Yesterday, Eric Holder appeared on Meet the Press to announce the next step in America’s ever-quickening decent into a police state. With the conservatives’ continuous quest for the reversal of civil liberties in favor of control from above, (which, in an Orwellian twist of fate, is something they seem to rage against at the same time) we again discover a “need” to fix something that has not been broken and is well documented as working. The next sorry step we find ourself at is the beginning of the destruction of Miranda rights.
Mr. Holder has uttered a vague and ominous decree that Miranda rights need to be “more flexible” for terrorism suspects. No, I don’t know what this administration plans to do and there is an importance in waiting to find out, but we need to understand what this can mean. As Cynthia Kouril at firedoglake.com points out, “a Miranda warning is not transubstantiation.” It does not suddenly create rights, it only reminds those of the rights they already have upon arrest. So does Mr. Holder mean to say that reading a suspect this Miranda warning will become more flexible (as in whether it needs to be done), or is he actually saying that the rights conferred upon suspects will become “more flexible”?
As I understand rights, they are binary and either exist or don’t. So it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that our attorney general is toying with removing our rights if charged with something related to terrorism – which seems to destroy any notion of due process! This begs the most important question: What is terrorism?
“Terrorism” is a word that conveniently doesn’t have a permanent definition and over the course of 200 years has defined a myriad of acts. Words like “terrorist” seem rather to define in the contemporary U.S. violent political acts performed by non-whites. When the acts are performed by whites or friendly governments (and our own) those labels are rarely applied. But even if this weren’t bad enough, we must return to the fact that “terrorism” is a word with a very fluid definition. Who decides what terrorism is? If it can be defined by political interests then it can be used to target you and it will be when anything you do threatens the status quo.
So what is the problem that necessitated such action? Is there a problem with the Miranda warnings? Not according to Mr. Holder who said Sunday, “The [Miranda] system we have in place has proven to be effective.” And indeed he is right, those arrested and Mirandized have cooperated with investigators. The Right, who have attacked any strategy of treating those charged with terrorism as anything remotely human, seem to be fixated on television shows, comic books, and movies that depict ludicrous “ticking time-bomb” situations that just do not exist in reality. They seem to picture interrogations consisting of a terrorist twisting his mustache and laughing maniacally while taunting the investigator with threats of unparalleled destruction unless he is immediately released. Despite these delusions, Mr. Shahzad is indeed cooperating as did Mr. Mutallab. And what if they didn’t cooperate? Senator Kit Bond, in arguing against Miranda warnings, actually made the case for them when he said we “have enough evidence that you could convict them” without confessions or further information. It is in their best interest to cooperate, as their court-appointed attorneys will often work to make them realize.
So while this seems to strengthen counter-terrorist efforts it is an injustice against us all. Eugene Debs recognized this as he said, “[W]hile there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” The removal of rights against some is really the removal of rights against us all. When we work towards a better world that strives to replace the status quo, we will eventually come face to face with those that would defend the inequalities and crimes of our world. That is when, violent or not, you become the terrorist.