Thursday, January 07, 2010

Obama's being criticized for taking a 'law enforcement' approach to dealing with the would-be Christmas bomber, in deciding to treat him as a common criminal rather than as a terrorist to be interrogated and dealt with by a military commission.

But there's another aspect of the whole matter that screams 'law enforcement'... the process that resulted in the terrorist being allowed to board the plane in the first place.

In criminal matters, there is a relatively high burden that police and prosecutors have to overcome in dealing with someone they think is about to do something illegal. They can't decide for themselves to bug the suspect's house and car, they can't sneak into the suspect's house to look for evidence, they can't drag the guy in for harsh interrogation, they aren't allowed to restrict the suspect's movements and they surely aren't able to order up a Predator strike on someone they simply have a 'hunch' is about to rob a bank.

It's different - as it should be - in dealing with our enemies where we're allowed to do things that we just can't do in dealing with common criminals. In such situations, if we have but a bit of doubt about someone, they shouldn't be allowed to get on a plane bound for the United States.

But that doesn't seem to be what happened with the Christmas bomber, it's as if everybody involved looked at him not as a potential terrorist but rather as a potential criminal. There wasn't enough 'proof' to keep him from entering the country, the hurdle hadn't been cleared to justify revoking his visa.

In war, the state gets the benefit of the doubt. In crime, the suspect gets the benefit of the doubt and in this case, is sure seems as if he was treated no differently than he would be if there was a report that he was coming into the United States to rob a bank.

Treating him as a criminal post-capture is just consistent with the way he was treated pre-capture. And for all the fussing about giving him a lawyer, the bigger risk is in continuing to treat would-be terrorists as if they were would-be bank robbers.