Then Give Me the Electric Chair for All My Future Crimes

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Dahlia Lithwick has a characteristically interesting piece up at Slate on the problem of domestic terror hunting Harvey Silverglate deals with in Jacob's post below: How do we distinguish genuine terrorist plotters from Walter Mitty–style wannahadeen?

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  1. Easy. The Mitty plots all involve machinery going ‘tapocket-tapocketa-tapocketa.’

  2. Who’s Walter Mitty. God article BTW.

  3. “…Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez on Friday said, “I think it’s dangerous for us to try to make an evaluation, case by case, as we look at potential terrorist plots and making a decision, well, this is a really dangerous group, this is not a really dangerous group.”

    Now I’m frightened.

  4. I am expecting the Thought Police to come bursting in through my office window any moment now for what I dared dream. Shit, I am gonna be executed for some of these brainwaves.

  5. Since these stories broke I’ve been thinking about this.

    Remember that Twilight Zone episode about the bank employee who was suddenly able to read minds? By hearing other’s thoughts he realized this old man he’d worked with for years was plotting to rob the bank later that day.

    Come to find out, the old fella just hated his job and he played little “bank robber” fantasies in his head to get through each day until he could finally retire.

    Good judgement is so hard to come by, these days.

  6. Puppy biscuit!

  7. If your googling finger is broken, Adam W, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is one of the classic James Thurber short stories. It was made into a mediocre comedy movie in the 1940s
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0039808/

  8. Good God, Madpad, I was going to make almost that exact same post.

    That was the episode where he tossed a coin into a box and it landed on its edge, right?

  9. Dear Lord! I already find myself stifling words that used to escape my mouth before engaging the ‘Don’t Say Anything That Might Get You Arrested’ Gear. Now I can’t even THINK? This is not going to work for me.

  10. How do we distinguish genuine terrorist plotters from Walter Mitty-style wannahadeen?

    We always found the best guideline to be “The person who talks about working for a secret agency, doesn’t.”

  11. Jennifer, I believe you’re correct…I’d forgotten that little detail.

  12. Lithwick is Canadian in origin; despite living in the United States she remains a Canadian citizen to this day.from Wikipedia.

    So, yet another frostback taking one of our media jobs. Who is she to be telling us how our Supreme Court outghta run. Maybe someone from ICE should check her visa status, y’know, for security purposes. I’m just sayin’.

    Kevin
    (100% True American!)

  13. How do we distinguish genuine terrorist plotters from Walter Mitty-style wannahadeen?

    Perhaps the question should be “why should we bother trying to distinguish . . . .”

  14. Perhaps the question should be “why should we bother trying to distinguish . . . .”

    The resources are finite and they need to be applied to finding the genuine threats.

  15. Walter Mitty should be easier to find, because he’s not very good. Round those guys up, and prosecute them at face value.

    The problem is that Walter Mitty can cause just as much damage, if you leave him alone.

    Of course, I also advocate assassinating any Mullah who so much as whispers “Death to America.” I think it’s downright rude not to take such people seriously. It shows disrespect for their self-actualization, or some such.

  16. “Maybe someone from ICE should check her visa status, y’know, for security purposes.”

    Good thinking, kevrob. She might team up with Veronique de Rugy, a known Frenchie who’s trying to subvert the defense of our critical national infrastructure, i.e., rural amusement parks in Indiana.

  17. Perhaps it shouldn’t be, but the entire short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” is also available online at:

    http://bnrg.cs.berkeley.edu/~randy/mitty.html

    (It’s really very short.)

    Overshoes. Puppy biscuit.

  18. I wonder if Walter Mitty is what inspired Charles Schulz to do those Snoopy “here’s the World War One flying ace hunting the Red Baron” cartoons?

  19. The danger is that there is no nuance, no caution, and no shade of gray in this new theory of criminal deterrence by CAT scan, the proposition that you can arrest a man solely for what’s on his mind.

    Seems there is a buried story here. Apparently, Lithwick has knowledge of a practical means of reading actual thoughts with a CAT scan. I had been laboring under the impression we were talking about people having extended discussions but it appears the real threat is a kind of vulcan mind meld.

    This kind of hysterics is why it is so hard to create good policy in these areas. People seem to get some cheap thrill from imagining that we are just inches from a police state. It’s like some kind of political version of Dungeons and Dragons. Its childish beyond belief.

  20. People seem to get some cheap thrill from imagining that we are just inches from a police state. It’s like some kind of political version of Dungeons and Dragons. Its childish beyond belief.

    Tell me about it. I’m not going to start worrying until they assert the authority to hold citizens indefinitely without trial or charges.

  21. The way some people freak out, you’d almost think that we’ve reached the point where the CIA is holding people in legal black holes and torturing them. And using former KGB facilities to add an extra layer of Orwellian insanity.

    Until we reach that point, I’m not going to get bent out of shape. We live in a country where the government can’t access your personal information, like medical records, phone records, business records, or library records, without first showing a judge evidence of probable cause and asking for a warrant. We live in a country where anybody who wants to can get on an airplane without having to show their papers to a government employee and submitting to a search of their person and belongings.

    The notion that we could ever become a police state is just ludicrous.

  22. OK, having mocked Shannon’s second paragraph I will get serious and largely agree with her first paragraph: This isn’t about guessing or mind-reading, they are prosecuting people based on things that they actually said, things that strongly indicate plans to engage in terrorism.

    But, as has been pointed out, the law has traditionally required some sort of “overt act” that goes beyond words. Now, Shannon is right to observe that by the time the “overt act” reaches the level of “smoking gun”, there may be almost no time left to stop them.

    However, I think it would be very dangerous to discard the “overt act” requirement, or dumb it down to the point that it would be meaningless. At the very least, there should have to be some evidence that they actually staked out a target (a smart terrorist, the kind who poses the greatest threat, would certainly check out the target in advance, as the 9/11 hijackers did) or purchased a dual-use technology.

    However, I wouldn’t have much problem with treating certain conversations as probable cause for a search or surveillance. If you can show that a bunch of guys have drawn up plans for a bombing, that certainly seems like probable cause.

  23. ‘Perhaps the question should be “why should we bother trying to distinguish . . . .”‘

    I’m going to guess that RC doesn’t believe that Ann Coulter should be imprisoned, arrested, or even questioned for saying, about Timothy McVeigh, “My only regret is that they didn’t target the New York Times building.”

    Walter Mitty terrorists? Jesus, every conservative blog on the internet runs fantasies about killing liberals, judges, and reporters on a weekly basis.

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