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A Times Editorial

Don't toss out due process for citizens

It took 53 hours from the time an explosives-filled SUV was found in Times Square until the arrest of terror suspect Faisal Shahzad by federal authorities. But before the congratulations were even uttered, criticism that Shahzad was treated as the American citizen he is came from members of Congress who don't understand that upholding the Constitution is a weapon against terrorism.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., among others, were outraged that Shahzad was read his Miranda rights sometime after being arrested by the FBI. It didn't matter that Shahzad is an American citizen, whose rights are not subject to suspension.

These lawmakers want to force the Obama administration to handle all suspected terrorists — even those arrested on American soil — as enemy combatants, to be turned over to military custody and tried in military commissions. But in their zeal to paint the administration as a wimp, they seem to forget that the Bush administration successfully prosecuted hundreds of terror suspects through the nation's federal courts. Meanwhile the highly defective military commissions have prosecuted one: Australian David Hicks, who pleaded guilty and is now a free man.

The Shahzad episode is a repeat of the political hay made after it was reported that the Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian who allegedly tried to down a Detroit-bound airplane, was read his Miranda rights and handled as a criminal suspect. He also cooperated with authorities after his being read his constitutional rights.

The Justice Department's decision to respect the rule of law in the Times Square case also appears to be working well. Shahzad waived his Miranda rights and is apparently cooperating freely.

But this hasn't stopped Lieberman from introducing a bill to strip the citizenship from Americans who are suspected of working with a terrorist organization. The measure would make suspects stateless without waiting for a conviction, as a way to make sure that citizens like Shahzad are denied their rights.

Our national principles should not be tossed aside in moments of fear. Due process of law is not some ethereal idea only studied in law classes; it is the foundation of American freedoms. Stripping the rights from individuals suspected of terrorism is certain to undermine American values and principles for the rest of us, and lessen our nation in the eyes of the world, making us all less safe.

Don't toss out due process for citizens 05/06/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 6, 2010 7:33pm]
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