Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Does a Terrorist Have Constitutional Rights?

Thursday, April 25th, 2013
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Constitutional rights for the Boston bomber?  Are you kidding?  For days we watched the video footage of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev walking the streets of Boston with a backpack loaded with a homemade bomb.  A growing list of circumstantial evidence points to his guilt.  Yes, he is a naturalized American citizen, but we watched this drama unfold on TV and he seems to be about as guilty as you can get.  So why does this heinous accused murderer deserve any rights at all?

Polls taken by local media across the country show that the public considers the bomber to be a terrorist.  South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham summed up the prevailing view in a tweet: “The Law of War allows us to hold an individual in this scenario as an enemy combatant without Miranda warnings or appointment of counsel.  The last thing we may want to do is to read Boston suspect Miranda Rights.”  So the question is: Does the constitution protect the rights of every American citizen in the United States?

First of all, were these two brothers enemy combatants or terrorists?  There is no evidence so far that they received either encouragement or specific help from any outside source.  They were apparently religious fanatics, but is that enough to call this a terrorist attack?

If these two distorted and warped young men are to be labeled terrorists or enemy combatants as Senators Graham and McCain have suggested, then what’s the difference between what they did and what happened in Tucson, Columbine, Aurora and Sandy Hook?  At the Sandy Hook elementary school, 26 people were shot and killed including 20 children.  Was the shooter, Adam Lanza a terrorist?  At a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, 70 people were shot and 12 died.  And how about the Tucson shooting by Jared Loughner, where 19 people were shot including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and where 6 were killed?  Ten years ago two teenagers killed 12 students, a teacher, and themselves at suburban Denver's Columbine High School.  As horrendous as these killings were -- were any of them really acts of terrorism?

So is the difference one of motive? If you kill for the thrill or because of mental problems, is that different than killing for religious convictions?  And does that mean that the judicial system will now have to make assumptions of what is going on inside your brain?  The courts, wrongly in my opinion, have applied such a subjective standard in hate crimes, where what you think has a bearing on the charges against you.  A killing is a killing no matter what the motive.

Then there is the constitutional requirement to give any accused a Miranda warning, letting him or her know that they have the right to remain silent. That bothers many people.  If the guy commits a crime, why can’t he be grilled as to what he did and who else was involved?  Well, there’s something in the U.S. Constitution called the 5th Amendment that clearly states that no American citizen shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. Agree or disagree, that’s basic, hornbook constitutional law.

There is one important exception. If the police legitimately think that there is immediate, ongoing danger, where future crimes are about to be committed, then the Supreme Court has created a “public safety” exception.  Once there is evidence that such a danger has passed, then the Miranda warning kicks back in.  In the current Boston case, it became clear after the first interrogation that these two brothers acted alone.  And since the younger Tsarnaev, the sole survivor, is an American citizen, his constitutional right to remain silent protects him.

Bad law you say.  He’s guilty as can be and should be given no such protections.  But as journalist Emily Bazelon points out in Slate:  “Why should I care that no one is reading Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his Miranda rights?  When the wall gets bent out of shape for him, it’s easier to bend out of shape for the rest of us.”

Look, we have to recognize that in a country of over 300 million people, and despite our strengths, there are some damaged or demented souls who, for whatever reason, have grievances that too often explode into violence against innocent bystanders.  This is nothing new in the history of our country.  What is new and troubling is that many government officials at both the state and local level seem to feel that we have to give up many of our enumerated rights and civil liberties in order to deal with these violent acts.

What we face today is the age-old battle to maintain our constitutional freedoms.  Go back to the Nuremberg trials following World War II.  The words of Nazi Field Marshal Hermann Goering ring chillingly true today:  “It is always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.”

For fully justifiable reasons, we Americans want accountability, revenge, justice, and we want to feel secure.  But the foundation of our country is based on freedom.  That was the whole idea of the founding fathers drafting the constitution in the first place.

These constitutionally guaranteed freedoms are there for the protection of every American.  To limit or cut back on one person undermines the freedoms of each and every one of us.  None of us want an Orwellian future.  We cannot be oblivious to an assault, not only on our safety, but also on our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.


“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Terrorism, Boston and the Way We Live!

April 19, 2013
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


At the end of the Marathon on Monday, it was not just Boston that came under attack.  It was an attack on all of us.  American the vulnerable.  That, unfortunately, is part of the price we pay to live in an open, democratic country where political extremists can will their warped and sick agenda that, as we saw in Boston, shatters the normalcy of our daily lives.

 Twelve years have past since the attacks of 9/11.  At a time when America dominated the military might throughout the world, a handful of Saudi Arabians with box cutters seemed to bring us to our knees.  America still feels vulnerable, and for good reason.  The Boston terrorist attack feels too depressingly familiar.  Since 9/11, 380 individuals have been charged with acts of political violence in the U.S.

We have seen an upswing of massacres like Aurora and Sandy Hook, where there seems to be no political agenda, but rather a lashing out by deranged individuals who take out their internal frustrations by killing at schools and movie theaters.  Violence has become a tool -- way for warped segments of society to express their overwhelming rage.

America is perceived throughout the rest of the world as a violent place to live, but surprisingly, crime is down across the country.  Statistics show a significant downward trend of general violence over the past 10 years.  Yet we are witnessing a rise in political violence where the criminal acts are not random, but orchestrated, and often done to send out a political message.

I was a student in the 1960s, during the Vietnam era.  The Klu Klux Klan was active in my part of the country, and racial harmony was at a low ebb nationwide.  Violent confrontations were a regular occurrence.  Vietnam protests produced brutal acts of fury, and a wave of politically charged assassinations -- the Kennedys’, Martin Luther King and others shook us to the core.

For whatever reason, violent protests seemed to wane in the 70s and 80s.  Political confrontations were few, and law enforcement agencies undertook major crackdowns on domestic terrorism.  There were cold war tensions, but no major conflicts that involved U.S. troop commitments, and there were few protests in the streets.

But then the 90s arrived. Michael Barkun, a Syracuse University political scientist who is the author of several books on the extreme right, points out that the early 1990s saw a significant increase in domestic terrorism.  "There seemed to be a rise in paramilitary activity in the early '90s. Then Oklahoma City comes along, and again, there's a very aggressive push by particularly federal but also state law-enforcement agencies to get both intelligence and control over this kind of activity - but the activity doesn't seem to stop."
Then came the federal government’s horrendous fiascoes at Ruby Ridge in 1992 and Waco in 1993.  Scores of innocent Americans were killed, and these law enforcement blunders were used as fodder for many of the terrorists' ideological fires.  Right wing militant groups lapped up “conspiracy” rhetoric that provided a rallying cry for violence to protect liberty.  It was a warped
and cynical message but the federal law enforcement stumbles gave these radical groups momentum.
Internationally, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 thawed the cold war, but opened up the door for terrorism to flourish across the Middle East.  And when you want to make converts, you need to have a bad guy.  The U.S. had propped up unpopular dictators for years and was the natural enemy for the likes of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
We don’t know yet who caused the Boston Bombings.  Initial evidence points to domestic terrorism.  But in the meantime, Americans, again, are assessing how we will continue to carry on our way of life.  Do we just accept a new American culture were violence has become a legitimate way to protest and voice a misguided anger?  I hope not.
The Los Angeles Times editorialized that how we live our daily lives “won't change after Monday's attacks. Initially, citizens will be more circumspect, just as law-enforcement will ramp up surveillance. In time, however, behavior will revert to normal – or at least the new normal of metal detectors, airport searches, the deployment of explosive – sniffing dogs at large gatherings and the placement of ugly of obstructions in front of picturesque public buildings.”
To put these recent tragic events in perspective we note that, statistically, the risk of a terrorist attack is quite small, and casualties are few.  And did you notice in the Boston videos that after the bombs exploded, people were running towards the devastation to help out?  There is no inherent evil in the vast majority of us.
So to those who hate, who detest and abhor freedom, who let their prejudices overcome reason, and who use fear and violence as a tool for a warped or selfish agenda, just remember -- the good guys way outnumber you.  And we always will.

“Terrorism isn't James Bond or Tom Clancy. Even al-Qaeda is looking old school these days--now it's just some guy with a bomb. He walks the same roads as us. He thinks the same thoughts. But he's got a bomb.”

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Friday, April 12, 2013

There's Trouble in River City!

Friday, April 12th, 2013
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Is there something special about New Orleans? Of course there is. The city that care forgot is unique in so many ways.  I could make a list that would go on for pages about the sui generis way of life that can only be found in the Crescent City.  Enumerations of a special way of living that is a combination of laid back Caribbean mixed with Creole French and a gumbo of immigrants dating back hundreds of years that have been a part of a distinct ambiance unequaled anywhere else in America.

Begin with Mardi Gras, king cakes, Jazz, marvelous restaurants, parades and festivals year round, the French Quarter, voodoo, crawfish, the Saints, cemeteries above ground. Then there is Hollywood south, Congo Square, Bourbon Street, perpetuating artists and writers, and a jolie vie that let’s even the most sober resident and visitor alike join in laissez les bons temps rouler.

Here you find the good life that attracts visitors and new residents from far and wide.  But there is a dark side.

In New Orleans there is a corruption and disintegration of the law that is beyond belief, and it seems to be growing.  New Orleans has, at both the state and federal levels, the worst criminal justice system in America.  Second place is not even close.

The city would be a tough place to protect even if there was a level of competence that one would expect from any similar municipality across the country.  New Orleans has the dubious distinction of having the highest murder rate per capita of any city in the U.S. and is vying for the top homicide rating in the world. Last year, New Orleans had an incredible 72.8 murders per 100,000, which is ten times higher than the national average.  To give comparisons from other cities, New York’s rate is three per 100,000, Houston is 12.9, Los Angeles is 9.2 and Atlanta is 17.2. So the Crescent City is a tough place to keep law and order.  To make matters worse, those who are supposed to keep law and order in New Orleans only exacerbate the problem.

The notorious Danzinger Bridge scandals, where a number of New Orleans police officers have been convicted of killing unarmed locals and covering up the crimes just after hurricane Katina, continue to haunt the city. The storm took place almost eight years ago, and nonetheless, a number of the prosecutions remain delayed in federal court.  The adage that justice delayed is justice denied finds little favor in New Orleans.

Just last week, the Times Picayune blared headlines that the city runs the worst prison in the nation.  The sheriff, who oversees the jail, has come under fire for allowing prisoners to literally run wild.  The paper wrote of a city jail that is “an irredeemable, understaffed and underfunded cesspool of inmate violence, rape and suicide, unsanitary conditions and deputy corruption.”  Assaults by prisoners are a twice a day occurrence, there is a stabbing on average every 11 days, and a suicide every two months.

Videos were played last week in federal court showing inmates drinking beer, using drugs, shooting heroin, laying down money on dice games, and brandishing a loaded pistol.  That’s right.  All this while in jail.  Another video shows inmates who had snuck out of prison and were frolicking on Bourbon Street.  You can’t make this stuff up.

So when justice is horribly out of control, one would expect the feds to come riding in on a white horse to take over, begin an investigation and save the day.  That pretty scenario is only pipedream in New Orleans.  Here is what The Morning Advocate, the city’s new newspaper, wrote recently.  “In the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Orleans, things are spinning out of control like a Shakespearian tragedy pulling more and more people into a spiral of doom.”

The U.S.  Attorney, along with several of his assistants, resigned in disgrace, as a federal judge issued a scathing 50 page order alleging criminal misconduct by former prosecutors who the judge said testified “falsely” in his court room.  The judge ordered a full investigation to be completed in 30 days, but that was months ago and the Justice Department continues to drag its feet.  Some see a whitewash taking place. Morning Advocate columnist Dennis Persica lamented: “The spiral of doom (in the U.S. Attorney’s office) has still not ended…..and the wreckage and devastation left in this legal cyclone is mind-boggling.”  So much for thinking the feds would or could clean up the mess.  As the Wall Street Journal editorialized recently:  “Something is very rotten at the Department of Justice.”

Fox News rankled local civic leaders last week by referring to New Orleans as “The Big Sleazy.”  Bill O’Reilly elaborated by saying: “It is a corrupt city and always has been. Why can’t it improve? Why doesn’t it get better?”

Good question Bill.  But to solve a problem, you first have to recognize that the problem exists.  I don’t think, as many say, that the city is in denial.  It’s more a despair that there is little hope for change.  The uniqueness of the American government is the system of checks and balances.  The criminal justice system, when working properly, keeps the pulse of equity thought out the government process.  And it works pretty well -- that is, until there is a meltdown of those who are supposed to defend and protect.

New Orleans is certainly in a meltdown.  And many of those charged with enforcing the law have become maleficent, or law breakers themselves.  It’s time for the city that care forgot to start caring.  It’s time for house cleaning in the Crescent City.  It’s time for a major changing of the guard in The Big Easy.

In New Orleans, The past doesn't pass away so quickly here.
You could be dead for a long time”

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at


Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Dying with Dignity!

Thursday, April 4th, 2013
Pensacola, Florida


We pride ourselves as Americans in our lifestyle choices.  The right to freedom of choice, protecting our individual assertion of free will, and deciding just how we want to live our lives.  And yes, we have the right to access.  You can live a gluttonous life by overindulging in many personal hazards.

You know smoking causes lung cancer, but making a personal decision to smoke is your right.  Drinking in access leads to a number of health concerns, but that’s your choice.  Obesity by overeating?  Not good, but no law can legally restrain your decision to carry too much weight.  You can live where your want, and do what you want with few limitations.

That is, up until you want to shut things down and end your life.  In the vast majority of states, that’s when the government takes over.  You have the right to decide how you live, but you do not have the same right to decide, at least legally, when you want to end your life.  Should you have such a right?

Washington and Oregon, say “yes,” and they’ve passed legislation where a patient can ask a doctor for medication to end life.  Under these “physician assisted suicide” or “death with dignity laws,” as they are known, there are strict requirements as to the patient’s condition that must be met before these laws can be applied.  Two other states, Montana and Wyoming, have no specific law, but courts have given protections to doctors who give such assistance.

In the rest of America, death is delayed with small concern for the costs in terms of pain and suffering, not to mention, as is often the case, of economic hardship to the family and the taxpayer.  Families stand by watching over loved ones who are force fed through tubes, and often kept alive by a number of artificial means.  Instead of death taking its natural course at its humane end stage, modern medicine seems to make death almost optional.

In the debate over life ending care, two notable events took place last week.  In Phoenix, a husband was convicted of shooting his wife who suffered terribly with final stage multiple sclerosis, and who would have required extensive amputations because of gangrene in order to keep her alive.  She had begged for months to end her life.  Her 86-year-old husband finally honored her wishes and shot her to end her misery.  “Your honor,” the husband addressed the judge, “I loved Ginger since she was fifteen years old and I loved her when she was 81 years old. She begged me to end her misery, and I just couldn’t watch her suffer like that.”  A jury convicted him of manslaughter, but the judge, with almost unanimous family and community support, sentenced him to probation.

Former two-term Washington governor Booth Gardner also died last week.  He had suffered for years with Parkinson’s disease, and led the nation’s first successful voter initiative to legalize physician assisted suicide.  He said in support of the law:  “There are people like me everywhere who are coping with pain – they know that their next step is death. When death is inevitable, we shouldn’t force people to endure agonizing suffering if we don’t have to,” he said.  “We have all made tough decisions throughout our lives, and we should be trusted to make tough decisions about the end of our life. It’s about autonomy, personal choice and respect. I was in control of my life. I should be allowed to be in control of my death.”

I would hope that at the end of my life, I would have the right to make my own choice.  I am not afraid of facing the end of my life.  Death will come.  But there will be quality of life issues that all of us will face.  And there will be a quality of living that will deteriorate and be tempered by both the effort and the ability to deal with both the physical wear and tear and the emotional costs.  You see, from my perspective, there is a real difference between life and living.

But the system fights to keep you alive regardless of the quality of life.  If it takes feeding tubes, ventilators, not having any control over basic bodily functions and dealing with bedsores that will never heal because you will never leave the bed, so be it.  But once this process begins, it rarely ends -- until you come to an end.

I read of a doctor’s suggestion that you make a list of 100 things you do to get you through the day. Many are basic, and most are enjoyable -- taking a shower, brushing your teeth, sipping your morning coffee, taking a walk, driving to the store, calling a grandchild, and reading the morning paper. Your list could well go way beyond 100, but you can make your own daily schedule of things that make life worth living.  But then, perhaps, you lose the ability to do a few of these things.

That’s OK, because you can adapt.  But then the list of “can’t dos” grows longer.  Maybe I cannot control my destiny, but I would hope to at least be in control of my basic bodily functions and needs.  I’m just not interested or willing to being hooked up to all kinds of life assisting machines that force me to eat and breathe.  When the burdens of living grow past a point of miserable subsistence, and I lose the ability to experience the things on my list that matter, then I’ve had enough.

When I was 70, I wrote that “If there is a yin and a yang, the before and the after, what has happened and what is yet to be, then maybe getting older is a special way post for me. Hey, I could be at the top and ready for the long and relaxing ride back down.”

 I’m still on that great ride.  But one day, it’s going to come to an end.  I just hope I will be able to set my own timelines, and make my own life and, yes, death choices on my own with out dictates from the government.  Yes, I want the freedom of choice. In both living and dying.


When the tortures of the continued existence with no hope of recovery outweigh the benefits of maintaining that existence, I want out.”
Jane E. Brody
Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at