When an American Citizen Might Be a Terrorist Too

Within 12 hours of the dramatic late-night arrest of Faisal Shahzad, the extreme pitch of politics already intrudes.

Sen. John McCain, on ABC's Good Morning America, said that it would be a mistake for FBI agents to read Shahzah his Miranda rights. McCain further elaborated in a later interview that "[t]here's probably about 350 different charges he's guilty of -- attempted acts of terror against the United States, attempted murder."

Rep. Peter King, one of the harshest critics of the administration's terrorism policies, questioned whether Shahzad should be tried in federal court.

"I hope that if they did read him his rights and if they are going for an indictment as opposed to a tribunal that he did discuss it with the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, all the component parts of the intelligence community."

He allowed that "it is different from the Christmas day bombing because one this guy is an American citizen ... That said, before there's a rush to indict him, I think they should make an effort to figure out what is the best venue for him."

Officials won't say whether Shahzad was immediately Mirandized. I suspect not. There exists an ample degree of latitude within current law as to when terrorism suspects have to be read their rights, and prosecutors now understand quite clearly that the first imperative of any questioning is to ferret out the possibility of any follow-on attacks.

Military commissions only have jurisdiction over "alien unprivileged enemy belligerents," and Shahzad is a naturalized American citizen. Unless McCain and King are willing to create two classes of American citizens, Shahzad has every right to be read his Miranda warnings, and he will be tried by federal prosecutors in a federal court. (Glenn Beck, no stranger to these debates, stunned both liberals and his interlocutors on Fox News this morning by agreeing.)

Another politically tinged question is surfacing: has the High-Value Interrogation Group, or HIG, been given a shot at interrogating the suspect? This isn't the no-brainer it sounds like. New York's Joint Terrorism Task Force includes dozens of highly trained interrogators. Elements of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA and members of a secret U.S. army interrogation intelligence activity (the AOA) are co-located with the JTTF in New York and would be present for any interrogation. The interagency, interbranch cooperation that is supposed to be a hallmark of counterterrorism policies happens fairly automatically in New York City.