There are many important and urgent questions about the man accused of trying to set off a car bomb in Times Square.
Officials say Faisal Shahzad admitted to the attempt and said he learned bomb-making at a camp in Pakistan. Is Mr. Shahzad indeed connected to the Pakistani Taliban, which American officials now say seems likely? Was he working with others in this country who may be at large? How did Mr. Shahzad, a naturalized citizen whose family includes a senior Pakistani military officer, end up trying to murder countless people?
There are questions, too, about how the F.B.I. lost track of Mr. Shahzad for a time and why he was allowed to board an international flight despite a special alert issued by United States authorities.
The answers to such questions directly affect the security of Americans, and law enforcement officials are beginning to get them. That hasn’t stopped a familiar group of politicians from cynically trying to use this incident as yet another excuse to weaken the rule of law and this country’s barely recovering reputation.
Lawmakers like Senators John McCain of Arizona and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Representative Peter King of New York were immediately outraged that Mr. Shahzad — a United States citizen accused of an attempted attack on civilians in an American city — was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and eventually read his Miranda rights.
They are demanding that Mr. Shahzad be declared an illegal enemy combatant, stripped of any rights and brought before a military tribunal. They have opened another round of sneering at “the law enforcement approach” to terrorism. That is contemptuous, first of all, of the police officers whose quick actions may have saved untold numbers and the other people who identified and tracked Mr. Shahzad with amazing speed.
It also ignores reality. According to all reports, Mr. Shahzad started talking even before he was read his rights (“the law enforcement approach” allows investigators to question suspects immediately if there is an imminent threat to the public). When he was read his rights, Mr. Shahzad seems to have kept talking. The Times reported on Wednesday that he waived his right to a speedy arraignment — to go on talking.
To get around the inconvenient fact that Mr. Shahzad is a citizen, Mr. Lieberman is even calling for a law allowing Americans accused (not convicted) of unspecified crimes to be stripped of their citizenship and retroactively deprived of due process under the law.
This is not Mr. Lieberman’s first foray into this dark territory. He is Let’s be clear about what works and what doesn’t.
There is no evidence that vital intelligence has been lost, or a terrorist attack allowed to happen, because a suspect was questioned lawfully. The men who interrogated top-ranking terrorist suspects following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks said the prisoners gave up their valuable knowledge before being subjected to waterboarding and other illegal acts.
Federal courts have convicted hundreds of people on terrorism-related charges since 2001. The tribunals have obtained one guilty plea from a prisoner who may not have done anything and was subsequently released.
Senators McCain and Lieberman say military trials will show strength. Abandoning democratic institutions in the face of terrorism is an act of surrender. It will not make this country safer. It will make it more vulnerable.