Further leaks coming out of the interrogation of the surviving Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, show the continuing mistakes of the Obama administration in its elevation of ideology over national security. Apparently the FBI interrogated the younger Tsarnaev for 16 hours, in which time he claimed that he and his brother acted alone in bombing the marathon, but also revealing that their plan on the night of the shootout with police last Thursday was to drive to New York City and set off five more bombs in Times Square. And then, for reasons that are still unknown, the government read him his rights. And just like Umar Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, he clammed up.
What is the sense in this, and who made the decision to read Tsarnaev his Miranda warnings, which effectively ended the collection of useful intelligence from the interrogation? Who knows how much more valuable information we have lost? Our intelligence agencies are trying to piece together evidence suggesting that Tsarnaev’s older brother may have met with Islamist extremists and even taken military training during a trip to Russia. Our national-security agencies could still question Tsarnaev without Miranda or a lawyer, so long as it decided to foreswear use of the information at his trial. The purpose of interrogation for national security is not to collect evidence for a case to convict a defendant, but instead to gather information to prevent future attacks.
Trying to squeeze all of that into a public-safety exception to Miranda ought to worry everyone. It should worry civil libertarians because the Justice Department is trying to both get intelligence but also preserve the interrogation results for trial, even though there is no lawyer and no warning. And those worried about foreign threats should object, because the exception is limited in time and scope to information about imminent dangers, not collecting information about broader networks and conspiracies. The Obama administration may well be leading the nation down the path to the worst of all possible options in its obsession with treating terrorism as a law-enforcement, and not military, problem.