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Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism

By Matthew Yglesias on February 2, 2010 at 4:45 pm

"Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism"

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Throughout my life, it’s always seemed to me that when we catch terrorists—from the 1993 World Trade Center plot to Timothy McVeigh to the Shoe Bomber (he got his miranda rights)—that what happens is they get arrested (killing people is illegal) and put on trial. Then if they’re found guilty, they’re punished. To the best of my knowledge, this wasn’t even at all controversial. But then came the Underpants Bomber and suddenly it’s horrible or something. To the extent that the Department of Justice has gone and put a website together all about the criminal justice system as a counterterrorism tool. Here’s a good post by Ken Gude on the same subject.

For some scattered thoughts of my own, I remember a time when FBI agents were considered pretty bad-ass. G-men. Dark suits, guns, intensive training at Quantico. Noting that something was a “federal crime” was meant to indicate that violators were likely to be caught and punished. Federal prison was a bad place to go.

Last, when discussing this whole subject it’s important to note that to the best of my knowledge, the conservative view is that the criminal justice system isn’t the appropriate way to deal with any sort of criminal. Conservatives didn’t like the Miranda ruling or any of the Warren Court’s other famous criminal procedure rulings. And since the Supreme Court became more conservative, right-wing justices have consistently sought to narrow the exclusionary rule, make it more difficult for convicted felons to get hearings for new evidence, etc. For all the “tea party” talk of freedom, and the right’s general blather about “limited government,” unrestricted violence by the agents of the state is a core priority for the right-wing. The view is that ideally you just detain people indefinitely. If forced, they get a military commission. If you have to have a civilian court, the accused shouldn’t have any rights. People should be tortured as a routine investigative technique. Wars should be routinely against foreign countries that haven’t attacked us. It’s a worldview soaked in violence and authoritarianism, and the relatively narrow question of what venue you try terrorism suspects in is just a small part of it.

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