What if Faisal Shahzad, the alleged Times Square car bomber, had turned out to be an illegal immigrant from Mexico? Imagine the fuel it would have provided to those who are using national security as an excuse for cracking down on hardworking immigrants in Arizona. The reality is that the terrorists who have attacked us, every one of the 9/11 hijackers included, all had their papers in order.
Shahzad had entered the country back in 1999 on a student visa and then was granted an H-1B visa, offered to those whose technical skills are needed in the economy. At the time of his arrest he was a naturalized citizen, and there is no evidence of his ever having broken any laws in getting to that status. Another point of interest is that the "weapon of mass destruction" he is charged with attempting to detonate was as primitive as it gets, and was the basic part of a woefully inept attempt to employ the fertilizer bomb technique used with horrid efficiency in the Oklahoma City bombing by several—born in the USA—self-defined patriots.
The Times Square car bomb, while certainly capable of inflicting death on scores of innocents and destroying nearby structures, hardly qualifies for WMD designation and indeed would seem to mock our highly warranted concern over such threats. The case is also a reminder that the massive defense budgets for high-tech warfare that have pushed close to a trillion dollars a year since the 9/11 attack are beside the point in countering terrorists who turn firecrackers into bombs. This man was caught because of old-fashioned police work, after officers were alerted initially by a vigilant Times Square T-shirt peddler.
And while some Republican politicians, led by Sen. John McCain, attempted to turn this into an occasion for attacking civil liberties and stoking the Miranda rights debate, it is clear that the investigation moved forward in an extremely effective and expeditious manner with full regard for constitutional protections.
Credit Glenn Beck of Fox News for breaking with that sort of demagoguery and asserting that the rule of law is basic to our freedom and not just an inconvenient indulgence. "He [Shahzad] is a citizen of the United States, so I say we uphold the laws and the Constitution on citizens," Beck had the guts to assert in a Fox broadcast. "If you are a citizen, you obey the law and follow the Constitution; [Shahzad] has all the rights under the Constitution." Beck added, "We don’t shred the Constitution when [doing so] is popular. We do the right thing."
Compare those profound words of wisdom from one that many liberals loathe to the advice from a former Democratic Party vice presidential candidate for whom many of us voted. Sen. Joe Lieberman went further than McCain and argued for summarily obliterating all constitutional rights for citizens charged with terrorism. Lieberman even suggested stripping them of their citizenship before they are convicted of any crime:
I think it’s time for us to look at whether we want to amend that law to apply it to American citizens who choose to become affiliated with foreign terrorist organizations, whether they should not also be deprived automatically of their citizenship, and therefore be deprived of rights that come with that citizenship when they are apprehended and charged with a terrorist act.
If ever a real WMD is used against us, such as a primitive nuclear weapon in a suitcase smuggled into Manhattan, look to Lieberman to demand we do massive roundups of tens of millions of suspicious folks in sight, opening wide the concentration camps. If a fizzled attempt to explode propane in a car in Times Square can drive Lieberman to summarily sacrifice centuries of this nation’s devotion to the rule of law and protection of the individual, it wouldn’t take much to send him into the dark world of totalitarian madness.
It is safe to argue that almost every society in the history of the modern world has experienced acts of terrorist violence that make that car bomb in New York City seem like a drunk’s pathetic rendition of a recipe from the "Anarchist Cookbook." Throughout the world, far deadlier threats are an ongoing reality, and yet America has often urged restraint in reaction to such dangers, asserting that the abrogation of individual freedom, particularly in times of duress, makes a society weaker, not stronger. That is the advice we gave Russian leaders only a month ago when they were dealing with much more serious threats.
Fortunately we now have a president and an attorney general who embrace that indelible wisdom in defense of due process at home as well. It is a very good thing that Lieberman is not a heartbeat away from ruling—and ruining—us all.