Johns Hopkins University
The arrest last week of Faisal Shazhad, a US citizen, for attempting to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, has pushed the debate over “Miranda Rights” and citizenship status to a whole new level. Indeed, the current debate may reflect a new historical stage in the problem of what Hannah Arendt called, “the right to have rights.” Where Arendt located the tragedy of refugees and other stateless people who lacked so-called universal human rights precisely in the fact that they lacked membership in the nation-state that would grant them that very right to have rights, today we see the prospect of a new, modern, form of political exile, wherein the nation-state simultaneously creates and invokes its own right not to recognize the rights of its citizens (and others).
First, there was John McCain, leading the charge of pundits like Rush Limbaugh (of course) and politicians to argue that Shazhad should not have been read his Miranda rights. Despite his obvious abandonment – in the face of the growth of the tea-party movement (and their numerous electoral successes) – of the so-called “maverick” status, John McCain is still a media favorite. Because when McCain gives a quote on a political event such as this one, he can, almost all by himself, mark the position as another radically polarizing one, and he can do so by merely taking up the position on the right. In this case, McCain delivered once again, with this quote: “Don’t give this guy his Miranda rights until we find out what it’s all about.” It didn’t take long, of course, until the “other side” spoke and pointed out, to McCain and others, that as Shazhad was an American citizen arrested in New York City, not an “enemy combatant” and citizen of a foreign country who was captured on foreign and taken to Gitmo.
Lieberman has proposed a broadly “bi-partisan” bill – co-sponsored by Scott Brown (R Mass) and tentatively supported by Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton along with just about every Republican who has been asked about it – that would strip a US citizen of his or her citizenship rights for either joining a terrorist organization or providing one with “material support” (anything from supplying weapons and intel to writing a check to a charity that turns out to be a terrorist front). Commentators on the left, like David Cole and Joan Scott, have already done a thorough job of showing how utterly and completely untenable this bill proves to be from a legal or constitutional perspective. My interest here is in something other than the constitutional questions or the politics of demagoguery; I’m concerned with the distinct political logic that one can see traced out in the responses of McCain and Lieberman.
has now said that he is looking into possibly modifying Miranda procedures under that exception in order to deal with terrorist suspects.
Warren court. Nevertheless, the Warren court’s position proves to be politically and philosophically cogent. To make citizenship status a thing that can be taken away because one is suspected of a crime (even the crime of terrorism or treason), is to make the most fundamental rights utterly non-grounded, non-fundamental.
Thus it is that the McCain-Lieberman logic (tacitly) and the Lieberman-sponsored bill (more explicitly) would bring about what I’ve called, by following and modifying Arendt, “the right not to have rights.” It would subject every American to an ever-present (no matter how statistically unlikely) threat of statelessness. “We are all refugees now.”