After a quick trial, Faisal Shahzad, who admitted to trying to explode a car bomb in Times Square in May, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Tuesday. Shahzad, a U.S. citizen, was charged with attempted use a weapon of mass destruction, conspiracy and attempt to carry out an act of terrorism.
The attempted bombing and Shahzad’s subsequent arrest and trial stirred a brief but furious storm about what rights ought to be extended to citizens accused of terrorism. As always, conservatives called for a retrenchment of civil liberties and argued that the case should be pushed outside of the civilian courts.
But, contrary to these calls, the Shahzad case is a clear sign that the extra-legal military commissions the government now relies on simply aren’t necessary.
At the center of the debate about Shahzad was a question of whether terrorism suspects should be read their Miranda rights and whether citizens convicted of terrorism should have their citizenship revoked. Sen. Joe Lieberman, for example, argued, “It just seems to me if you’re attacking your fellow Americans in an act of war, you lose the rights that come with citizenship.”
The Shahzad case proves the shortcomings of Lieberman’s argument. As Glen Greenwald wrote last summer, the case shows that “civilian courts – i.e., real courts – provide far swifter and more certain punishment for Terrorists than do newly concocted military commissions.”
That’s certainly what happened today.
And Ben Smith notes over at Politico, that even those who wanted to deny Shahzad basic due process guarantees like the reading of his Miranda rights, now admit that the normal civilian process worked.
I asked Rep. Peter King of New York, one of the leading skeptics of civilian trials and – especially – of Miranda rights for terror suspects what he made of the outcome.
“The case worked out well. I had questions about it. There was a bit of luck involved here,” he said. “He was advised of his rights and kept talking. If he had not, I don’t know what would have happened.”
“If he was more sophisticated or more trained, or if he had not talked there could have been a follow-up attack, he could have been part of a larger conspiracy,” he said, adding that Shahzad himself would have been convicted on the evidence whether or not he cooperated. “It worked in this case, but to me it’s too much of a risk to take in every case.”
Of course Republicans and conservative Democrats are sure to continue supporting extra-legal practices in terrorism related legal proceedings.
And as the Wall Street Journal reported, the closing of Guantanamo is not going to happen with any haste. The Shahzad case may be another lesson not learned.