You’ve Been Arrested – How The Rights of Terror Suspects and Illegal Immigrants Affect YOU

Posted in General by TBartine on May 11, 2010 No Comments yet

You’ve been arrested.

You didn’t do anything wrong.  You didn’t break any laws.  You are just an average citizen whose normal day consists of getting up n the morning, going to work, coming home at the end of the day, and going to sleep.  And every year…MANY people just like you get arrested.

This has always been the case, and always will be.  Law Enforcement officers, whether we are talking about your local police, FBI Agents, Homeland Security Agents, U.S. Marshals…are not omniscient.  They are, after all, human.  In investigating crimes they can only go on the information that they have, and at times this information is incorrect, or at a minimum, misleading.

But, how did this happen to YOU?  It could have been one of many things:

-  Perhaps you were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  You are walking down the street, going to the store, and something terrible happens nearby.

-  Maybe one of your friends or associates…is not the person you thought they were, and now their criminal activities have falsely incriminated you.

-  Maybe you were once at the scene of the crime, for innocent reasons, and they find your fingerprint or some other biological remnant of your visit.

-  It’s possible you neglected to encrypt your home’s wireless network.  A criminal has been using your internet connection to do terrible things, or to purchase the materials to do terrible things…and the IP address leads straight to you.

-  Perhaps you are one of the many thousands of people who are the victims of identity theft.  Some criminal has been using your name, and credit cards taken out in your name, to commit a horrific crime.

-  Maybe it is a simple case of mistaken identity.  It is not unusual for Law Enforcement to make the simple mistake of arresting a person simply because they have the same name as the person they are REALLY looking for.

-  Or…it could be as simple as an unfortunate confluence of circumstantial events.  Maybe the victim was your ex-spouse with whom you have a contentious relationship, or maybe it was your nemesis at work, or a business competitor.

-  You could have been mistakenly picked out of a photo lineup.  Studies have shown repeatedly that eyewitness accounts are almost categorically unreliable, and every year there are a shocking number of stories involving people convicted solely on a witness’ identification…only to be later exonerated by DNA evidence.

Regardless of how it happened.  You’re now in jail.  Your captors come in to interview you, and you are informed that you are suspected of committing a terrible crime.  You do NOT have the right to remain silent, because they don’t have to provide that to someone suspected of committing the kind of crime in question.  You will not be seeing an attorney any time soon…you will not be making a phone call.  No one will even know where you are for some time…because suspects of the crime YOU are suspected of committing, aren’t allowed the same rights as EVERYONE else.  At least that’s what they tell you.  You’re not sure what terrible crime they’re alluding to…because they won’t tell you that, either.

You suspect that they have no evidence against you; how could they, when you haven’t done anything?  They inform you that it is up to YOU to prove that you DIDN’T commit the crime.  At this point, you suddenly realize that it is true: It is exceedingly hard to “prove a negative.” You can’t really prove that you didn’t do it.  You point out that, at the time of the crime, you were home with your spouse.  Even as you say this, you realize that it’s not much of an alibi.  The people interrogating you are unlikely to believe that your spouse wouldn’t lie to protect you.  You are also asked to produce proof that you are a U.S. citizen.  You try showing them your driver’s license, your credit cards…only to be informed that none of these constitute proof of citizenship, and that from this point, you will be held as an illegal immigrant and an “enemy combatant.“  Given these designations, they say that you will not be afforded a legal defense.  “Interrogation” will begin shortly…and once you’ve told them what they want to know, you’ll be brought before a military tribunal…some time in the next year or two.

If this scenario does not sit comfortably with you as an American…it shouldn’t.  That being said, this is the EXACT scenario that 50-60% of Americans agree the government should be allowed to create.

50-60% of Americans said they agreed to some of these tactics being applied to suspects of terrorist acts…

50-60% of Americans said they agreed to some of these tactics being applied to illegal immigrants…or even to Hispanic citizens who might look like illegal immigrants to a police officer…

What 50-60% of Americans fail to comprehend, is that by agreeing to these tactics…these tactics could now also be used against THEM.  Many of the very same people who say they don’t don’t trust government, who say that government should be smaller, who say they staunchly defend the Constitution…these same people are in favor of trusting the government with Constitution-violating powers of law enforcement, as long as the government “promises” that they’ll never be used against innocent people.

But that’s where the big problem is: the Constitution is expressly NOT based on the idea of trusting government, and our legal system is therefore expressly based on the idea that ALL people should be treated as innocent right up until the point that they are adjudicated as guilty by a judge or jury in a court of law.  They are not guilty when they are arrested.  They are not considered guilty even if they confess.  They are not considered guilty if they plead “no contest” or “guilty” in court.  They are INNOCENT until the final verdict is rendered, and returned as guilty.  This is a protection against a government we don’t necessarily trust, and against the people in our government who sometimes make MISTAKES.  This assumption of innocence is KEY and applies regardless of what crime you stand accused.

Other protections:

1 – Due Process: It’s important that ALL people accused of crimes, any crimes, be afforded the SAME legal process.  A standard argument in the “terrorism debate” is that these suspects are somehow accused of a “different kind of crime” and should therefore be handled by a “different process.”  No…this idea is distinctly un-American, and would certainly cause the Founding Fathers to spin in their graves.  These crimes, no matter how horrible, are still just that: CRIMES.  Are mobsters sent to military tribunals because they are part of an “international organization of violence?NO.  Are drug lords sent to military tribunals because they are part of an “international organization of violence.No.  From petty thieves, to serial killers, to terrorists…all must be allowed the same process.

2 – Legal Representation: It doesn’t matter how guilty you, or I, or EVERYBODY, thinks someone is…they are still presumed INNOCENT, and deserve to have an attorney aid them in mounting a defense in court.  People often make the mistake of seeing defense attorneys as “helping bad guys.”  No.  Their job is defending innocent people…since all people are considered innocent until proven otherwise.  A trial is not a prosecutor trying to protect us from a bad person, and a defender trying to help a bad person get away with crimes.  A trial, by American conventions, is a “search for truth.”  Only by having one person showing all the information that points towards guilt and another person showing all information that points towards innocence, can we have any hope of arriving at “truth.”

3 – Habeas Corpus: The ability to file a writ of Habeas Corpus has been called the cornerstone of American law.  This is because, without this right…all of your other rights won’t help you.  If you are unable to file this writ, which forces the government to produce you for trial, then you can be jailed quietlyindefinitely…and with no way for anyone, including yourself, to change the situation.

4 – Freedom from Search and Seizure: The Founding Fathers often expressed that THIS is one of the key freedoms to protect against tyranny.  It says that the government can’t simply suspect on a hunch or a whim that you might be guilty of something…and use that suspicion to then stop you, search you or your home or car, and then seize you or any of your possessions.  They have to have probable cause to stop you, question you, search your home or car…and “probable cause” is a LONG way away from “reasonable suspicion.”   Probable cause requires that law officers be able to clearly prove what exactly made them reasonably certain that you committed a crime, or were about to commit a crime…they have to show EVIDENCE.  Reasonable suspicion….there’s no evidence to show…it essentially means that law enforcement officers are on the “honor system,” and we have to trust that they had a reason to stop/question/search/arrest you.

5 – Freedom from Coercion: The government…cannot force you through threats and/or violence, to make statements.  Sometimes it seems that if a man is accused of robbery, is beaten and tortured by police into confessing…we call him a “victim of overzealous enforcement,” we agree that his civil rights were violated, and then he is released…and will probable reap millions of dollars from suing the involved parties.  If someone is accused of a terrorist act, is beaten and tortured by law enforcement into confessing…we call him “guilty” and a “source of intel.“  There are five reasons this is not allowed in America.  First, it is simply inhumane.  Second, it causes innocent people to get sent to prison.  Third, it leads to unreliable information.  Fourth, it emboldens our enemies. Fifth, it increases the likelihood that our citizens will receive similar treatment if captured abroad.

6 – Other Protections: You cannot be forced to incriminate yourself.  You cannot be eavesdropped upon by the government without a warrant (which would have to be based on probable cause).  You have to be allowed to face your accuser (this forces people to be held accountable for the accusations they make against others).  You cannot be singled out for suspicion simply because you are a particular race or religion…nor can you be denied certain rights or parts of Due Process because of your race or religion.  You have a right to choose a trial by a jury of your peers…because most judges are either elected or appointed officials, and may therefore be influenced by politics or other external favor.

This…is just the short list of our freedoms and legal protections.  You’ll notice three common themes:

1 – Distrust of Government and Its Branches of Law Enforcement

2 – Equality of Process…All People Afforded Same Process and Rights

3 – Protection of the Innocent

And this last one is key.  In almost ALL legal matters…you could say the “tie goes to the runner/defendant.“  Why is this?  Because of one simple principle: We would rather see guilty people go free…than to see even ONE innocent person lose his or her life, their freedom, their reputation, their property. And in our fear…this is the one principle we most quickly forget.  We hear people say things like, “Well, if it keeps lots of people from getting killed…then they have to do what they have to do.“  In short, their fear of one accused person (who is SUPPOSED to be considered innocent)…causes people to be suddenly “ok” with the fact that he or she might be mistreated or wrongfully imprisoned.

Again, that’s the problem: If in your fear, you give the government the power to do these things to one of us…you’ve given them the power to do these things to all of us.  And that’s how it starts.

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

A country enters a time of economic depression, vast numbers of workers laid off.  Its government had over-relied on loans to a foreign country, and now the consequences of wanton government deficit spending were becoming apparent.  Families’ life savings were wiped out…the middle class was on the brink of extinction.  The democratic government tried desperately to save them from their national economic tailspin, but to no avail.  The opponents of the current ruling party became restless and more predisposed to violence.  A new party grew up, answering their call…promising a return to the nation’s former glory, through re-emphasis of their old values.  Immediately, this group identified Communists and Socialists as enemies of the state, and blamed them for the country’s political and economic woes.  Later, they would also include foreigners and people of other religions as a threat to national unity, and as a drain on the nation’s economy.  Over time, they rewrote or abolished the freedoms of the people, telling them that these freedoms were threats to their own safety and security, because these freedoms also protected criminals and dissidents.  People were surveilled, searched, and arrested without warrant or cause, but upon suspicion alone.  These individuals were often accused of crimes against the state, and then tortured for information, jailed indefinitely, or summarily executed.  The people of this nation…were strangely “ok” with all of this, because the people being deprived of rights, trials, and being tortured were “enemies of the state,” or otherwise considered “threats.”  Many people of this nation, were simply blissfully (and somewhat intentionally) unaware of the things their new government was doing…out of apathy, or a sense of “it doesn’t really affect me.

Does any of this story sound familiar?  It should.  It’s the story of Germany around 1930.  We tend to simply label the German people of this time period as “evil,” but that’s a convenient way to avoid facing the truth.  The truth is: tyranny rarely manifests suddenly, but rather through a slow, seductive process that causes even normal, good people to agree to allowing their government to assume more and more power at their expense.  A government willing to use the people’s fear and prejudices to accomplish this…does so easily.  And its arguable that we run the same risk today, propelled towards it by our own fears.

Thomas Jefferson was once quoted as saying, “Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.“  It is timid men and women who now call for small government with limited powers…yet want the government to have near limitless power as long as it is used against suspects of “certain crimes” and people of “certain ethnicity.“  It is timid men and women who cry out that the Constitution must be defended and strictly adhered to…yet find it acceptable for the government and law enforcement to violate the Constitution as long as it is under the guise of “keeping them safe” or “keeping immigrants from stealing jobs.”

It’s time to set aside self-serving delusions, thinly-veiled bigotry, and illusions of safety, so that we may accept a simple truth:  Liberty has costs. If you want rights, you must accept when others exercise theirs.  You want liberty, you must accept that some will use theirs for foul purposes.  You want protections, you must accept that those protections will also protect those who would do ill to others.  You can’t try to have it both ways…by attempting to revoke the rights, liberty, and protections of some people, because in the process…you lose yours as well.

Perhaps, Robert F. Kennedy said it best: “We know that if one man’s rights are denied, the rights of all are endangered.

Like the man who doesn’t buy health insurance, because he thinks he’ll never get sick…

…like the man who scowls at the unemployed, because he thinks he’ll never be without a job…

…there are those who would say to take away the rights of the accused, because they think that THEY will never be falsely accused.

To them, I say to reread the hypothetical situations at the top of this post and ask yourself: “Does it sound so unlikely, and do I really trust my government so much…that I’m willing to take that risk?