Sunday, May 9, 2010

Obama administration resorts to Bush path on detainees

News from Washington that the Obama administration is proposing exempting terrorism suspects from constitutional protections guaranteed to U.S. citizens raises troubling questions about the president's commitment to undoing the worst abuses of the last administration. There is nothing in the Bill of Rights to suggest that it is negotiable, or that it only was intended to apply to some of the people some of the time. Yet that is undeniably the basis of Attorney General Eric Holder's proposal that terrorism suspects -- in this case, the Pakistani immigrant who stands accused of trying to set off a bomb in New York's Times Square on May 1 -- no longer be allowed the protection of the so-called Miranda rule, according to the New York Times. The Miranda rule, which bars authorities from questioning suspects until they are advised of their right against self-incrimination -- comes from a landmark 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision interpreting the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Fifth Amendment prohibits the government from forcing citizens to testify against themselves, and the Supreme Court held in Miranda that police must advise suspects of this right before questioning begins to give full effect to its protection. But the Fifth Amendment is not the government's protection to give: it was made part of the basic law of the United States to prevent the government from accumulating too much power. As we well recall, Obama was elected in 2008 because the Bush administration developed the nasty habit of selectively enforcing rights that the United States previously knew to apply to everybody. Yet there was Holder on the NBC-TV show Meet the Press on Sunday, touting "big news" and recommending new limits on people's constitutional rights. “We’re now dealing with international terrorists,” Holder said, “and I think that we have to think about perhaps modifying the rules that interrogators have and somehow coming up with something that is flexible and is more consistent with the threat that we now face.” Holder also indicated for the first time that the United States now believes that bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad, who was arrested as he boarded a plane to leave the United States, had been trained by the Pakistani Taliban. Anthony Romero of the American Civil Liberties Union told the Times that Congress did not have the authority to limit the Miranda ruling since it merely interprets the U.S. Constitution. “What’s troubling is that this is coming from the Obama administration,” Romero said. “The irony is that this administration supposedly stands for the rule of law and the restoration of America’s legal standing, and now they are trying to negotiate away fundamental Fifth Amendment rights that have been the cornerstone of our democracy.”

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