Yet again, the system works


Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square bomber, pleaded guilty yesterday in federal criminal court. He didn't seek leniency in exchange for his plea. He faces a mandatory term of life imprisonment, the maximum sentence for the 10 counts listed in the criminal indictment. He outlined his criminal behavior to the federal judge yesterday, just as he had cooperated with the authorities for several weeks following his May 3 arrest, when he had waived his Miranda rights and spoken openly without counsel.

Yesterday's successful conclusion of the Shahzad case is worth a quick mention, if only to remind us how the Republican right had predictably attacked the Obama administration's May decision to pursue the case via the criminal courts, assailing it (naturally) as a sign of weakness.

The usual critics claimed that the Obama team was supposedly wimping out by treating Shahzad as a potential criminal rather than as a military combatant. Various Fox Newsers complained that Obama was afraid to use the word "terrorist." Former New York Gov. George Pataki complained that terrorist suspects should not be allowed to "lawyer up" and thus "weaken our security." Liz Cheney complained that the Obama people "aren't willing to acknowledge that (they're) facing a committed network of terrorists." John McCain and GOP congressman Peter King complained that it was a mistake to read Shahzad his Miranda rights (despite the fact that Shahzad, as an American citizen, was entitled to the reading; and that he willfully cooperated before the authorities finally read his rights).

And as recently as yesterday morning, conservative commentator Andrew McCarthy of The National Review was assailing the purported weakness of the law enforcement approach. He claimed that the government's 10-count criminal indictment was proof that Shahzad was not coughing up crucial terrorist info. When a bad guy is really and truly cooperating with the authorities, he wrote, "the standard practice is to strike a deal, complete with a cooperation agreement and a guilty plea." Ooops! Late in the day, the authorities announced that they had struck a deal with Shahzad for a guilty plea.

In reality, of course, it was no surprise that Shahzad was successfully routed through the criminal court process - because that's precisely what has happened, hundreds of times, in terrorist cases dating back to the early days of the Bush administration. As I've noted here previously, Richard Reid, the failed ’02 shoe bomber, was processed through the criminal courts. The 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui was processed through the criminal courts. The Bush team also prosecuted '01 "dirty bomber" Jose Padilla via the criminal courts. Indeed, the Bush team, in one of its own budget documents, reported that, between 2001 and 2008, it had utilized the criminal courts to obtain 319 convictions in "terrorism or terrorist-related cases" – roughly 90 percent of all cases, with the average sentence running for 16 years.

Let's see whether the McCain/Fox/Limbaugh nexus will rise up today and assail Obama's Justice Department for sending the cooperative Shahzad to the slammer for life. I suspect not. In our attack culture, there's no percentage in saying, "Gee, I guess we were wrong."  

The sole proprietor of this blog is on the road for the month of June. Virtually all June posts will be briefer than the norm, except on the rare weekdays when posts won't show up at all. Apologies in advance for this disturbance in the force. The standard verbosity will return next Monday.