Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the 'Ticking Bomb' Scenario

The FBI will use the "public safety exception" to the Miranda rule in order to interrogate Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston bomber, without having to read him his constitutional rights.

From ABC News:

The exception, according to the FBI‘s website, “permits law enforcement to engage in a limited and focused unwarned interrogation and allows the government to introduce the statement as direct evidence.”

“Police officers confronting situations that create a danger to themselves or others may ask questions designed to neutralize the threat without first providing a warning of rights,” according to the FBI.

Anticipating that Tsarnaev may be in a condition to be questioned, expect the activation of the president’s High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG).

The group, set up in 2009, is made up of agents from the FBI, CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. They have been on standby waiting for the moment the suspect was taken in.

According to the FBI, the HIG’s “mission is to gather and apply the nation’s best resources to collect intelligence from key terror suspects in order to prevent terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies.”

We know very little at this point about the conspiracy to bomb the Boston Marathon. Did the brothers act alone or did they have help? Are they part of a larger terrorist cell of Chechens located in the U.S.? And, most importantly, is there another, deadlier attack being planned that puts Americans in imminent danger?

The employment of the public safety exception giving the FBI the ability to question Tsarnaev without reading him his Miranda rights is a pretty good indication that the government is worried that our lack of hard information about the bombers' background and associates puts the U.S. and its citizens at risk.

The "ticking bomb" scenario has never actually occurred. There has never been a situation where we have had a terrorist in custody who might supply us with information that would head off an imminent attack. Our interrogations of several high-value terrorists have indeed led to the disruption of plots and the arrest of other terrorists. But there has never been an instance where a terrorist in custody has given us information -- or even possessed information -- that could have led to the dismantling of an active plot that had gone operational.

This doesn't mean that, at some point in the future, a ticking bomb scenario won't arise. But it hasn't yet, and the fact that it was used to justify torture makes its use problematic, at least in some people's minds.