I listened to some of the congressional testimony by Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday. I had to switch the radio because of the badgering idiocy of some of the questioning.
One Republican congressman kept trying to get Holder to blame "radical Islam" for terrorism, which Holder understandably declined to do. First, in any individual case, it is necessary to discover whether the terrorist was radicalized and turned to "radical Islam" as an avenue to express an already extant violent streak, or if the person was radicalized by those who speak, falsely, in the name of one of the world’s great religions. Second, as Holder understands and this congressman should too, why would the Attorney General want to give the terrorists a sound-bite clip that feeds their false charge that the West is at war with Islam. Maybe the congressman only cares about what his primary voters think, but a responsible public servant must adopt a broader focus, and not try and goad the Attorney General into saying something that will do nothing to help us win the minds and hearts of those in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan whose hearts we need to win.
From the Democratic side came a fetish for Miranda that is astounding. There was an unwillingness to acknowledge the fact that the rationale for the "public safety" exception to Miranda might have to be tweaked in light of the different kinds of information to be gained from a terror suspect: the ticking time bomb exception is certainly relevant, but so is the need to uncover a network which, appraised of the terrorist’s arrest, will scatter to the winds.
Sanity returned to the discussion on the pages of the Washington Post. In an op-ed, Benjamin Wittes makes the point that what authorities in terrorism cases need is broader than a tweaking of Miranda. They need "greater flexibility in the rules that govern the first several days of these crisis cases – rules that give the executive some time and room to maneuver before it has to make fateful decisions. This would require congressional action and judicial tolerance." Wittes has written a thoughtful book that defies easy ideological characterization, Law and the Long War, that argues forcefully for congressional revision of such rules.
Alas, in an election year, with incumbents in both parties facing challenges from the extremes of their respective bases, such congressional thoughtfulness is unlikely.