The Blog

Miranda Rights for Terrorists

2:05 PM, Jun 10, 2009 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

When 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was captured on March 1, 2003, he was not cooperative. "I'll talk to you guys after I get to New York and see my lawyer," he said, according to former CIA Director George Tenet.

Of course, KSM did not get a lawyer until months later, after his interrogation was completed, and Tenet says that the information the CIA obtained from him disrupted plots and saved lives. "I believe none of these successes would have happened if we had had to treat KSM like a white-collar criminal - read him his Miranda rights and get him a lawyer who surely would have insisted that his client simply shut up," Tenet wrote in his memoirs.

If Tenet is right, it's a good thing KSM was captured before Barack Obama became president. For, the Obama Justice Department has quietly ordered FBI agents to read Miranda rights to high value detainees captured and held at U.S. detention facilities in Afghanistan, according a senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. "The administration has decided to change the focus to law enforcement. Here's the problem. You have foreign fighters who are targeting US troops today - foreign fighters who go to another country to kill Americans. We capture them…and they're reading them their rights - Mirandizing these foreign fighters," says Representative Mike Rogers, who recently met with military, intelligence and law enforcement officials on a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan.

Rogers, a former FBI special agent and U.S. Army officer, says the Obama administration has not briefed Congress on the new policy. "I was a little surprised to find it taking place when I showed up because we hadn't been briefed on it, I didn't know about it. We're still trying to get to the bottom of it, but it is clearly a part of this new global justice initiative."

That effort, which elevates the FBI and other law enforcement agencies and diminishes the role of intelligence and military officials, was described in a May 28 Los Angeles Times article.

The FBI and Justice Department plan to significantly expand their role in global counter-terrorism operations, part of a U.S. policy shift that will replace a CIA-dominated system of clandestine detentions and interrogations with one built around transparent investigations and prosecutions.

Under the "global justice" initiative, which has been in the works for several months, FBI agents will have a central role in overseas counter-terrorism cases. They will expand their questioning of suspects and evidence-gathering to try to ensure that criminal prosecutions are an option, officials familiar with the effort said.

Thanks in part to the popularity of law and order television shows and movies, many Americans are familiar with the Miranda warning - so named because of the landmark 1966 Supreme Court case Miranda vs. Arizona that required police officers and other law enforcement officials to advise suspected criminals of their rights.

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense.

A lawyer who has worked on detainee issues for the U.S. government offers this rationale for the Obama administration's approach. "If the US is mirandizing certain suspects in Afghanistan, they're likely doing it to ensure that the treatment of the suspect and the collection of information is done in a manner that will ensure the suspect can be prosecuted in a US court at some point in the future."

But Republicans on Capitol Hill are not happy. "When they mirandize a suspect, the first thing they do is warn them that they have the 'right to remain silent,'" says Representative Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. "It would seem the last thing we want is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or any other al-Qaeda terrorist to remain silent. Our focus should be on preventing the next attack, not giving radical jihadists a new tactic to resist interrogation--lawyering up."

According to Mike Rogers, that is precisely what some human rights organizations are advising detainees to do. "The International Red Cross, when they go into these detention facilities, has now started telling people - ‘Take the option. You want a lawyer.'"