“They are equivalent to a proclamation of impunity to every traitorous combination which may be formed to destroy the Union."
Those are the words of Thomas Jefferson, speaking about the turn of events at the Aaron Burr trial that later acquitted him of high treason. In short, Burr was accused of conspiring with political allies, army officers and the British government to form a separate nation in America’s heartland. Britain at the time was an enemy of the young country. Those that accused him of treason said he raised money, troops and resources in his attempt. The most high profile person to accuse him was the President of the United States at the time, Thomas Jefferson, who had taken personal interest in the case.
Just about everyone involved in the case; prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and a host of other people on both sides were associated with the writing of the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution against Britain, the writing of the Articles of Confederation and the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. Whatever interpretation we may apply to the meaning of the rights that are part of the constitution, these men would have known them intuitively because they imbedded them in the constitution both expressly and implicitly.
Aaron Burr was a citizen of the United States. He was accused of conspiring with an enemy state. Never was he taken to a military prison and held without bail. Never was he denied a defense by competent attorneys. (In fact, his attorneys were high profile lawyers that were well aware of the Burr’s constitutional rights). Never once was it suggested that his citizenship should be taken away.
Today, Faisal Shahzad stands accused of plotting with enemies of the United States and other subversive activities just like Aaron Burr. He is the primary suspect in the attempted car bomb attack in New York’s Times Square recently. There are those that want him taken off to a military prison and tried in a military court. Other high profile government officials have also demanded that he not be read his Miranda rights before he is interrogated. Senator Joe Lieberman, if he was in charge, would take away his citizenship.
How is it that Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and signer of the Constitution, didn’t ask for Burr’s citizenship, did not deny him a civil trial nor imprison Burr without counsel, yet Lieberman thinks that is just what should be done with Shahzad?
Fighting terrorism is serious business. As a community we need to take every action we can to provide for a safe and secure environment. But we can’t forsake the very thing that has made this country strong, the rights Jefferson did not take away from the most celebrated person accused of plotting against the United States.