What's Wrong With the Criminal Justice System?
When Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called "underwear bomber," was arrested for trying to blow up a plane headed for Detroit on Christmas Day, the Obama administration was quickly attacked for its decision to treat Abdulmutallab as an ordinary criminal and admit him into the criminal justice system—in spite of the fact that Abdulmutallab was handled almost exactly the same way shoe-bomber Richard Reid had been handled in 2001. A few days after the attack, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told Larry King, that he didn't think a terrorist deserved "the full range of protections of our criminal justice system embodied in the Constitution of the United States." Former Vice President Dick Cheney also attacked Obama for giving "terrorists the rights of Americans."
Legally, of course, the FBI agents did exactly what they were supposed to. Nowhere does the Constitution specify that the Bill of Rights protects only American citizens. As Glenn Greenwald recently pointed out, the Supreme Court ruled as far back as 1886 that foreign citizens on American soil were entitled to the same due process and legal protections as a Americans—a position which the otherwise split Court unanimously reaffirmed in the Boumedienne v. Bush in 2008. And, as Attorney General Eric Holder wrote in a letter to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), "there is no court-approved system currently in place in which suspected terrorists captured inside the United States can be detained and held without access to an attorney." As Holder pointed out, a federal judge—Michael Mukasey, who was also Holder's predecessor as attorney general under President Bush—rejected the position that the government could deny José Padilla access to an attorney on the grounds that he was an "enemy combatant."
Nor is there any legal provision for denying terrorists rights in our criminal justice system. It's not that anyone cares so much about how terrorists are treated. It's rather that just because the administration declares someone a terrorist doesn't make them one. As Glenn Greenwald puts it, "The fact that the Government labels Person X a 'Terrorist' is not proof that Person X is, in fact, a Terrorist." People who are accused of terrorism are innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law just as much as people accused of any other crime. In fact, many of the people we have held as terrorists were held in spite of the fact that there was almost no evidence that they were actually involved in terrorism. At least one person, a German citizen named Khaled El-Masri, was abducted and held for months solely because his name was spelled the same way as another suspected terrorist. And, of course, if the government could simply designate anyone an "enemy combatant" and hold them indefinitely without trial, it would be a huge loophole in our constitutional protections.
It's strange, in any case, that people are so quick to assume without evidence that our criminal justice system can't handle terrorists. According to FBI Director Robert Mueller, Abdulmutallab is cooperating and has already provided "valuable information." And, as Ali Soufan, who was in charge of the FBI investigation of the bombing of the USS Cole, recently argued in The New York Times, the federal court system has always done an excellent job of handling terrorism cases. As Soufan says, almost 200 hundred terrorists have been convicted in federal courts since the September 11 attacks, including high profile terrorists like Zacharias Moussaoui. Military commissions may be appropriate way of dispensing justice on the battlefield, where no other alternative is possible, but they haven't had much success in obtaining convictions, in spite of denying the accused any real due process.
Likewise ordinary FBI interrogations have produced excellent intelligence. As Soufan writes, "Whether suspects cooperate depends on the skill of the interrogator and the mindset of the suspects—not whether they’ve been told they can remain silent." Reading someone their Miranda rights does not give them some magical protection against questioning. There is in any case still no evidence that the alternative of torturing suspects—setting aside the fact that it goes against both federal law and treaties we've ratified—has yielded any useful intelligence. In fact, most of the supposed case for the effectiveness of torture came from the account of a former CIA agent named John Kiriakou, who recently admitted in light of evidence that his account was wrong that he lied about having any firsthand knowledge of interrogations.
Finally, of course, granting suspected terrorists the same rights we give any suspected criminal gives the convictions we obtain a credibility they wouldn't otherwise have. When we abuse prisoners or deny them a fair trial, we fuel resentment against us and open ourselves to charges of hypocrisy. That would be a terrible shame, especially when we have already have a perfectly good justice system in place.
Pay attention to the decisions made by the provinces.
- China leads the world in numerous green energy categories.
- CO2 emissions in the country totaling more than all coal emissions in the U.S. have recently emerged.
- This seems to be an administrative-induced blip on the way towards a green energy tipping point.
NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller is coming back to Big Think to answer YOUR questions! Here's all you need to know to submit your science-related inquiries.
Big Think's amazing audience has responded so well to our videos from NASA astronomer and Assistant Director for Science Communication Michelle Thaller that we couldn't wait to bring her back for more!
And this time, she's ready to tackle any questions you're willing to throw at her, like, "How big is the Universe?", "Am I really made of stars?" or, "How long until Elon Musk starts a colony on Mars?"
All you have to do is submit your questions to the form below, and we'll use them for an upcoming Q+A session with Michelle. You know what to do, Big Thinkers!
Or how I learned to stop worrying and love my tsundoku.
- Many readers buy books with every intention of reading them only to let them linger on the shelf.
- Statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb believes surrounding ourselves with unread books enriches our lives as they remind us of all we don't know.
- The Japanese call this practice tsundoku, and it may provide lasting benefits.
Calling all big thinkers!
The Boring Company plans to offer free rides in its prototype tunnel in Hawthorne, California in December.
- The prototype tunnel is about 2 miles long and contains electric skates that travel at top speeds of around 150 mph.
- This is the first tunnel from the company that will be open to the public.
- If successful, the prototype could help the company receive regulatory approval for much bigger projects in L.A. and beyond.
Money makes the world go 'round. Unfortunately, it can make both children and adults into materialists.
- Keeping a gratitude journal caused children to donate 60 percent more to charitable causes.
- Other methods suggested by researchers include daily gratitude reflection, gratitude posters, and keeping a "gratitude jar."
- Materialism has been shown to increase anxiety and depression and promote selfish attitudes and behavior.
Anatomy and physiology professor David Harper claims a recent study in The Lancet is flawed.
- The low-carbohydrate group in a recent Lancet study were typically middle-aged, obese, sedentary, diabetic smokers.
- The study was not a randomized, controlled, double-blind experiment.
- Harper has been in ketosis for six years, and says it has profound effects on cancer patients, among other chronic ailments.
A mind-bending paradox questions the nature of reality.
- Boltzmann Brains are hypothetical disembodied entities with self-awareness.
- It may be more likely for a Boltzmann Brain to come into existence than the whole Universe.
- The idea highlights a paradox in thermodynamics.
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