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Terror Suspect Triggers Hill Debate

GOP Leaders Express Outrage That Faisal Shahzad Was Read Miranda Rights

Tom Williams/Roll Call
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (center), seen Tuesday with former Sen. Jim Talent, unleashed a broad assault on President Barack Obama’s national security policies.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement Tuesday that authorities have arrested and are questioning the suspect in Saturday’s thwarted New York City terrorist attack sparked new partisan fractures in Congress over whether the suspect, a naturalized U.S. citizen, should have been read his Miranda rights.

Holder said Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American suspect in the botched effort to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, “continues to be questioned by federal agents” and has shed light on his role in the attempted attack, even after being read his Miranda rights.

Shahzad was arrested Monday night at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport after authorities found weapons in a vehicle that he was believed to have driven to the airport. Authorities also found bomb-making materials outside Shahzad’s apartment in Connecticut. Holder said the suspect has already “provided useful information to authorities” and will likely be charged with an act of terrorism transcending national borders, among other “assorted explosives charges.”

But Congressional Republicans blasted the administration for granting Miranda rights to Shahzad, despite his U.S. citizenship, because of the nature of his alleged crime.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took to the Senate floor to warn of the consequences of authorities not using all tools possible to glean critical information from Shahzad.

“Hopefully, the appropriate officials are using this opportunity to exploit as much intelligence as he may have about his overseas connections and any other plots against Americans either here or abroad,” McConnell said.

Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) was more explicit in his criticism of the administration’s approach, calling it a “serious mistake” to read a terror suspect Miranda rights.

“There’s probably about 350 different charges he’s guilty of: attempted acts of terror against the United States, attempted murder,” McCain said Tuesday on the syndicated radio show “Imus in the Morning.” “I’m sure there’s a significant number to warrant the death penalty.”

McCain said he expected Shahzad to face charges that might warrant a death sentence, if convicted. “Don’t give this guy his Miranda rights until we find out what it’s all about,” he said. Later Tuesday, McCain explained that “it is not a requirement to give Miranda rights” to terror suspects unless evidence gained from interrogations will be used against them in a civilian court.

Senate Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) agreed with McCain. “Just because you’re a citizen doesn’t mean you can’t be at war with the United States. ... You can be treated as an enemy combatant” and not be read Miranda rights, he said.

But Sessions acknowledged that Shahzad’s status as a naturalized U.S. citizen complicates how to proceed. “When you have an American citizen, I think there are more arguments” for reading a suspect his or her rights, he said.

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