What rights should a terror suspect have when taken into custody? Should it matter if the suspect is an American citizen (Suspect #2 -- I refuse to use his name here, so I shall simply refer to him by the number used by the media: #2)?
Too often, we take our hard-fought constitutional rights for granted and lament their loss or infringement when it appears we are on the verge of finding them threatened or eroded. Such is the case with the ubiquity of cameras in our daily lives and their use as a tool for social networking and as the eyes and ears of law enforcement in capturing criminals and, in this case, a potential enemy of the state. The last of two suspects has been captured and the good people of Massachusetts are experiencing a deep relief, if not exhausted euphoria, layered with sadness and overwhelming loss. So, how far do we as a people want authorities to go in questioning #2?
It's being widely reported that #2 will not be read his Miranda warnings before the FBI questions him. He will not be told he has the right to an attorney or that anything he says can and will be used against him in a court of law (forget that he has been judged guilty in the court if public opinion and, perhaps, rightly so). The FBI has invoked the "public safety" exception to the Miranda warning requirement. Should we care?
Look at what Boston has lived through. Authorities took the unprecedented step of locking down an entire city on Friday to corner a single suspect. This hub of business and education came to a halt for a day while the manhunt for #2 intensified. Think of those victims of the marathon bombers' cowardly, unprovoked and unspeakable acts. Think of the victims' families, their friends, their futures. I don't condone a mob mentality and, in fact, we haven't seen one, not among the citizens and not among the various city, state and federal authorities.
This manhunt was not launched over the simple robbing of a convenience store (although that is apparently what helped authorities locate the two suspected bombers). Theirs was a terrorist act, indiscriminately targeting innocent men, women and children, sentencing some to death and others to maiming and trauma. Countless lives and dreams were senselessly shattered.
I recognize, as a lawyer, that when you infringe the rights of one citizen you threaten the rights of all citizens. But #2 arguably abandoned and disavowed those rights when he (allegedly) declared war against his people and his country. I am generally repulsed by "ends justify the means" arguments but I suggest that the national interest demands that in this case, authorities strive to get information to prevent future attacks.
I don't pretend to have the answers. In am just a lawyer and a reporter. Yet, despite my passion for the law, our right as citizens to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence, I find myself angry and, perhaps, too easily swayed by emotion, especially for those poor victims and their families. That side of me says that this 19-year-old should be questioned vigorously and treated like what most of America believes he is: #2.
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