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Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

The Supreme Court reconsiders our right to remain silent. Torture may soon become routine.
 
 
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In what may be a landmark Supreme Court case to overturn the Miranda decision, the court is scheduled to hear arguments from Solicitor General Theodore Olsen on December 4, 2002.

Bush's political appointee intends to claim our government has the right to coerce information from a witness, as long as the evidence obtained isn't used at trial against the witness.

The landmark 1966 Miranda v. Arizona decision ruled that suspects could not be interrogated without first being advised of their rights to remain silent and to obtain an attorney. The wording of Miranda is familiar to all Americans who watch TV, and is assumed as a basic right. The Justice Department wants to change all that.

In other words, Olsen plans to argue the police can detain or arrest anyone for any reason and then beat you up or even shoot you to get information, even if there are no emergent circumstances.

In other countries, this is called torture. In our country, we have the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution designed to prevent such horrendous abuses by the police.

What events could possibly lead Bush to champion a police state over liberty? In the case, Chavez v. Martinez, the U.S. government supports a police officer who interrogated a man the police shot 5 times, once in the face. The injured man also demanded that the questioning stop, but the officer continued his interrogation until the injured man fell into unconsciousness.

Interestingly, the police and the United States don't argue the facts of the case. Five years ago, Oliver Martinez was riding his bike down a path when he came upon two police officers questioning another man. The officers ordered Martinez to stop, forcibly stopped him, frisked him, wrestled him to the ground, and then shot him five times at point-blank range. Martinez was blinded and paralyzed and screamed for medical care.

What the police did next will shock you even more. A police officer, Sergeant Ben Chavez, kept the injured passerby in police custody. Chavez climbed into the ambulance with the paralyzed and blind man and interrogated him for 45 minutes in the ambulance and at the hospital. Chavez tape recorded the injured man's pleas to leave him alone and stop questioning him.

Chavez tried in vain to get Martinez to incriminate himself by confessing he was doing something more than riding his bike in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yes, Martinez, a farm laborer, possessed a knife.

Chavez wanted to "clear" his fellow police officers of wrongfully shooting a passerby. Chavez tried over and over again to coerce Martinez into saying he tried to take one of the police officer's weapons. Then the officers would have had grounds to shoot Martinez. If anything, the police were trying to cover up their own abusive practices. Yet none of the officers involved have ever been reprimanded.

After the incident, Martinez hired an attorney and sued the police for illegal arrest, use of excessive force, and coercive interrogation while in police custody. Though he was shot five times, no charges were ever filed against him, and the police department never provided any assistance or compensation.

This horrific story becomes more amazing when the Bush Administration sided with the abusive police. Bush, through Olsen, makes the argument there is no constitutional guarantee against coercive police questioning, even when medical personnel are telling the police to move back.

In other words, Bush says it is okay for the police to grab citizens off the street, shoot them, question them without an attorney, keep medical assistance away, and try to cover up a police shooting with impunity.

In essence, Bush says beat them and shoot them, because the ends justify the means.

Bush says "trust us," we won't use the tainted confessions in court.

If the court rules in Chavez' favor, what will the Bush Administration's policy mean for innocent bystanders who are picked up by the police for being near a crime scene or merely walking down the street?

Will innocent civilians, under the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act and the end of Miranda warning, have to submit to a beating before they get their one phone call?

Has the U.S. political leadership in Washington, DC gone crazy?

And, I ask, why is this news, and the broad impact it may have on liberty, limited to the Los Angeles Times and the alternative press?

The Bush Administration is expanding the power of the police and assaulting our civil liberties with a hatchet. Yet Congress, TV, and major newspapers, aren't watching and reporting.

If Bush wins this case, America may plunge into our darkest hour. To paraphrase Sinclair Lewis, "It is happening here."

Now is the time to stand up and stop these horrors, before President Bush completes his plan to turn America into a police state, where anyone, anywhere, can be picked up off the street, shot, beaten, questioned without an attorney, and not told why we are in custody.

Charles Sheehan-Miles is a Gulf War combat veteran and the author of the novel, "Prayer at Rumayla." He is a former president of the National Gulf War Resource Center.