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Jack Cloonan

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Interrogation Critics Ought to Give it a Try Sometime

Posted: 05/13/10 06:31 PM ET

Before we get too far into the debate over reading terrorism suspects their Miranda rights, it is important for both sides of the argument to understand what is at stake in the crisis atmosphere of a terrorist threat. Consider the circumstances of the FBI agents and detectives tasked with interviewing Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bombing suspect, to determine whether he was part of a larger terrorist plot targeting innocent Americans.

Foremost on the agents' and detectives' minds was the public's safety. That is why Mr. Shahzad was first questioned under the public safety exception to the Miranda warnings, which allows law enforcement to interrogate a suspect if they have reason to believe the suspect has information about an imminent threat to the public. Only after Mr. Shahzad began talking was he read his Miranda rights, which he then waived. Attorney General Eric Holder says the exception worked as it was supposed to in this case, and Shahzad continued to cooperate after receiving his warning, as other terrorism suspects had done before him. If the process has been working, I see no need to fix it.

Those politicians and pundits who denounce the decision to Mirandize Mr. Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen, do a disservice to the men and women in law enforcement who every day try their best to protect us. While critics have every right to voice their objections, I would like those same critics to assume the role of the agents and detectives in the room with Mr. Shahzad last Monday evening.

What if it were your job to get Mr. Shahzad to talk and cooperate? You have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, obey its laws and protect its people. You're holding a suspect, an American citizen who may have just planted a bomb on a crowded city street, and who may know about other attacks, and you have to get that information, fast.

Now consider this: whatever you do, your actions will be second-guessed. What would you do?

I truly believe that both supporters and critics of reading terrorism suspects their rights are trying to get to the same place. We all agree that protecting the public and securing the homeland are our fundamental goals.

But abrogating the rights and privileges we hold dear, and for which many have fought and died, is not the answer. In fact, doing so only adds fuel to the extremists' fire, allowing them to trumpet the "injustice" to recruit new members and rationalize their violent attacks. Why give radical jihadists more reasons to seek revenge and increase their numbers?

The war on terror must be fought on many levels, recognizing our enemies' goals and tactics, and seeking the most effective legal, law enforcement and military means of combating them. Since 9/11, the U. S. strategy has been to take the battle to our enemies on all fronts. Our law enforcement and intelligence professionals are fully engaged in that fight every day. Their goal is preemption, not reaction. Gaining Mr. Shahzad's cooperation is, in my view, consistent with that mandate, and advising him of his rights didn't stop them from getting the job done. Eliciting cooperation through rapport building has proven to be far more effective when questioning alleged terrorists.

In the split-second world of counterterrorism, "throwing out the rulebook," as portrayed in Hollywood movies and promoted by armchair warriors on TV and radio talk shows, is the wrong choice -- it's proven time and again to be ineffective and counterproductive. We win by playing it smart, by the rules that prove us to be not only honorable, but shrewd and effective as well. The cost of losing because of reckless disregard for the rules is too big to risk.

What's more, due process is nothing to be ashamed of; it's what sets us apart from our enemies.

I sincerely wonder how many politicians and pundits would be willing to walk that line before second-guessing the investigators who followed the law Monday evening, and apparently got it right.

For me, I simply want to thank them for a job well done.