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When I heard about the attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab
to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, I immediately thought two things.
The first was, "Thank God everyone's all right." (Except, it seems for the hapless Abdulmutallab, whose attempt to set off a liquid explosive in his underwear succeeded only in causing severe burns to his intimate areas. I confess I'm a bad person, because I laughed hard.)
The second thought I had was, "Hey, what's that giant whirring sound?"
That sound was, it turns out, the Right Wing Spin Machine firing up, ready to politicize this near-tragedy for all it was worth. President Obama, it seems, had done nothing right. He had stayed on his Christmas vacation in (gasp!) Hawaii rather than go on TV immediately, pat us on the head and "reassure" us that we were safe from Scary Dark-Skinned People with bombs in their underwear.
His Justice Department had chosen to indict Abdulmutallab and prosecute him in the civilian justice system rather than send him to Gitmo and put him in front of a Super Secret Military Tribunal. My God, Pat Buchanan sputtered on the Sunday after the attempt, he hasn't even been tortured yet!
But the thing that apparently put the worst twist in the wingnuts' knickers was that Abdulmutallab was - I can hardly bear to even say it - read his Miranda rights upon his capture!
If you've watched any television cop shows in the last 40 years, you know the Miranda warning by heart: 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, etc. It's called the Miranda warning after the name of the case, Miranda vs. Arizona, which established the principle that a defendant had to be informed of these rights before being interrogated by the police.
Despite the outcry at the time (and ever since), it wasn't all that new or radical a principle: Both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the FBI's procedures required that a suspect be informed of his right to remain silent and of his right to counsel. But, as everyone knows, the FBI and the military were, then as now, well-known hotbeds of liberalism.
Now, it might seem strange that all this fuss was being made over the Undiebomber being charged in civilian court, while the same people never complained when the so-called "Shoe Bomber," Richard Reid, got the same treatment. Reid committed almost exactly the same acts during the Bush administration, and Dubbya didn't interrupt his vacation or make a statement about the attempt for six days.
The reaction from the Right? (Cue sound of crickets chirping.)
Both Republican Sen. Kit Bond and wingnut emeritus Newt Gingrich have struggled and failed in public to make some distinction, with Gingrich finally falling back on a time-honored tactic: making stuff up. Reid got the benefits of civilian law and the Undiebomber shouldn't, Gingrich said, because Reid's an American citizen. (Not true. Reid is actually British.)
But, the objection goes, if you let a suspect lawyer up, he'll clam up. You won't get any good intelligence from him! More Scary Dark-Skinned People might be coming to kill us! Aaaaaaaah!
Real life and real lawyering, however, are a good bit different from an episode of "Law & Order." The last instructions a terrorist gets from his commanders may be "resist until death," but any halfway decent lawyer, given a client like the Undiebomber who was caught in the act, is not, I guarantee you, giving that advice.
He's very likely telling his client, "Look here, Slim, your chances of walking out of here whistling are exactly zero. Maybe you need to start trying to save as much of your own behind as you can, with the only thing you've got that they want: names, places and methods."
And, it appears, that's exactly what's happening with Abdulmutallab. There've been some fits and starts; he was originally quite forthcoming with the intel, then did clam up for a while. But after his family was allowed to see him, Abdulmutallab has reportedly been "cooperating on a daily basis" and providing "actionable intelligence that could help prevent terror attempts on U.S. soil."
OK, so it's not as much fun for wingnuts as torturing him might be. But it's undoubtedly working better. And we don't have to abandon real American principles like the Rule of Law to do it.