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Its really nothing new to this administration or the last to flush the US Constitution down the toilet. Terrorism, it seems, is reason enough. In the latest attack on individual freedoms and Constitutional protections we see further chipping away of the 5th amendment as the Obama administration adopts a new policy which essentially waives Miranda rights if interrogators believe the information is related to terrorism and must be acquired in a timely fashion:
A Federal Bureau of Investigation memorandum reviewed by The Wall Street Journal says the policy applies to exceptional cases where investigators conclude that continued unwarned interrogation is necessary to collect valuable and timely intelligence not related to any immediate threat. Such action would need prior approval from FBI supervisors and Justice Department lawyers, according to the memo, which was issued in December but not made public.
Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said the memo ensures that law enforcement has the ability to question suspected terrorists without immediately providing Miranda warnings when the interrogation is reasonably prompted by immediate concern for the safety of the public or the agents. He said the threat posed by terrorist organizations and the nature of their attacks which can include multiple accomplices and interconnected plots creates fundamentally different public safety concerns than traditional criminal cases.
The obvious dangers are, of course, that this new policy will be turned against the American people on a wholesale basis. Its important to note, however, that this new policy is just that, a policy it is not legislation and the Miranda protections have not been eliminated. This new policy is to be used only in exceptional cases related to terror suspects, and information acquired in instances where the Miranda warning was not given to suspects remains inadmissible in court.
The problem is, that over the last 10 years the definition of what is or is not a terrorist has evolved. In 2002, a terrorist was a foreigner who attacked US interest at home or abroad. Today, by all accounts, the meaning of terrorist has broadened significantly, with various levels of terrorist activities. If youre a survivalist type, fly a Gadsden flag, or engage in your First Amendment right of free speech through protest, for example, you could very well be considered a low-level terror suspect.
It may be hard to believe but its true. The infamous leaked MIAC report highlights exactly these types of individuals as being potential threats, a.k.a. domestic terrorists.
This is where the real issues with the rolling back of Miranda warnings arises. While inadmissible in court for traditional crimes, under the Patriot Act evidence doesnt matter. The very fact that ones Miranda warnings are waived suggests in and of itself that you are deemed a threat to public safety under terrorism definitions. This means that it is not only possible, but likely, as has been the case with terror suspects in the past, that those who have their Miranda rights waived by investigators can be held indefinitely without trial or evidence under U.S. anti-terrorism laws.
In essence, any activity deemed to be a threat to the public welfare could be deemed an exceptional case under this new policy, potentially leading to charges being filed not under criminal law, but terror law. Its an easy way out for those law enforcement / anti-terror agencies that would question a suspect without the benefit of advising them of their Miranda rights. If a mistake is made by law enforcement and prosecutors, no problem, because they can detain, try, judge and punish in secret courts, where Constitutional protections dont exist.
The hypocrisy in this new Miranda Rights roll back is shocking, especially when you consider that a week after this policy shift announcement the Obama administration was generating buzz regarding federal crack downs on civil rights abuses by big city police forces:
In a marked shift from the Bush administration, President Obamas Justice Department is aggressively investigating several big urban police departments for systematic civil rights abuses such as harassment of racial minorities, false arrests, and excessive use of force.
In interviews, activists and attorneys on the ground in several cities where the DOJ has dispatched civil rights investigators welcomed the shift. To progressives disappointed by Eric Holders Justice Department on key issues like the failure to investigate Bush-era torture and the prosecution of whistle-blowers, recent actions by the DOJs Civil Rights Division are a bright spot.
In just the past few months, the Civil Rights Division has announced pattern and practice investigations in Newark, New Jersey and Seattle. Its also conducting a preliminary investigation of the Denver Police Department, and all this is on top of a high-profile push to reform the notorious New Orleans Police Department as well as criminal prosecutions of several New Orleans officers.
While its clear that law enforcement agencies have been progressively overstepping their bounds on various civil rights issues, it is ironic that the Obama administration would aggressively pursue civil rights violations on a local and State level considering that not a week earlier that very same administration directly attacked one of the most basic American freedoms: The right to remain silent.
Its a bizarro world, indeed.