Last Monday, Boston turned out to enjoy the traditional day of fun and sport that is the Boston Marathon. Last Monday, such a day turned from fun into tragedy when two home-made IED’s exploded at the finish line. Three were killed, and a great many were injured, some seriously.
A day of joy turned into a day of grief and agony for those caught up, directly or indirectly, in a senseless act of violence. It was a great shock to the Boston, and indeed to America, that such an event could happen, and indeed so randomly and without any warning. However, since 9/11, such an attack is not unexpected, and not and once again shows that acts of terror can strike anywhere, at any time.
The work of the first responders, citizens, community, and law enforcement has been amazing- and has shown that great good can come from great evil. Such an example set and shown from Boston is a clear demonstration that compassion will always triumph over cruelty- and that whilst Americans, both in local communities and across the nation as a whole, will rally and band together as they did last week, that the American way of life and freedoms are safe from whatever material damage is done by wanton acts of violence and terror.
Law enforcement, both at a state and federal level, have worked tirelessly since the smoke still hung over the blast sites to find, locate and apprehend the person or persons responsible. After amazing Herculean efforts, and a dramatic series of events more reminiscent of an action movie than real life, police finally apprehended a suspect, with another one being killed in the progress.
After recovering from his wounds in hospital, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was formally charged yesterday with the federal offence of ‘using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, namely an improvised explosive device, against persons and property within the United States resulting in death.’ Additionally, there is a one count of ‘malicious destruction of property’- and there is legal opportunity for the Massachusetts to file state charges against him. Now that he is custody, the police’s journey is over but, as U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said over the weekend “my journey and my office’s journey begins.”
In the wake of such an attack, there is great temptation for an emotive reaction, and a response of retribution and anger. Some lawmakers, commentators and citizens were considering that a more muscular charge was required. Until the charges were unsealed earlier, he had been guarded in hospital under a public safety exception, meaning that investigators could question him without reading him his Miranda rights. It must be noted that he has provided written answers to some questions, as he was unable to speak due to neck injuries.
One option suggested by House Republicans was to declare Tsarnaev an ‘enemy combatant’. Under that designation, he would be detained without counsel and without Miranda rights. This was warmly welcomed by some. Indeed, such a move would raise the ugly spectre of Guantanamo Bay, and the human rights abuses there.
Such legal treatment of a man who has committed such an atrocity are fitting and appropriate; the relatives of the dead and wounded would get justice and closure if the courts and legal system treat Tsarnaev with such a muscular and robust approach. Or would they?
The way to undermine a society is to strike or alter its core values and beliefs, not its buildings or citizens. A hallmark and underlying principle of a Western democratic system of government is the rule of law, and legal and democratic freedoms and rights. Justice and recourse to the courts is the right of all, and the law applies to all; the legal system considers everyone with the same fairness and impartiality. Suspected criminals have a right to representation, and the due process of the legal system. It is such an approach, amongst other democratic concepts, which defines and underscores a liberal, open democratic society and system of government. The way to undermine a Western democratic society is to strike against and weaken its legal and democratic values.
Since 9/11, practicalities of air transport have changed globally. Emergency law enforcement powers, anti-terror legislations, terrorism cases being heard in secret, increased investigatory or surveillance powers for intelligence agencies are just some of the responses which have been made by Western governments since 9/1. Despite their obvious and undoubted successes, those measures have failed; because they infringed upon civil liberties, or altered the rule of law or the rights or citizens in a very subtle way. They took away from the society they were meant to protect.
The rule of law and due process is vital for a democratic society. In the wake of such an atrocity, it is even more important to demonstrate that, as a visible sign that Americas will not be cowed by such acts- and above all, that the basis of society will not be altered or changed by violence.
As Tsarnaev lay guarded in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center over the weekend, some hawks questioned whether he merited getting a lawyer on sheer principle. The answer is an overwhelming yes. Absolutely Tsarnaev deserves a lawyer- absolutely he deserves an impartial trial- absolutely he deserves the protections and rights granted to him (an immigrant) by the US Constitution.
It is by upholding those rights that America can openly defy terrorists and extremists. Compassion and the rule of law will send a greater message to any would be extremists than any hasty, muscular or excessive legal action. Having a full, impartial trial for the Boston bomber in accordance with the values and laws of the land will also give the relatives of his victims the knowledge and satisfaction that justice was done.
Despite such democratic ideals, it must be noted that the charges filed against him do carry a death penalty; harsh justice for him after all, then. Legal, administrative and emotive questions as to where and how he should be tried still need to be answered by officials. In addition, it is the defendant’s right to lodge appeals, especially where a potential death sentence is at stake (the case of the Aurora cinema bomber James Holmes raises the exact same legal point); consequently, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could remain in custody in the American legal system for a very many years, with no or overturned rulings against him.
The legal uncertainty arising will do little for the peace of mind of the relatives of the Boston bombings, and will do little to give them closure. At least, however, the man responsible is in custody, and is facing the full force of the law- surely that is justice?
Guest author bio: I go by the name LegalIdiot (don’t be fooled by it). I have my own legal studies blog and also write for PerfectClaims.co.