In a hearing held last Wednesday on “Sharing and Analyzing Information to Prevent Terrorism,” House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers used his opening remarks to reassert the priority of civil liberty in debates over security. Conyers debunked the myth that Miranda warnings had anything to do with a plane fire suspect shutting up last December — it turns out he stopped talking to investigators before any Miranda warning was read. Conyers reveals the inconsistent nature of those Republicans want to stop the government from informing people of their rights — after all, the Bush administration repeatedly “Mirandized” terrorism suspects and was not criticized by these same Republicans for doing so.
Conyers framed the question for the hearing not as “How do we keep Americans safe at all cost?”, but rather “How do we protect our citizens and still keep our liberties?” You can read the transcript of John Conyers’ remarks below. Then watch the hearing for yourself. Are our members of Congress willing to defend civil liberty, or are they willing to sacrifice liberty at the altar of safety?
It’s no secret that the administration has faced a series of political criticisms in the wake of the attempted Christmas Day bombing in Detroit because FBI agents gave Miranda warnings during their interrogation of the Flight 253 suspect.
One of our members in the other body called it irresponsible and dangerous. Another claims that there will be “dire consequences.” Now in my view these assertions ignore the reality: the suspect was first questioned without Miranda warnings, and gave up important information. Some criticisms ignore the fact that the Miranda warnings were not given until after the suspect had stopped talking of his own accord. Some ignore the fact that the suspect has continued to cooperate and provide valuable information after receiving the Miranda warnings. They ignore the fact that under the prior administration, Miranda warnings were read to the so-called “Shoe Bomber” Richard Reid on four separate occasions. According to reports, the first warning was given five minutes after he was taken into custody.
The same is the case with many complaints we hear now about trying terrorism suspects in federal court. Some ignore the fact that the prior administration tried numerous terrorism cases in federal court without major incident and pretty good success. It’s also notable that in the recent conviction in the federal court of David Coleman Headley for his role in the Mumbai terrorist attacks, Headley reportedly provided extensive intelligence after being charged and is now serving a life sentence.
There’s no issue that we face as a nation that is more challenging than getting the balance right on terrorism. While none of us can predict the future, I can tell you that our constitutional system of checks and balances has served our nation well for more than 230 years and has been a model for many nations around the world. As a matter of fact, some of us have gone to the countries that were trying to emulate our constitutional and democratic system of government.
Now, if we follow that model I believe we can and will defeat terrorists and protect our citizens’ liberties. I suppose that is for my purposes, ladies and gentlemen, the purpose of the hearing. How do we protect our citizens and still keep our liberties?
And so, in that spirit, I have some questions that I hope the distinguished national security professionals here today will address.
In early January, the President issued a series of written directives to the executive branch agencies involved in national security. He described this memo as “corrective additions” and demanded monthly progress reports on their implementation. I hope some of our witnesses can update us, as well, on the progress of these corrective actions. Second, it seems that one of the biggest intelligence challenges we face is learning to deal with the larger volumes of information that we collect and developing methods to separate the wheat from the chaff. Do you think there’s a point at which we’re collecting so much information that we’re actually making it harder to identify and separate out the action that really matters? Is there such a thing as collecting too much information?