The bizarre criticism of the Faisal Shahzad interrogation.
The case of Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bombing suspect, is a spectacularly bad test case for arguing against the Miranda warning. But don't take my word for it. Listen to Glenn Beck, suddenly turned constitutional scholar: "We do not shred the Constitution when it's popular. We do the right thing," he said. Also, "How is it that saying a citizen should have their rights read to them … is controversial?"
This is always the correct position—and it's especially so in the Shahzad case. Miranda worked! Law enforcement officials can invoke a public safety exception and delay reading a suspect his rights to get information that would save lives. In Shahzad's case, the FBI invoked the public safety exception. The agency called in its crack interrogation team, asked Shahzad questions with no Miranda warning, and reaped what the FBI says was "valuable intelligence and evidence." Then Shahzad was read his rights. And lo and behold, he waived them and kept talking.
But none of this has stopped Sens. John McCain, who once sponsored laws to prevent torture, and Christopher Bond, the ranking Republican on the Senate intelligence committee, from railing against Miranda. "We've got to be far less interested in protecting the privacy rights of these terrorists than in collecting information that may lead us to details of broader schemes to carry out attacks in the United States," Bond said. "When we detain terrorism suspects, our top priority should be finding out what intelligence they have that could prevent future attacks and save American lives," McCain said. "Our priority should not be telling them they have a right to remain silent."
By all accounts, however, the FBI did have its priorities—and McCain's and Bond's—in order. It invoked the public safety exception. The facts don't line up at all well with the senators' reflexive tough-guy posturing. And yet the Republicans have to posture anyway. And the Washington Post editorial page (isn't it supposed to be calmer and wiser?) has to join them, asking: "How long was Mr. Shahzad questioned before he was read his Miranda rights? And what triggered the Justice Department's decision to suspend the 'ticking time bomb' exception in case law that gives law enforcement officers an opportunity to gather information before advising a suspect of his right to remain silent?"
What is the Post talking about? Or was the editorial board so eager to pounce on the Obama administration for its handling of the case that it didn't even read its own newspaper? Is this a problem of different deadlines? Good grief. The Post editorial also criticizes the administration for not saying whether the FBI used the crack interrogation team (called the High Value Interrogation Group) on Shahzad. But the administration did say so, and the answer is yes.
Of course, after he was read his rights, Shahzad could have chosen to shut up. The Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, asked for a lawyer and stopped providing information after he was Mirandized. But that time, too, interrogators got good stuff first—because that time, too, they used the public safety exception.
Emily Bazelon is a Slate senior editor and writes about law, family, and kids. Her forthcoming book, Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Empathy and Character. Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook or Twitter.
Photograph of Faisal Shahzad by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.