To Purchase a Little Temporary Safety

Back in the mid-nineties, I was obsessed with collectable trading card games like Magic: The Gathering (this is not a fact I take pride in). I ended up spending far too much time and money on several of these games, but the one I played the least and enjoyed the most was one called Illuminati: New World Order. The basic premise of the game was that there are several secret societies vying to take over the world, and each player takes the role of one of these groups.

There are a lot of reasons I loved it so much, but the biggest reason of all was a little quirk in the incredibly byzantine rules that made it ever so much fun: unlike all the other games I was playing at the time, if you didn’t claim an advantage you were due, tough shit. You were also under no obligation to inform another player of any bonuses or other benefits they were overlooking. It was every man for himself, and it was (and remains) a complex system. Particularly when you have several people with differing agendas involved at the same time, things can get crazy very quickly, and it’s easy to overlook something even if you know what you’re doing. Oh, and it’s perfectly acceptable to lie to other players (it’s right there in the rules) as long as you don’t get caught.

While all of this makes for a fun night of treachery and backstabbing at the game table, it does very little to make me feel good when I think about our law enforcement and judicial figures doing what amounts to the same thing, only with people’s lives. By not informing suspects of their Miranda rights, such as in the case of bombing suspect Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the police are effectively saying “tough shit, you’re on your own”. The thin veneer of an excuse that I have heard from some directions that “he still has his rights” holds about as much water as saying I have a right to an inheritance I know nothing about. Here we have a complex situation with many people who have different agendas, almost none of whom have the suspect’s interests at heart, and yet we’re supposed to assume that his rights will in no way be violated because he will of course be given the time to compose himself and request a lawyer, he won’t be put under undue pressure to speak, he will naturally be fully aware that he even has rights in the first place.

To further add to the concern, police can and will lie to suspects under normal circumstances, and it is perfectly legal (Frazier v Cupp). So now what should we believe: that a person who has been hunted down and arrested, who may be told anything and everything except his Constitutional rights, will be aware enough to make an informed or even rational decision? Or perhaps it is more likely that he will say something, anything, no matter how fabricated or distorted, to ingratiate himself in that moment? I don’t know, but that’s the point, isn’t it? We don’t know, and we can’t know. All we do know is that torture doesn’t work, so that’s out. Considering the alternative being interrogation that can take days or even weeks, how long are we comfortable denying someone something as basic as the reading of their Miranda rights? Or have we reached the point where there is no sacrifice too great, no cost we are no willing to pay in the name of “security”?

“But he’s a terrorist!” That’s the reasoning that drives this latest abridgment of rights, although frankly I am beginning to wonder if every act of violence will soon be labeled “terrorism” simply to get around the few protections we have left. “Innocent until proven guilty” seems to be the first to have gone.