May 05, 2010

Faisal Shahzad and Miranda Rights

Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen of Pakistani descent, has been charged with terrorism-related offenses for attempting to set off a car bomb in NY's Times Square on May 1, 2010.  Post-arrest events revived a debate over whether arrested suspects are entitled to be advised of their Miranda rights. These rights consist of the police advising suspects that they have a right to remain silent, that anything they say can be used against them in court, and that a lawyer can be appointed for them at government expense if they are unable to afford counsel.

Many civil libertarians argue that all arrestees are entitled to Miranda warnings (and other procedural rights).  Opponents argue that terrorists are enemy combatants who are not entitled to be treated like ordinary criminals. For a discussion of the opposing attitudes, see

What's interesting is that the debate may be pointless.  Miranda has been part of the US criminal justice system since the mid-1960's, and studies have repeatedly shown that warnings have little effect on suspects' willingness to speak to police officers.  Suspects typically sing like canaries.

Shahzad's behavior is consistent with the results of these studies.  After Shahzad's arrest, FBI agents interrogated him without advising him of Miranda rights, under a so-called "publis safety" exception. According to published reports, Shahzad provided important information to the agents. FBI agents then advised Shahzad of his Miranda rights and continued the interrogation.  Nothing changed; Shahzad continued to provide information to the FBI agents.

Can we have our cake and eat it too?  That is, can we provide civil liberties to terrorist suspects without compromising public safety?  Numerous studies and the behavior of captives like Faisal Shahzad suggest that the answer is "yes."