Miranda panders

Sad to say, political sport has put Attorney General Eric Holder and his boss, President Obama, on the defensive. They are running in reverse as they once again heed the call of political expedience even when it comes to eroding the Fifth Amendment.

As fundamental as our country's protections against self-incrimination would seem to be, the landmark 1966 ruling upholding an individual's right to an attorney and to stay silent under police questioning was only decided in a 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court. The majority opinion by Chief Justice Earl Warren cited "menacing police procedures,” such as "beating, hanging, whipping and ... sustained and protracted questioning incommunicado in order to extort confessions."

Today, anyone who watches "Law and Order" knows how the Miranda recitation has become a mechanical part of any arrest, cast in law enforcement concrete and public-opinion bedrock.

Still, never underestimate the power of the desperately irresponsible to push the correct hot buttons. So if the likes of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) are involved in a dangerously close reelection bid, it's irresistibly easy for them to try and squeeze out a few right-wing votes by attacking authorities for reciting the Miranda warning to accused terrorists.

The most recent uproar is over Faisal Shahzad, alleged to have attempted the Times Square bombing. McCain and others immediately started screaming bloody murder because Shahzad was told he could remain silent and get an attorney, yada yada yada.

Never mind that officials waited awhile, taking advantage of a so-called public-safety exception approved by the Supremes in 1984. That allows authorities to delay if they believe there is an imminent threat to the public about which the person in custody has knowledge. Information gained under that exception is fair game, admissible when he or she goes to trial.

McCain and his fellow game players know that, and also are aware that it was utilized until federal agents felt they had squeezed out imminent-danger knowledge. But that didn't stop the partisans from braying about the need to withhold Miranda protections from those deemed terrorists, like Shahzad.

Nor, apparently, has it stopped Attorney General Eric Holder, with the blessing of the big guy at the White House, from trying to deflect the political cheap shots cheaply.

Instead of debating the other side, Holder is now caving and saying he believes there can be further exceptions beyond public safety.

The problem is the same one Chief Justice Warren cited about 34 years ago — that “an interrogation environment is created for no purpose other than to subjugate the individual to the will of his examiner.” That's why it is so important to protect any of us who might find ourselves in such a crushing situation.

Even with Miranda, it's far to easy for a policeman to secretly intimidate someone into making damaging statements and getting the case wrapped up and taking shortcuts to avoid the complications when our civil liberties get in the way of their steamroller. As we hear all too often, it happens and must be avoided.

No matter what the crime, our rights and protections are far too important to be allowed to wither because of political expedience. Messrs. Holder and Obama cannot compromise away a shred of our nation's basic principles just because they're under attack by panderers, who should be warned that their words can be used against them in the court of public opinion.


Visit Mr. Franken's website at www.bobfranken.tv.