O’Reilly on Miranda: Missing the Point

This story goes back to early May, so forgive me for the time-warp, but it’s an important one that needs to be covered.  One of the reasons the Global War on Terror (or Overseas Contingency Operation, whatever) has been so controversial is that the whole thing is taking place in a kind of legal vacuum.  Most of the laws – international and domestic – as well as the moral norms are designed for one of two circumstances criminal activities or declared war between nation-states.

Since terrorist acts like 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan clearly don’t fall into either category we’re basically making stuff up as we go.

One of the bones of contention has been Miranda warnings.  Specifically: who gets them.  As a quick refresher: Miranda warnings are not a condition of detention or interrogation.  Cops can arrest and interrogate without ever giving a Miranda warning.  But any testimony they get without that warning is not admissible in court.  So if you want to build a criminal case against someone you have to Mirandize them.  On one extreme it seems pretty ridiculous to give Miranda warnings to foreign nationals captured during military operations overseas.  On the other extreme you’ve got to consider American citizens captured on American soil.

The issue re-emerged after the May 1 Times Square car-bombing attempt.  One it was clear that the alleged perpetrator was an American citizen the issue of Mirandizing showed up front and center.  As usually you had the defense hawks – like Lieberman – arguing that a Miranda warning was inappropriate in a case like this.  And you had the usual liberals arguing that stripping American citizens of their Constitutional rights against self-incrimination (which is what the Miranda warning is supposed to protect) is not a good idea.

And then a strange thing happened: Glenn Beck showed up on the side of the liberals.  Here’s an exchange that he had on Bill O’Reilly’s show:

Glenn Beck was actually making a really sophisticated and vitally important point, but I don’t think it really came through very well unless you were looking for it.  And so I wanted to elucidate what he was saying.

First of all it’s a red-herring to bring up the “what if they are about to blow up a building” scenario because there are already built-in safeguards for emergency situations.  So let’s set that aside.  The real nexus of this exchange is whether or not we’re at war.  Bill O’Reilly’s point is that – practically – we are.  And he’s right.

But Beck’s point is even more important.  The Obama administration has not declared war.  So if we allow them to override habeus corpus and Miranda rights for an emergency that falls short of war we have vastly expanded the powers of the executive branch.

If folks like O’Reilly – in the name of protecting American people – hand the Obama administration the power to decide who gets Constitutional protection and who doesn’t even when we’re not at war, then they are handing the Obama administration a weapon that will be used not just against domestic terrorists like Faisal Shahzad, but against the Americans that the Department of Homeland Security is apparently most concerned about: right-wing activists and returning veterans.

I get that people want to do whatever it takes to keep America safe, and I sympathize with that. But we have to ask what we’re sacrificing for our safety, and in cases like this the answers is “too much liberty”.



  1. Chuck Harrison says:

    I fear the crazies on the right more than anyone else. They talk about freedom but are clueless.

  2. William A. Rose says:

    Seems everybody is clueless. Those crazies are not alone. Those on the left are just as bad, if not worse.

    This once great nation is headed for some very very trying times and all that very very soon. The signs are everywhere. People just like their cushy lives here in America and have become too agnostic and too apathetic. That will result in subjugation and bondage. It’s happened all throughout history, over and over. It’s a viscious cycle. Freedom -> Apathy -> Bondage -> Realization/Repentance/Revolution -> Freedom and over and over.

  3. T.I.M. says:

    Just a suggestion: Have every ID card — including passports — contain a
    statement on the back acknowledging Miranda rules — so that anyone stopped
    by police will already be Mirandized by virtue of being here. We’d have a much
    better informed populace, and law enforcement could focus on protecting us — instead of the perps.

  4. Robert Wallace says:


    Been watching Glenn Beck, eh? I can’t tell you how amusing it is to me that a bit of folksy Mormon culture/theology has now become a widespread political point. (Hint: Google “pride cycle”.) Not saying the “Freedom -> Apathy -> …” cycle was thought up by Mormons, but it’s widespread observation from the Book of Mormon and that’s definitely where Glenn Beck learned it.


    I like your proposal. A lot.

  5. Gail B. says:

    Robert, you and folks like Jeff and others who write for America’s Right, and the folks who comment, are the reason I can sleep at night.

    Thank you!

  6. William A. Rose says:

    Hehe. I’m busted. I did see that on Glenn Beck. It rings true, so I mentioned it.

  7. Robert Wallace says:

    No worries, William. For all I know it’s something the Mormons poached from elsewhere. I just enjoy a private game of watching to see when Glenn Beck will insert the odd bit of Mormon theology or culture into his show without realizing that it’s exclusively Mormon and not necessarily shared by the rest of Christianity. He talks about the War in Heaven a lot too, and that’s also a distinctly Mormon idea.

    You can tell Beck never paid attention to religion before becoming a Mormon because he doesn’t know where the theological boundaries of his own faith are. I think it’s lovable.

  8. John Buyon says:

    Miranda rights are important but not because of an immediate threat to American liberty.
    there will not be any sort of authoritarian system in America for a long time so quit worrying about fema camps and obama’s “gestapo” civilian corps.

  9. Anonymous says:

    If ‘ignorance of the law’ is no excuse, what’s up with Miranda rights?

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