Editorials

More afraid of attorney general

"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?"

- typical Miranda warning

No, Mr. President, I will not stand for it. I am not ready to give up my rights in the name of fighting terrorism.

I resented the thought of cowering to terrorism by surrendering freedoms under the past administration and, believe me, I will fight you and yours on this one.

At first, I thought I had misheard Attorney General Eric Holder on the Sunday morning talk show. I might have been a little distracted as I poured myself another cup of coffee, but thank goodness NBC "Meet the Press" host David Gregory also did a double take at Holder's comment.

The attorney general repeated his assertion that perhaps it was time, in conjunction with the Congress, to revise our application of the Supreme Court's longstanding Miranda ruling.

Holder has been criticized for plans to try terror suspects in civilian rather than military courts, and he was particularly denounced after suspects in two recent failed bombing attempts were given the Miranda warning.

In both foiled bombing attacks -- one on a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day and one in New York's Times Square on May 1 -- the suspects talked freely with authorities after they were given the warning usually given to criminal suspects before questioning.

But detractors, holding up the "ticking bomb" theory that another threat could be possible, even likely, insist that suspected terrorists must be interrogated before they have the opportunity to consult an attorney. Remaining silent or giving incorrect or misleading information might aid in subsequent attacks, they say.

It was that kind of thinking that led this country to use torture as an interrogation tool in the questioning of al-Qaeda suspects, something for which this country was rightly criticized and a practice for which we all should be ashamed.

In confirming that the would-be Times Square car bomber Faisal Shahzad (a naturalized American citizen) had connection with the Taliban in Pakistan, Holder said law enforcement needed "necessary flexibility" interrogating terrorist suspects.

Under the "public safety" exemption that grants pre-Miranda questioning in special cases, Holder suggested possibly limiting the rights of terrorism suspects even if they are American citizens like Shahzad.

"If we are going to have a system that is capable of dealing in a public safety context with this new threat, I think we have to give serious consideration to at least modifying that public safety exception," Holder said. "And that's one of the things that I think we're going to be reaching out to Congress to do: to come up with a proposal that is both constitutional but that is also relevant to our time and the threat that we now face."

No! No! No!

The administration's new position borders on the worst kind of pandering and makes me wonder whom it's trying to appease.

In the latest two plots, the suspects are talking -- without the use of waterboarding, electric shocks to the genitals, sleep deprivation, the use of dogs or being stripped naked. Why do we have to change who we are?

We've been told by many experts that it is difficult to trust statements from suspects who are tortured. Those who were treated with a modicum of dignity proved to be much more helpful.

It frightens me to think we might return to the day when local law enforcement will decide when and how to inform a detainee of his or her rights. Do we really want to give every local district that power?

We must not dilute or corrupt our criminal justice system with arbitrary new mandates that are likely to have lasting negative consequences for American citizens.

Members of Congress must not let this administration or any other chip away at our constitutional rights under the guise of fighting a formidable enemy. If we give up our liberties in fear of what some crazed individual or group may do, then the terrorists win without even striking another blow.

I'm more fearful of losing my freedom than I am of any potential terrorist, no matter how great the threat.

Contact Sanders at bobray@star-telegram.com.

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