Rights and citizenship

Not doing well with the writing today. Here’s a link to a transcript of yet another Republican debate. Reading this, I wonder why they bother. It strikes me as nothing but empty pageantry, mere spectacle to get people applauding, not a debate in any sense that I’m familiar with. But there’s some weird stuff going on in there, and one bit of weirdness jumped out at me.

Here’s a quote from Michele Bachmann:

This is one thing we know about Barack Obama. He has essentially handed over our interrogation of terrorists to the ACLU. He has outsourced it to them. Our CIA has no ability to have any form of interrogation for terrorists.

When the bomber — or the attempted bomber over Detroit, the underwear bomber was intercepted, he was given Miranda warnings within 45 minutes. He was not an American citizen. We don’t give Miranda warnings to terrorists, and we don’t read them their rights. They don’t have any.

It would be unfair to suggest that this is typical for a Republican candidate, Bachmann is out there by anyone’s standards. The idea that the ACLU controls interrogations… I haven’t the slightest idea what she’s saying there. “They aren’t letting us torture suspects anymore”, perhaps? But there’s some stuff in there that’s pretty common thinking and I want to address it.

Explaining Miranda rights to a suspect in custody is standard procedure, I’m sure most law enforcement types will do that almost without thinking. Why would this be a problem? Bachmann makes a point that the suspect was not an American citizen, but so what? The Constitution does not speak of the rights of citizens, but the rights of people. The 5th Amendment, which guarantees due process, says “No person”, and mentions nothing about any citizenship. The 6th Amendment reads as follows (emphasis mine):

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Again, there is no mention of citizenship. The words “all criminal prosecutions” certainly speaks to this being a right enjoyed by all people under United States law, not merely a privilege of U.S. citizens. Throughout the founding documents of American law you’ll find references to human rights, not citizen rights, and usually this is coupled with the term inalienable. These are not merely whims of the ruling class to be removed at their pleasure but an undeniable, irrevocable part of our law which cannot be taken from you even if you agree to it. Well, that’s the theory, but according to Bachmann “We don’t give Miranda warnings to terrorists, and we don’t read them their rights. They don’t have any.”

Perhaps she missed the concept of the presumption of innocence. Surely even Michele Bachmann must have heard that phrase “innocent until proven guilty”, right? Even if terrorists have no rights they are presumed innocent, and therefore not terrorists, until they’ve been convicted in a fair trial, there’s that Bill of Rights again.

Look, if you’re going to have Rule of Law, that is if you’re going to say that your nation is a place where everyone is subject to the law, and the people in charge can’t just ignore or rewrite it as they please, then you’re going to have to accept that the law applies to people you like and people you hate, equally. Both in its protections and its restrictions.

On the other hand, the Republican party seems to be increasingly in favor of overturning the Constitution and replacing our democratic republic with a Christian theocracy. Maybe giving rights, protections and privileges only to people she likes and restrictions only to people she hates is exactly when Bachmann is aiming for.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on November 23, 2011, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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