Weapons of Mass Destruction???

Over the weekend, a crude car bomb (a Nissan Pathfinder SUV with propane tanks and gas cans wired to a crude detonator – alarm clocks connected to a can filled with fireworks – and fertilizer in the cargo area, but not the explosive ammonium nitrate fertilizer such as was used by Timothy McVeigh in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing) was discovered in Times Square in New York City.  All things considered, it was an amateurish (the fact that so many of the thwarted terrorist attacks in the United States have been amateurish – like the Christmas underwear bomber – is something we should be grateful for if that’s the extent of the terrorist threat we have to confront) device, i.e., not even close to being on par with the deadly improvised explosive devices – IEDs – being used in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Nonetheless, police believe the SUV bomb could have produced "a significant fireball" and sprayed shrapnel capable of killing nearby pedestrians.  Thankfully, it didn’t blow up.

Within days, Faisal Shahzad – a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan – was apprehended after he boarded a plane bound for Dubai at New York’s Kennedy Airport (despite having been placed on the no-fly list after authorities were able to determine that he was the owner of the Nissan Pathfinder).  Although there are many people who don’t think we should treat terrorism as a crime, good old-fashioned police work – not military operations overseas or harsh interrogations – was responsible for tracking down and nabbing Shahzad.

And – as if we weren’t already fortunate enough to have found the car bomb, that it didn’t detonate, and nabbed a suspect – Shahzad has admitted to buying the SUV, rigging it with a homemade bomb, and parking it in Times Square.  You’d think everybody would be happy (and relieved) about that.  However, Representative Peter King (R-NY) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) are upset that Shahzad was read his Miranda rights: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?"  According to King, "I hope that [Attorney General Eric] Holder did discuss this with the intelligence community. If they believe they got enough from him, how much more should they get? Did they Mirandize him? I know he’s an American citizen but still."  And McCain believes that reading Shahzad his Miranda rights a "serious mistake."  According to McCain, "I certainly would not read this individual his Miranda rights. I would not do that."

But not to worry, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has a way to fix such a serious mistake.  He’s going to introduce a bill that would strip terrorist suspects of their U.S. citizenship: "I’m now putting together legislation to amend that [a law that strips citizenship from U.S. citizens who fight for a foreign military – with the exception of Americans who decide to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces] to [specify that] any individual American citizen who is found to be involved in a foreign terrorist organization, as defined by the Department of State, would be deprived of their citizenship rights."  While he’s at it, the good senator from Connecticut should also introduce legislation reversing the whole "innocent until proven guilty" thing.  And apparently domestic terrorists like Timothy McVeigh don’t have to worry about losing their citizenship (even though – based on the Global Terrorism Database – of the more than 1,300 cataloged terrorist incidents in the United States from 1970 to 2007, except for 9/11 and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, virtually all of them were perpetrated by domestic terrorist groups).

Based on the available evidence, it would seem that there’s little doubt the Shahzad is guilty of attempted terrorism.  But amongst the charges being levied against him is "trying to detonate a weapon of mass destruction."  A weapon of mass destruction? If the car bomb had detonated, pedestrians in the immediate vicinity would have been the likely victims – so perhaps tens of people, but certainly not hundreds or even thousands.  Maybe it would have blown out windows in nearby buildings.  Destruction, yes – but hardly massive.  And the dreaded WMD is a term usually reserved for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.  If a couple of propane tanks now qualify as a weapon of mass destruction, how many suburban homeowners with gas grills are now guilty of possessing WMD?

Although President Obama campaigned on "change we can believe in," it seems that hyping the terrorist threat hasn’t changed.  WMD?  Not even.  More like WTF.

Author: Charles V. Peña

Charles V. Peña is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, a former senior fellow with the George Washington University Homeland Security
Policy Institute
, an adviser to the Straus Military Reform Project, and an analyst for MSNBC television. Peña is the co-author of Exiting Iraq: Why the U.S. Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War Against al-Qaeda and author of Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on Terrorism.