Criminal or enemy combatant?

May 5, 2010 1:55:12 PM PDT
There's a heated debate tonight - heated for some at least - over whether Faisal Shahzad should be tried in a criminal court of law or in some military court as an "enemy combatant?"

Those who argue for a criminal trial say Mr. Shahzad is an American citizen, arrested in this country for an alleged crime in this country. And he lived in this country. Went to college in this country. Raised a family in this country. Owned a home that was foreclosed on in this country. (And how much more all-American can you get than that?!)

Those who are pushing the enemy combatant position say terrorists don't deserve constitutional rights - no Miranda rights ("You have the right to remain silent??"), no pre-trial hearing, no public trial by his peers. No nothing.

There are others who say all of this is an unfortunate diversion to the bigger problem of dealing with would-be terrorists. I say "would-be" because what most of these incidents have in common is their failure. Fortunately. Which is not to say that the danger isn't very real; after all, these may not be brainiacs, but you don't have to be to inflict pain and initiate mass murder.

We still don't know as much about Shahzad as we should. There's now an attempt by terrorist groups in Pakistan to distance themselves from this guy.

And one theory - advanced by think tank head Steve Coll in his New Yorker blog - suggests that Americans who head to Pakistan looking to join the jihad are usually viewed with skepticism by terrorists. They think the guy's a spy.

So, in something of a gang-initiation-like ritual, they say, sure, kid, you can join us. But first you have to prove yourself by (fill-in-the-blank terrorist act). Then come back.

It's a little like a drug dealer testing a person he thinks is an undercover cop by having the would-be associate sample the drug.

If the terrorist wannabee comes back with a notch in his belt, he's welcomed as a fundie. It's viewed as a "freebie" by the Taliban or Al Qaeda.

If he doesn't come back, there's no harm done, since he was never let into the inner sanctum.

Meanwhile, in a remarkable coincidence, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly were scheduled to be in Washington today, to make their case for more anti-terrorist funding.

We'll have the latest on the Times Square bombing plot, and the Mayor's funding request, tonight at 11.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.