Anytime you have a terrorist attack on America, questions arise on how to deal with the perpetrators: are they enemy combatants or should they be tried in civilian courts? During the W. Bush years, many on the political left were advocating that constitutional rights be extended to terrorists brought into American custody, raising the question, would Osama bin Laden, if arrested, be read his Miranda Rights?
The answer to many, including myself, was no. He is an enemy combatant and should be dealt with militarily in a military court. However, the grey area to this was where his crimes were committed. Could the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center be considered a “battleground” or was the fact that it was in a “civilian” area mean that it’s a civilian crime and thus under the jurisdiction of the American civilian courts? Again, I say no as Osama bin Laden and his band of not-so-merry men were not Americans but enemies from foreign lands.
With bin Laden, we didn’t have to face that choice. He dead. But with KSM, it became a huge issue as Attorney General Eric Holder wanted him tried in a Manhattan Court.
Move ahead to today and you have a crime committed on U.S. soil, by at least one U.S. citizen but most likely in the name of Jihad. Does Dzhokhar Tsarnaev deserve to be treated as a civilian criminal or an “enemy combatant?” Senator Lindsey Graham’s argument is that “the homeland is a battlefield.” While I respect that there are grey areas when the rule of law and military operations collide, I have to strongly disagree and take a Rand Paulian position.
Bottom line, Tsarnaev was granted American citizenship. That is on us. Once you’re granted American citizenship, you get the rights that come with it. In America, one of our most treasured commandments is learned and reinforced in childhood: “No Backsies.” We can’t go down the slippery slope of saying, you’re an American citizen, but you committed what we deem to be an act of terror, so now you’re not. Just as it is ridiculous to read an foreign enemy combatant on foreign soil the U.S. Miranda Rights, it is equally wrong to say an American citizen doesn’t get these rights now because of vague definitions of the crime committed. This is a slippery slope to making any criminal an “enemy of the state.” And if the “homeland is a battlefield” we are on the road to tyranny.
One caveat on Miranda Rights. This is also something that gets a little overblown. You have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney whether or not you are read your Miranda Rights. The Miranda warning is for the completely ignorant and stupid who’ve never seen an episode of Law & Order. Whether Tsarnaev is read his rights is not the main issue for me…it’s whether he’s allowed to exercise those rights as an American citizen from here on out.
Naturally, I hope he is found guilty and put to death, but that desire doesn’t make me blind to the big picture.