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After months of criticism from Republicans, the White House is looking to change the rules for giving Miranda warnings to suspected terrorists. The move also comes after an American citizen, Faisal Shahzad, was accused of planting a car bomb in Times Square. Shahzad was Mirandized and the White House says he is talking with interrogators. Still, change may be coming to the process and civil liberties groups say this is not the kind of change they expected from President Obama.
NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro reports.
ARI SHAPIRO: White House officials say they started to look at changing the rules for Miranda warnings even before the failed car bombing in Times Square. The discussions only became public this week, though. Presidential adviser David Axelrod spoke on CNN this morning.
Mr. DAVID AXELROD (Adviser, Obama Administration): The question is whether the public safety exception that allows a delay in administering those rights, how elastic is that and do we need to make any sort of adjustment to it?
SHAPIRO: The Supreme Court established the public safety exception to Miranda warnings in 1984. The exception says interrogators don't have to read someone their rights immediately if public safety is at stake. Now officials in the White House, Congress and the Justice Department are looking at how long the exception can be extended in order to keep a person talking before they're told they have the right to remain silent.
Mark Fallon of the Soufan Group investigated many of the biggest terrorism attacks of the 1990s, including the USS Cole bombing. He has Mirandized top terrorism detainees.
Mr. MARK FALLON (The Soufan Group): I'm not convinced any type of change in the Miranda system is really going to accomplish anything. You know, it may in fact be a solution in search of a problem.
SHAPIRO: He says that it's not just that these changes won't help, they may hurt. A court could rule that a bigger public safety exception is unconstitutional.
Mr. FALLON: That's one of the challenges we've had with the military commissions is when the cases go before the final court in the land, the Supreme Court, they've overruled some of the government's procedures and other things, so you're back to square one.
SHAPIRO: According to two government officials involved in these talks, Miranda warnings are only one part of the conversation, and perhaps not the most important. The other big issue is what's known as presentment. The law says defendants must be presented to a magistrate judge soon after arrest.
Mr. BENJAMIN WITTES (Brookings Institution): That does interrupt the interrogation and it interrupts it with a very formal process that informs the person, really, of the degree of stakes the case has for him, potential consequences to himself for the rest of his life.
SHAPIRO: This is Benjamin Wittes, who studies detention and interrogation policy at the Brookings Institution.
Mr. WITTES: And so I think the much more significant issue than Miranda itself is whether you can under some circumstances delay that presentment to a magistrate to give yourself time to have the interrogation.
SHAPIRO: The proposal that the administration is working on could postpone a detainee's first meeting with a judge. Civil liberties activists never thought they would have to fight these battles in an Obama administration.
Mike German is a former FBI agent who is now with the ACLU.
Mr. MIKE GERMAN (ACLU): This administration came in with this principle that they're going to restore the rule of law. So for this administration to now talk about changing some fundamental protections that have been in effect for a long time, it's very troubling.
SHAPIRO: It's true that President Obama came to office saying he would restore the rule of law, but he also said this in a speech soon after taking office.
President BARACK OBAMA: Now, let me be clear, we are indeed at war with al-Qaida and its affiliates. We do need to update our institutions to deal with this threat.
SHAPIRO: This may be one of the updates he was referring to.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House.
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