Thursday, June 11, 2009

Criminal or Terrorist?

According to this article on FoxNEWS, persons, non-citizens, who are detained on the battlefield (or other places...since who can determine where a battlefield really is in these times), are now read Miranda rights; just like they were US citizens. Not only is this just wrong, but it is extremely stupid, too! I agree with those who criticize this practice (according to the story, Republicans and terrorism experts); this is evidence of a shift a shift in how we see and define terrorism. At issue here is whether terrorism is an act of war or is it a criminal act.

Now this is not just a question of semantics. How we, as a Nation, define a particular act and person who has committed that act drives how we respond to that act. For example, if a citizen of another country shoots a soldier guarding the entrance to a US base overseas, is that person a terrorist or a criminal? If that person is captured immediately, should we interrogate that non-citizen to determine if there are additional threats to US personnel or US interests or should we interrogate her with an eye toward prosecution in a US criminal court for the crime she committed while giving her all the rights a US citizen would enjoy? I understand that it would be nice if we could do both. I believe that's what the Bush administration was trying to do, by labeling someone involved in aggressive actions towards the US as an unlawful detainee and giving them limited rights. The detainees were interrogated to see if they knew something that might stop future attacks or if they had information of value to intelligence; but they were also interrogated to see if they had evidence that would be useful in prosecuting others or themselves.

According to the article "Terrorism analyst Neil Livingstone called the move a 'dramatic shift' in policy." Mr Livingstone said, "[We're] going back to the bad old days that gave rise to 9/11 when we treated terrorism as though it were a criminal problem, not as a war or not as an attack on the United States. We don't want to have to make a legal determination every time we go after a terrorist whether we've got a good case or not, we should go after them as enemy combatants of the United States."

I agree with Mr Livingstone. Except for certain jobs, most of the members of our Armed Forces are not law enforcement specialists. They are warriors. They fight. They should not be made to collect evidence or investigate. I also agree with Representative Pete Hoekstra, a Republican representative from Michigan and the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, when he expressed concern about going backwards to treating terrorism with a law enforcement mentality. He was right on the money when he said, "I think it's a really lousy way to fight a war. ... This dramatically changes the way that our frontline forces work."

This dangerous shift in the underlying philosophy of how we treat and deal with terrorists is a regression to the Clinton-era policies that lead to the "firewall" between intelligence-gathering and criminal investigation that contributed to the failures that led to the successful terrorist attack on 9/11. Much of what this new administration has done concerns me....but this shift from prosecuting a war to prosecuting criminals represents a mistaken view that will make protecting this Nation so much more difficult. It's not just semantics!

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