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How Can The FBI Prohibit Disclosure Of A Prisoner's Medical Condition?

The Associated Press reports this today about the condition of the sole-surviving criminal suspect in the bombing of the Boston Marathon: “19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was in serious condition at the same hospital after his capture Friday night. The FBI has not allowed hospital officials to say any more about his wounds or condition.”

The Constitution of the United States creates clear terms for when habeas corpus may be suspended by the federal government: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”

Now, I’m not a lawyer, but it seems fairly clear to me that habeas corpus rights include not only the right to know that a person is being kept prisoner, and on what criminal charges, but also the physical condition of the prisoner – that the prisoner is safe and being cared for in a reasonable manner.

The bombing of the Boston Marathon was certainly a heinous crime, but there is no constitutional waiver of habeas corpus rights for people accused of heinous crimes. The constitutional exception for habeas corpus exists only when there is a rebellion or invasion – and a single bombing constitutes neither a rebellion nor an invasion.

The truth is that none of us really know whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was really part of the bombing of the Boston Marathon. There seems to be a great deal of evidence that he was, but then again, that evidence has not yet been fully examined in a fair and impartial court, and it hasn’t been balanced with contradicting evidence brought to bear by Tsarnaev or anyone aligned with him. What we know is partial, and may be flawed.

One way in which our judgment of Tsarnaev may be flawed right now is in the simple fact that so many Americans are feeling relief and gratitude that someone who appears to be responsible for the marathon bombing has been captured. Our very desire for that capture to take place may be contributing to a hasty judgment of Tsarnaev’s guilt.

In circumstances such as these, it becomes even more important that basic constitutional rights such as habeas corpus be respected. If we ignore habeas corpus, and allow the FBI or other parts of the federal government to hide the medical condition of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, we set a precedent, and create an expectation that, whenever there is enough uproar about a crime, the rules of justice can be set aside. Doing so creates a greater likelihood that the rules will be set aside when innocent people are accused of terrible crimes.

I am not intending to argue that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is innocent of the crimes with which he has been charged. My intention, rather, is to argue that the American system of justice be allowed to work as it is intended, and consider Dzhokhar Tsarnaev innocent until proven guilty.

5 comments to How Can The FBI Prohibit Disclosure Of A Prisoner's Medical Condition?

  • Tom

    As it turns out Homeland Security, the FBI and the CIA (among others like Blackwater) can pretty much do what they want now since “security” apparently trumps everything – including what was once the Bill of Rights. Notice that they can now put over a million peoples’ lives on hold for as long as they want, and demand access to your home under whatever circumstances they cook up, and shut down an entire city (business losses, medical emergencies and anyones concerns don’t count now either i guess).

    They can, for example, “mentor” some foreign student(s) who happen to be only tangentially related to Islam into doing what they call a “drill” – a fancy game of hide and seek, like “Here you guys drop these bags we’ll give you somewhere in the vicinity of the Boston Marathon (never mind what’s in them) and our job is to find them and you.” They can probably do some mind control on some intelligent but loner type to “pretend” to shoot up a theater or a school – you know, it’s “just a drill.” They’ve already shown that they can get away with blowing up large occupied buildings and no questions will be answered, kill anyone they want any where they want and they’re immune from prosecution.

    Sure is great havin’ all that security around isn’t it? i’ll bet they said the same thing in Germany in the run up to WWII.

  • Dave

    “A single bombing constitutes neither a rebellion nor an invasion.’ I think that’s the dilemma that police agencies are increasingly facing, as the Islamic ideological bombings, shootings, plane crashes, attempted bombings and mayhem begin piling up and each incident looks like part of a larger scheme. Imagine that.

    I share your concerns about Habeas Corpus, J, but as for the FBI it is probably more a matter of viewpoint at this time, as they may be waiting for higher ups to indicate what courts will adjudicate the crime. Since the suspect is an American citizen perhaps Obama might want to just drone the guy. I know that wasn’t funny, but we would all do well to remember that, constitution or no, human frailty is the weakness of any law. I see no government conspiracy here.

    • There isn’t really a dilemma, Dave. As long as we live in a free country, the police will have to accept that they are not above the law, and can’t simply use their power against people with the presumption of guilt.

      There is no evidence that the Boston Marathon bombs were part of a larger scheme that went beyond the two brothers involved, Dave. Conspiracy theories shouldn’t be given precedence over evidence. Besides, there’s nothing in the Constitution that states that large criminal conspiracies create a loophole in which habeas corpus doesn’t apply.

      Here’s a good rule about an invasion of a country, Dave: If people can’t tell that an invasion is taking place, an invasion is not taking place.

      Besides that, what’s piling up? Really, where is the pile? There’s one incident in 2001, and now one 2013, and a tiny number of sloppy botched jobs in between. Nothing’s piling up. There is no pile.

      When the Nazis invaded Poland, no one had to wait a dozen years between violent attacks to begin to surmise that perhaps, if they squinted, people might see that an invasion was going on.

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