, to "ensure the blessings of liberty."

The vast majority of terrorist acts are not committed by U.S. citizens. Therefore, there is no need to try them by Constitutional rules in Federal courts. The notion that we should seems fundamentally ridiculous to me. Now, then there comes the sticky issue of "torture". Foremost I would say that nothing in U.S. law prevents torturous interrogation of non-citizens. We do however seem unfortunately bound by treaties and agreements made after World Wars regarding prisoners of war and such. So I can't really argue for or against torture in those areas, not being a legal expert. But as regards U.S. citizens, this is a different issue. Many argue against torture or shall we say, "extreme interrogation" based on the bit against "cruel and unusual punishment." Well, guess what? Interrogation doesn't qualify as punishment. So that rule doesn't apply. The only real sticking point against this sort of thing is the previously mentioned bit in the Fifth Amendment about not being compelled to testify against oneself. There are two qualifiers, however. The clause in full reads "nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against oneself." That presupposes that the information needed is regarding one's own guilt, and also that it is a criminal case. Waterboarding a suspect who is not being tried criminally for information regarding other terrorists then is technically not illegal.

The one angle that never seems to be played up is treason. Most modern terrorists who commit acts against America are doing so under the auspices of some foreign religious or military ideology. Yes, the lone crazy environmentalist blowing up a factory is a terrorist, and should be tried for his crimes, though afforded all rights guaranteed him. But somebody who tries to bomb New York City out of allegiance to terrorist cells in Pakistan or something is a traitor. Article III, section 3 defines Treason thusly: Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. To me, these acts of radical Islamic terrorism most definitely qualify as adhering to our enemies, since we declared "war on terror" almost ten years ago. Since punishment for treason is relatively undefined, the nation could come down hard on any citizens who could be convicted of treason. THAT's the way to get them, not by summarily removing or restricting all rights, but doing so once it is proven that treason was committed.

On the whole, our system can work if we follow it. There will always be extreme situations, and points where it seems our law fails. But the solution is never to pass quick, reactionary laws. Like the recent attempts at "bullying" legislation. What about bullying was not already illegal? Slander is illegal. Libel is illegal. Assault is illegal. Doesn't that cover it all? I'm tired of the rights of the People being neglected due to the acts of a few Persons.

Isn't it time we expect our elected officials to actually uphold the Constitution, and not just in word only?


  1. Beautifully written. This needs to be all over the web. How is it so many of the so-called "pundits" just don't get this?


  2. can you submit this to a newspaper or something? it's pretty awesome. ...also, i totally didn't even know about this terrorist. i'm so behind in the news

  3. Jon: Great writing. Get with it and get in law school. This country needs young men like you standing up for the constitution.

    Dave Milley

  4. Hi John- Ditto Dave Milley's suggestion that you get your butt into law school.
    And by the way, why are you watching The Price is Right????
    Good to see you happily walking along Concord Street the other day. Take care

    Pat Zampino

  5. No...not law school. Then he'll get dragged into the cesspool that the lawyer world has become. Much better if he extends his sphere of influence just where he is. Massachusetts certainly needs some clarity in their thoughts walking amongst the citizenry there.

    Bill McCulley

  6. Well said. It is unfortunate that so many of our “public debates” are based on misquoting derivative statements rather than sticking to our nation’s fundamentals. I support the previous commentaries that this piece deservers wider distribution. I would also recommend you seriously consider Dave’s point.
    Also there is nothing wrong with watching the View, at a minimum it provides more fodder for discussion than The Price is Right.