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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

On Tuesday, Republican Sens. John McCain, Ariz., and Rand Paul, Ky., went head to head about an amendment to a proposed defense authorization bill.

The amendment in question would potentially deny a civilian trial to American citizens who have been suspected of terrorism.

According to The Hill, McCain argued that any "individual, no matter who they are, if they pose a threat to the security of the United States of America, should not be allowed to continue that threat."

But how does denying a citizen of the U.S. the constitutional right to a civilian trial help to ensure that a threat does not continue?

In fact, the U.S. Constitution guarantees that anyone, citizen or not, has the right to a civilian trial. This was correctly interpreted by the Supreme Court in Boumediene v. Bush in 2008, ruling that the writ of habeas corpus applies to Guantanamo Bay detainees.

From a philosophical standpoint, it would be unjust to deny rights to non-U.S. citizens. The Bill of Rights is based on the idea of natural rights, which apply to every human based upon their nature.

To deny noncitizens the rights in the Bill of Rights would be to deny the existence of natural rights altogether. Instead, rights would not come from man's nature but from the government where that person lived. This would make rights arbitrary and subject to the whim of the politicians in power.

But this amendment would not only deny civilian trials to noncitizens suspected of terrorism but U.S. citizens as well. This is intolerable.

Sen. Paul countered McCain's argument, proclaiming, "Should we err today and remove some of the most important checks on state power in the name of fighting terrorism, well then, the terrorists have won."

Hyperbole aside, Paul is absolutely correct. If politicians like John McCain believe that terrorists are attacking us because they hate our freedom, then the best way to fight terrorism is not to destroy our freedom altogether.

Of course, that is not why the terrorists are attacking us, but McCain should remove his hawkish lens and think of the long-term consequences of this amendment.

One of the other foundational parts of our justice system is the idea that all suspects are innocent until proven guilty. For McCain, this does not apply to terrorist suspects.

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If someone is suspected of plotting a terrorist act, he or she can still be detained just like anyone else. But under the Constitution, law enforcement should still have to show just cause to detain someone, and that person must be afforded all of the protections (such as Miranda rights and a right to a trial) that any suspect would receive.

McCain said repeatedly on the floor, "Facts are stubborn things." He's right, and the facts are against him.

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