Friday, May 7, 2010
Crimes of De-Citizenship
As I am sure you are all aware, a Pakistani born American, Faisal Shahzad, has been arrested for his part in the Time Square bomb plot. An intriguing debate has arisen within conservative circles over the fact that Shahzad was read his Miranda rights. Glenn Beck, of all people, came out in defense of making sure that this Islamic terrorist received his full constitutional rights as an American citizen. Far be it from me to stand to the right of Glenn Beck on an issue, but please bear with me. First off there is my general objection to Miranda rights in that they are creation of an activist Supreme Court and should be overturned. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say or imply that the authorities need to inform people of their rights. It is the responsibility of each citizen to have a basic understanding of their own rights. (If Congress wishes to make such a law as to insist that police inform suspects of their rights I would be all for it.) Moving beyond that, I reject the assumption that Shahzad is an American citizen with constitutionally protected legal rights. I would argue that the very nature of his crime strips him of his citizenship and the legal rights that go with it.
I take it as a given that non-uniformed combatants, such as spies, saboteurs and terrorists, do not have legal rights. Because of this, I reject all legal objections to torture. The United States not only as the right to put Al Qaida combatants in Guantanamo without trial it would also have the right to chop their fingers off one by one, gouge their eyes out, hang they by piano wire and put it all on Youtube. These combatants would be in the Dred Scott situation, without the legal standing to sue the American government in the first place. Not that I think torture is, for the most part, a good idea or that I would wish for torture to be used. The maintenance of limits to war and the bare shred of human rights relies on the willingness to draw a distinction between civilian and military and to respect a certain code of behavior even in the treatment of the enemy. If there are no consequences to violating the laws of war then there is no reason to keep them. Thus not only can one disregard the human rights of those who do not respect them, one must disregard them. There is no moral difference between those who would piously offer rights to those who do not respect them and those who do not believe in them in the first place. Rights can only apply to those who believe in them and respect them in return.
Citizens obviously have rights that protect them. These rights apply even to criminals, from jay-walkers to sadistic murderers. If someone rapes and murders a child, he is still an American citizen and has rights. He cannot be tortured and has the right to a fair trial in front of a jury of his peers. Even if we apply the death penalty, up until the moment the State executes him, he is an American citizen and has the right to a humane death. The reason for this is that throughout this entire process this person has not acted to reject the authority of the State. Whatever sick desires he felt he must give into, he never challenged the right of the State to judge him. Shahzad did not just help park a vehicle full of explosives with the intention that it explode and cause major casualties for which we might wish to convict him of manslaughter, he plotted with a foreign entity to work to undermine this government. By making war against this government he committed treason and rejected the legitimacy of the government. Thus he surrendered his citizenship and all the privileges that come with it. The military has the practice of stripping soldiers of their rank when they commit certain crimes; I see no reason why civilians cannot be similarly stripped of citizenship. It turns out that that Senator Joseph Lieberman is actually sponsoring a bill to strip anyone involved with foreign terrorists of their citizenship. I would of course go so far as to say that as a traitor, a non-citizen and an out of uniformed combatant Shahzad would have no more legal rights and could be tortured and executed at will without a formal trial.
How would this work in practice? Obviously there needs to be some sort of check in place to stop the government from simply accusing citizens of being terrorists and ignore the Constitution. My suggestion would be the following. Once the charge of terrorism went out against our Time Square bomber it immediately became a military operation. Once the authorities had their man they should only have had to offer the opportunity for civil rights groups to come to Shahzad's defense in the equivalent of a preliminary hearing. In the civilian world if a case gets past the preliminary hearing to a full trial the assumption is that the person is guilty. Because he is a citizen, though, he has the right to be presumed innocent until guilt is proven beyond all reasonable doubt. Such rights can be dispensed with for people outside the claims of citizenship of this or any other established state.
Understand this. If I believe that you, my neighbor, have rejected the contract of citizenship and are plotting against me, I can only be expected to reject my contract of citizenship as it applies to you and I will be trying to kill you as the only means left to be able to live in peace. This does not have to be beyond reasonable doubt; I only have to think it is likely and stop trusting you for this contract to break down.