The basics of criminal procedure

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.)
Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.)
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Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) has struggled recently when talking about the Boston Marathon bombing. For example, Dan Drezner, a pretty mild-mannered guy and a center-right voice, said last week in reference to the Indiana Republican, “Will the Senator from the state of half-assed thinking please go sit in a corner?”

With this in mind, I was struck by Coats complaining in a radio interview this morning about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev having been read his rights. “There’s more that needs to be learned,” the senator said. “Unfortunately, the administration decided to let the guy lawyer up before we really had a good chance to get information from him, and now we’re not getting any.” Coats kept whining on the subject, condemning what “the administration decided.”

John Yoo, the UC Berkeley law school professor known for having written the Bush/Cheney pro-torture memos, raised similar concerns, saying “the government” read Tsarnaev his rights “for reasons that are still unknown.”

In reality, the process really isn’t especially mysterious. Adam Serwer explained:

Tsarnaev’s interrogators didn’t read him his rights. Nor did the “Obama administration,” as some, including Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), have claimedA judge did it. The 48-hour rule exists to prevent the government from detaining people secretly and without a suspect knowing the charges against them. Needing to interrogate a suspect is not included in the exigent circumstances that can be used to justify delaying bringing the suspect before a judge.

And the government could not have legally placed Tsarnaev in military detention, either, because absent evidence of concrete operational connections between Tsarnaev and Al Qaeda or its affiliates it would not be legal to do so—and it might not be constitutional even if it were technically legal.

Coats, who has a law degree, must have some basic understanding of this. So why is he on the radio suggesting the Obama administration should have ignored the law? Or more to the point, why is the Republican senator recommending legal tactics that might jeopardize the case against a suspected terrorist?

Drezner’s question continues to ring true: “Will the Senator from the state of half-assed thinking please go sit in a corner?”