When The Ends Justify The Means, You Often Don’t Get The Ends

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, April 24, 2013 8:38 EDT
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Actually getting bad guys behind bars is beside the point for the “tough on terrorism” posturers.

Update: Looks like a lot of my stated concerns are already going to be a problem.

Tsarnaev made his admissions to FBI agents who interviewed him at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he is being treated for multiple gunshot wounds. He had not yet been given a Miranda warning.

Tsarnaev’s attorneys are certain to challenge the legal admissibility of those admissions, and other information he gave them, such as claiming that he and his brothers acted alone, and that his brother was radicalized in an extreme form of Islam in part because he opposed US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But in an interview with the Globe, a senior police official said authorities are not worried about the initial admission to authorities being thrown out, because they have a strong witness: the man who was abducted by the Tsarnaev brothers last Thursday night.

In other words, they openly sacrificed actual evidence in order to not Mirandize the suspect. “Toughness” won out over successful evidence-gathering. They’ll probably be able to make a successful case anyway, but that this risk was taken should be disturbing to us all.

With a plodding inevitability, a debate has risen over how many constitutionally guaranteed rights the government is going to strip from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a bid to look “tough” on terrorism. Right wing nutters like Lindsay Graham are hollering about designating Tsarnaev, who probably worked alone with this brother and who is an American citizen, an  ”enemy combatant”, something the Obama administration has already said no to. Not that the administration is playing this all above board, of course, with the idiotic decision not to take 15 seconds to Mirandize Tsarnaev, instead taking the gamble that any evidence he provides in his non-Mirandized state can be successfully excused in court under the “public safety” exception.

Liberals are hopping mad, of course, as they should be. I recommend Rick Perlstein’s piece in The Nation on how this entire situation represents a strong rightward tilt in how our country understands civil liberties. An excerpt:

Instead, the nation has surrendered to an inherently right-wing idea, one that I’ve written of here in the context of the gun control debate: the notion that the world is easily parsed into god guys and bad guys, never the twain should meet—and the corollary notion, which I’ve also written about recently, that once the world has been so divided, vanquishing the bad guys licenses any procedural abuse.

As he notes, it’s part of a larger “ends justify the means” mentality that is distinctly un-American. But I’ll go a step further than that and say none of this is about the ends at all. I’d argue that suspending someone’s constitutional rights is an end in and of itself for those who are doing it, and in fact given the choice between prosecuting an accused terrorist by the book and winning the case and prosecuting an accused terrorist illegally and losing, they would actually choose the latter. Because that’s how important “looking tough” has become.

After all, by not Mirandizing Tsarnaev, they are running a very real risk that much of what he tells the police right now will not be admissable in court. I’m sure that doesn’t bother anyone, because there’s so much more evidence tying him to the crime that his testimony doesn’t matter. Of course, that brings up the important question: If his testimony doesn’t matter, then Mirandizing him shouldn’t be that scary a risk. The chance that he shuts up has to be weighed against being able to present a clean case in court that gives the defense few opportunities to appeal.

This isn’t about the ends at all, because the best way to serve the desired end—successfully prosecuting guilty terrorists—is to go by the book. That’s why Timothy McVeigh is a dead man today and Eric Rudolph languishes in prison. No, what we have here is a bunch of politicians who’ve decided that striking a “tough” posture of denying someone constitutional protections matter more than successfully prosecuting terrorists.

That’s why I think the debate over whether or not Zero Dark Thirty showed torture “working” is, while interesting, also somewhat irrelevant. The point of torture is to torture, not to get useful information—that’s just the cover story. The case was made, effectively and repeatedly, that torture is counterproductive in interrogations. Supporters of torture could give a fuck. The torture is end in and of itself. This is all about appearing “tough” and has nothing whatsoever to do with successful prosecutions. Please understand this: Lindsay Graham isn’t too concerned about making sure Tsarnaev spends a day in prison after being successfully sentenced. This is all about using terrorism as a pretext to demagogue for an authoritarian government that doesn’t recognize human rights, full stop. Democrats play along in their way, as well, standing up for counterproductive strategies like not Mirandizing a suspect for fear that voters will think they’re too interested in successful prosecutions and not interested enough in posturing about like assholes during the process.

If this were a TV show, in other words, it would be one where the bad cop who breaks all the rules is a hero even if he is really bad at getting the bad guy in the end. Whether or not justice is served has become irrelevant, as long as we get to fetishize an unjust process. It reflects a political process that has been completely overwhelmed by prioritizing image over policy. The results of the justice process have been shifted to the the garbage bin. No one can be bothered to care about petty shit like justice being done when everyone has a “tough” posture to strike for the cameras.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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