America

FBI Gives Agents More Leeway To Question Terrorism Suspects

The FBI has told agents they can question terrorism suspects for a longer amount of time before reading them their Miranda rights if the suspects are giving the agents valuable intelligence and public safety is at risk. The move follows criticism from Republican lawmakers about the Justice Department's handling of recent national security cases.

Government officials say that if the public might be at risk, the FBI needs leeway to question suspected terrorists without telling them of their rights to an attorney and that they can remain silent. The administration quietly issued the guidance to FBI investigators last year. News of that action was first reported today by The Wall Street Journal.

According to that newspaper:

"A Federal Bureau of Investigation memorandum reviewed by The Wall Street Journal says the policy applies to 'exceptional cases' where investigators 'conclude that continued unwarned interrogation is necessary to collect valuable and timely intelligence not related to any immediate threat.' Such action would need prior approval from FBI supervisors and Justice Department lawyers, according to the memo, which was issued in December but not made public."

Civil liberties groups say the guidance won't stand up to a court challenge because the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed the need for Miranda warnings.

The Justice Department had considered proposing a new law to expand the Miranda time frame, but decided against doing that after protests from Democrats in Congress.

(This paragraph added at 1:30 p.m. ET.) Justice Department officials say they can't overhaul the Miranda rule since it's enshrined in Supreme Court precedent. But they wanted to make clear that in "exceptional" cases, such as the one involving New York City bomb plotter Faisal Shahzad, investigators can do some questioning under the Miranda "public safety" exception, so long as any statements they get aren't used against a suspect in court.

(Carrie Johnson cover the Justice Department for NPR.)

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