When U.S. law enforcement officials captured suspected Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, they did the unthinkable: They read him his Miranda rights. Despite the fact that Shahzad continued to cooperate after the reading of his rights, defense hawks criticized the move as soft on terrorism. Now, one member of Congress has introduced a startling solution:
The bill filed Thursday by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) would change federal law by creating a procedure to question a suspected terrorist for up to four days before taking him or her to court without jeopardizing prosecutors' ability to use statements made by a suspect during that time.
It would also express Congress's view that authorities can delay reading Miranda warnings "for as long as is necessary" to elicit intelligence from a terror suspect.
The White House has yet to take a position on Schiff's bill, but you can bet Attorney General Eric Holder will like what he sees.
Under the bill, the attorney general or the director of national intelligence or their top deputies could certify to a court that an individual is a terrorism suspect and "may be able to provide intelligence to protect the public safety." In such cases, authorities could question the individual for up to 48 hours without facing an automatic presumption that the statements couldn't be used in court. A judge or magistrate could extend the period for another 48 hours "for good cause shown."
While "for good cause shown" sounds like the legal equivalent of "just for fun," Ben Wittes, an analyst at the Brookings Institution, said he liked the bill, except for the only-four-days-of-detention part.
Wittes also said 48 to 96 hours really doesn't give interrogators much time to talk to a suspect. "If you're going to do this, you might as well give the government more time than that," the Brookings expert said.
That's right, federal authorities "might as well" gain the power to hold and question suspected criminals for extended periods of time. While one would expect less hawkishness from a bill written by a California Democrat, the fact that Schiff is up for re-election against this guy puts things in context. When your opponent lists his first two credentials as "former military, former law enforcement," it's time to move to the right, no matter how misguided curtailing prisoners' rights may be.