Senators Barack Obama and John McCain are scheduled to attend a forum in New York City this Thursday, September 11. Presumably, they will visit the World Trade Center, speak to the media, and make formal comments in some venue. While Senator Obama is there, I hope he expands upon what Constitutional rights terrorists and combatants — both lawful and unlawful — have when found outside of our nation and its territories. Specifically, does he believe they are protected by the same rights as a common criminal found within the United States concerning self-incrimination, searches, and legal representation? Should they have full rights to discovery during prosecution?
My family will be at Ground Zero that day only to remember and honor those who were murdered by terrorists, on our soil, on 9/11. Yet I invite Senator Obama, while there, to repeat what he said in Michigan yesterday:
“First of all, you don’t even get to read them their rights until you catch ’em,” Obama said here, drawing laughs from 1,500 supporters in a high school gymnasium. “They should spend more time trying to catch Osama bin Laden and we can worry about the next steps later.”
If the plotters of the Sept. 11 attacks are in the government’s sights, Obama went on, they should be targeted and killed.
“My position has always been clear: If you’ve got a terrorist, take him out,” Obama said. “Anybody who was involved in 9/11, take ’em out.”
But Obama, who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago for more than a decade, said captured suspects deserve to file writs of habeus corpus.
Calling it “the foundation of Anglo-American law,” he said the principle “says very simply: If the government grabs you, then you have the right to at least ask, ‘Why was I grabbed?’ And say, ‘Maybe you’ve got the wrong person.'”
The safeguard is essential, Obama continued, “because we don’t always have the right person.”
“We don’t always catch the right person,” he said. “We may think it’s Mohammed the terrorist, but it might be Mohammed the cab driver. You might think it’s Barack the bomb-thrower, but it might be Barack the guy running for president.”
Obama turned back to Palin’s comment, although he said he was not sure whether Palin or Rudy Giuliani said it.
“The reason that you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism. It’s because that’s who we are. That’s what we’re protecting,” Obama said, his voice growing louder and the crowd rising to its feet to cheer. “Don’t mock the Constitution. Don’t make fun of it. Don’t suggest that it’s not American to abide by what the founding fathers set up. It’s worked pretty well for over 200 years.”
Perhaps Senator Obama will also point out where in our Constitution it says non-Americans, outside the United States, have the same rights as we have here.
Update, 10:42 AM, September 9, 2008:
An emailer had a few questions of their own for Senator Obama:
Of course, Sarah Palin probably doesn’t think the Constitution applies to foreign terrorists. But notice that he says, if they’re involved in 9/11 “take them out.” You mean, assassinate them before a trial? How do we know “they’re involved in 9/11” unless we give them the full monty? And what about the intelligence we might have gotten if we “take them out” without interrogation?