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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.

House Republican leaders punted questions on the matter to Homeland Security ranking member Peter King (R-N.Y.), who issued a statement praising law enforcement for its efforts but was silent on the issue of whether Shahzad should be read his Miranda rights.

But Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) ripped Obama’s national security policies more broadly, saying they have weakened the United States’ reputation abroad and represent a “rapid state of retreat” from strong policies of the past. And House Judiciary ranking member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said Shahzad’s alleged terror plot is an example of why Congress should not pass immigration reform that includes a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants.

“It appears that even the background checks conducted prior to naturalization did not identify Shahzad as a national security risk. If we cannot detect a potential terrorist who submits himself to our security process, how can we expect to identify other potential terrorists or criminals who have been hiding behind their illegal status?” Smith asked.

House Democratic leaders and top administration officials shot down the GOP attacks and defended authorities’ use of Miranda rights in the case of Shahzad.

“This is a U.S. citizen, arrested on U.S. soil and subject to the constitutional protections and constraints of every U.S. citizen,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Tuesday.

Hoyer noted that his view was shared by conservative television host Glenn Beck. “Nothing says we can’t convict and give an appropriate punishment to people just because we give them their Miranda rights under the Constitution,” Hoyer said, adding that Timothy McVeigh, the home-grown terrorist convicted of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, received similar treatment before his prosecution.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called it “an affront to law enforcement” that McCain and others would question the decisions of counterterrorism officials who are “vested in getting every last bit of information from an interview or an interrogation.”

House Democrats also pounced on Cantor for going after Obama in the wake of a near-attack. “The American people are not impressed during these challenging times of our nation at war by simplistic jingoism as demonstrated by the Republican Whip,” said Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.), who sits on the Armed Services Committee.

There is a glimmer of bipartisanship to come, however. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) announced plans to introduce legislation to strip the citizenship rights of Americans who commit acts of terrorism, a proposal already drawing support from both parties.

Current laws already strip citizenship from Americans caught fighting in the army of another nation at war with the United States; Lieberman’s proposal would create a new authority that targets people with ties to a foreign terrorist organization.

“That sounds like something I’d support, but I’d have to look at the legislation,” Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) told Agence France Presse. Similarly, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said he is “interested in Sen. Lieberman’s approach.”

John Stanton contributed to this report.

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