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Fear Itself

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Senator Joseph Lieberman has developed a knack for craven fearmongering. His latest proposal was born from the police operation by New York’s finest that led to the capture of Faisal Shahzad last weekend. Shahzad, a financial analyst, is a United States citizen and, as a long-time resident of Bridgeport, one of Lieberman’s constituents, which Lieberman considers a troublesome complication. Lieberman says he will sponsor legislation under which the president will be given the power to deprive a person of his citizenship simply by bringing certain charges.

Lieberman is vague about the proposals, and he offers no explanation of how a citizen could be stripped of his citizenship by executive fiat consistently with the Constitution, a step that would have all the traditional badges of tyrannical government. He also apparently believes, incorrectly, that only U.S. citizens have a right to receive a Miranda warning. (That’s the sort of mistake that a young lawyer sitting for the bar would never make, although Lieberman has been a lawyer since 1967 and was a former Connecticut attorney general.) The New York Times responds to Lieberman’s proposal:

This is not Mr. Lieberman’s first foray into this dark territory. He is co-author with Mr. McCain of a bill that would require that anyone arrested on any terrorism-related charge, including American citizens, be declared an enemy combatant and tried in a military court. Let’s be clear about what works and what doesn’t. There is no evidence that vital intelligence has been lost, or a terrorist attack allowed to happen, because a suspect was questioned lawfully. The men who interrogated top-ranking terrorist suspects following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks said the prisoners gave up their valuable knowledge before being subjected to waterboarding and other illegal acts.

Federal courts have convicted hundreds of people on terrorism-related charges since 2001. The tribunals have obtained one guilty plea from a prisoner who may not have done anything and was subsequently released. Senators McCain and Lieberman say military trials will show strength. Abandoning democratic institutions in the face of terrorism is an act of surrender. It will not make this country safer. It will make it more vulnerable.

Lieberman believes that America’s Constitution and criminal-justice system are dangerous weaknesses. To this sort of thinking Abraham Lincoln had the right retort: perhaps Senator Lieberman would “prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

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