FBI Interrogators Urge Obama to Keep Miranda Warnings Intact

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Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 9:32 am

Three veteran FBI interrogators, concerned by Attorney General Eric Holder’s proposal to expand the “public safety” exceptions in the Miranda warning during terrorism investigations, have written to President Obama warning him of the dangers to relaxing Miranda.

Holder is scheduled to testify today to the House Judiciary Committee this morning. In advance of a possible colloquy on weakening Miranda, as Holder suggested during Sunday show interviews, the three retired FBI special agents — Jim Clemente, Joe Navarro and Jack Cloonan (Cloonan was part of the FBI’s bin Laden unit) — write: “If we abandon our laws and apply draconian methods in response to terrorist threats, then the terrorists and their quest for lawlessness will have won.” That victory, they say, will “jeopardize our ability to bring those terrorists to justice later.” They don’t want any legislative tinkering with Miranda, fearing new rules that will “unnecessarily constrain law enforcement officials and hinder their ability to adapt to unforeseen situations.”

The FBI agents’ letter, written under the aegis of Human Rights First, is below:

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500
May 13, 2010

Dear Mr. President,

We write to express concern about reports that your administration is considering modifications to the public safety exception to Miranda v. Arizona. As professional interrogators who have spent decades questioning accused criminals – including spies and terrorists – we are writing to make clear that interrogators can do their job using the existing Miranda rules. No changes are necessary. In fact, changes might do more harm than good.

Miranda rights are important and play a vital role in our work. As interrogators who have sat across the table from those who seek to harm our nation and its citizens, we assure you that existing Miranda rules are nimble enough to handle situations as they arise.

In fact, when the Supreme Court recognized a public safety exception to Miranda, it highlighted the importance of trusting the instincts of law enforcement professionals in dangerous situations. “The exception which we recognize today, far from complicating the thought processes and the on-the-scene judgments of police officers, will simply free them to follow their legitimate instincts when confronting situations presenting a danger to the public safety.”

Legislating on this subject could very well result in rules that unnecessarily constrain law enforcement officials and hinder their ability to adapt to unforeseen situations.

In our decades of working in law enforcement, including the years following 9/11, Miranda rights never interfered with our ability to obtain useful information or make prosecutable cases. Miranda doesn’t undermine the ability to bring criminals to justice, incompetent investigators and untested laws do. We must not abandon our nation’s fundamental rule of law in the name of preserving public safety and convicting terrorists. If we abandon our laws and apply draconian methods in response to terrorist threats, then the terrorists and their quest for lawlessness will have won. What’s more, their victory will jeopardize our ability to bring those terrorists to justice later.

We urge you to stand up for the rule of law and the ability of interrogators to effectively do their job.

Jim Clemente
FBI Special Agent (Ret.)

Jack Cloonan
FBI Special Agent (Ret.)

Joe Navarro
FBI Special Agent (Ret.)

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23 Comments

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