A bill that would give law enforcement more leeway during interrogations of people deemed a public security risk would "gut" the rights afforded to people who have been arrested, critics say.
The bill, put forward at the end of last week by US House Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), appears to have the unofficial backing of the Obama administration, at least in principle.
The Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention and Prosecution Act of 2010 would extend to four days the period of time that law enforcement has to question a terrorist suspect before bringing the suspect before a judge.
Currently, as Schiff explains in a press statement, officials have six hours to present a suspect before a judge. Statements taken after that time would be inadmissible. Schiff's bill would give interrogators four days, provided the US attorney general or Director of National Intelligence sign off on it.
The bill also includes a clause expressing Congress' belief that authorities can delay reading a national security suspect's Miranda rights "for as long as is necessary."
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In his efforts, Schiff appears to have the unofficial backing of Attorney General Eric Holder. In May, in the wake of the Times Square bombing attempt, Holder said he wanted Congress to modify the public-safety exception to Miranda rights to make it easier to interrogate terrorists. (The Supreme Court has ruled that Miranda rights can be overlooked in certain national security situations, but backers of new legislation say the exception is not large enough.)
In TV interviews, Holder said he wanted to see an expansion of the exception to Miranda rights, and that he would work with Congress to make that happen.
Schiff told Politico that he got "no formal endorsement" from the Obama administration for his bill, but Politico reports that the Department of Justice is reviewing the legislation.
Blogger Marcy Wheeler calls Schiff's proposed law a "gutting of Miranda rights." She points to comments by Ben Wittes of the Brookings Institution, who supports the legislation and said it should "focus more on suspects who pose a national security threat rather than those sought in connection with particular terrorism-related crimes," according to Politico.
To Wheeler, that suggests that many more people than just terrorism suspects could be caught in the new rules.
"So can an environmental activist lose Miranda rights under this bill?" Wheeler asks. "Can Quakers?"
Ken Gude of the Center for American Progress described the bill to Politico as "a proposed solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. ... Whatever the political theater surrounding Miranda warnings, the FBI obtained valuable intelligence information from both the underwear and Times Square bombers under the existing rules.”
He added: “The combined effect of denial of access to an attorney or presentment before a judge for 48 hours is of extremely dubious value and is precisely the kind of interrogation the Constitution is designed to prohibit.”
David Colgin, an assistant federal defender in Philadelphia, told Politico he found it "ironic that politicians keep talking about the need to limit constitutional rights, since none of these protections have actually stymied any investigations so far in terrorism cases. ... Overall, this legislation reflects the pervasive misconception that coercion works, and that we just need to let Jack Bauer get to work on our terrorism suspects to get the truth."
But Schiff points to recent terrorism investigations as evidence the law is needed.
"The foiled attacks of the Times Square bomber and the Christmas Day bomber have demonstrated the unique national security concerns implicated when terrorism suspects are captured in the United States," he said in a statement. "The provisions of this bill will help guarantee our national security needs are met, while establishing a level of due process that is consistent with our adherence to the rule of law."
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