Yesterday, when the primary suspect in the attempted bombing of Times Square was a middle-aged white guy, Republican leaders were the picture of calm, sober leadership. High-ranking Republicans on committees related to national security like Pete Hoekstra and Peter King urged people not to jump to conclusions, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised New Yorkers for not succumbing to fear. Likewise, hawkish Sen. Joe Lieberman, who has tended to side with Republicans on national-security issues, issued a statement yesterday saying, “More than anything, terrorists want to instill terror. They want to create a wide and broad sense of fear among ordinary people. The resilience shown by New Yorkers robs terrorists of that power."
That was yesterday. Today, as in the aftermath of the failed underwear bombing on Christmas Day, Republicans are eager to give that power back. With the Justice Department announcing the arrest of Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-born American citizen and Connecticut resident in connection with the failed plot, Republicans have returned to their usual script. Contrasting McConnell's careful statement from yesterday, Rep. Eric Cantor complained that Americans really don't live in the kind of perpetual panic that the threat of terrorism necessitates:
Cantor complained that the public "goes on heightened alert" after such incidents for "hours and days rather than permanently" and that Obama aides "tend to give these warnings due attention only in limited spurts."
Sen. John McCain, appearing on the Imus show, warned the administration against reading Shahzad, an American citizen, his Miranda rights:
"Obviously that would be a serious mistake until all the information is gathered," McCain said during an appearance on "Imus in the Morning" when asked whether the suspect, 30-year-old Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen from Pakistan.
Not content to be merely opposed to due process for foreigners accused of terrorism, McCain wants to deny American citizens their rights to due process as well. Indeed, McCain and Lieberman recently introduced a bill that would allow the government to hold U.S. citizens indefinitely without charge. Needless to say, things like Mirandization were non-issues for McCain during the Bush administration, when more than 403 convictions were secured through the civilian justice system.
Suffice it to say that Republicans have jettisoned entirely the notion
of the presumption of innocence when dealing with Muslims accused of
terrorism -- whether or not they're American citizens. On the issue of
whether Shahzad could be held as an enemy combatant, the answer is it
could try, but previous attempts at doing so worked out poorly
both from the perspective of justice and intelligence gathering. This
isn't a national-security policy issue; it's a culture-war issue -- the
GOP is against giving "those people" rights. As for Miranda rights, I've dealt with that whole myth before; there's nothing about Mirandization that prevents intelligence gathering. There is a public-safety exception to the Miranda laws, and counterterrorism officials know when and how to use it.
Watching the GOP leadership return to a narrative in which its contributing to the hysteria that terrorists are looking to provoke is disappointing but utterly predictable. The only reason they took this long is that the initial reports weren't clear that Muslim extremists were likely behind the plot. The contrast between the GOP reaction today and yesterday offers a pretty clear example of just how blatantly issues of national security have become politicized.
-- A. Serwer