Boston bomber deserves fair trial in court of law

In the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building, Timothy James McVeigh killed 168 people. He was arrested, read his Miranda rights and convicted by a fair and impartial jury of his peers. McVeigh was a citizen of the United States of America. McVeigh was a white Roman Catholic.

In his bombing of the Boston Marathon and subsequent flee from police, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is suspected of killing five people. He was arrested and not immediately read his Miranda rights so that he could be questioned under the public safety exception to determine if the public was in further danger, according to the New York Times. In a press release, four Republican senators suggested he be held as an enemy combatant, the same designation given to non-citizens captured on foreign battlefields and held at Guantanamo Bay. Tsarnaev is not white. He is a Chechen Muslim.

An individual suspected of a crime is read Miranda rights to protect him or herself from making self-incriminating statements. The public safety exception to the Miranda rule, as defined by the Supreme Court, allows officials to question a suspect (without Mirandizing him) about imminent threats to public safety, such as the location of a gun.

In certain cases, the public safety exception would make sense. This is not one of those cases. According to Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz in an interview with Newsmax, the grounds for questioning Tsarnaev under the public safety exception are dubious at best.

“In this case the two defendants have been apprehended. One is dead. The other is under surveillance. They have access to his home. They have access to all of the explosives,” Dershowitz said. “The police chief has said there’s no continuing danger. What they’re seeking is information — intelligence information — and the public safety exception simply doesn’t apply to that.”

But other tactics go even further. In an interview with the Washington Post, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, said he wants Tsarnaev to be labeled as an enemy combatant and recommended he be interrogated for 30 days without the constitutional protections afforded to criminal defendants.

Not only is such a designation unconstitutional, it is a designation unfounded in fact and one that suggests a deeper and more sinister problem in America.

The designation of the label “enemy combatant” is given to individuals arrested on the battlefield who are members of an organization known to oppose the United States. Yet,  CNN reports that the brothers supposedly acted alone, without the aid of an organized extremist group.

The constitutional grounds for such a designation are also unfounded. In Hambdi v. Rumsfeld, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, writing for the Supreme Court, said, “We agree that indefinite detention for the purpose of interrogation is not authorized.”

Though the public safety exception, created by the Supreme Court, does allow for a brief interrogation to determine future threats, designating Tsarnaev as an “enemy combatant” would cross a constitutional line.

More troubling is the sudden designation of the bombing as an act of terrorism. Such designation begs the question — does it take a suspect of a crime to be Muslim and nonwhite before the word “terrorism” gets tossed around? Were murderers Adam Lanza or James Holmes or Jared Loughner labeled terrorists, even though they killed far more than people than the Tsarnaev brothers did? No.

Did Graham, who said in an interview with the Post that the Boston bombing “is Exhibit A of why the homeland is the battlefield,” say the same about Sandy Hook Elementary School, the movie theater in Aurora or the Safeway in Tucson? No.

In fact, there are lots of problems with the rhetoric surrounding the bombing in Boston. In the week before the Boston crisis, the Republican Party came together to defeat a plethora of proposals that would, in its eyes, harm the Second Amendment.

The assault weapons ban, the universal background check rule and the high-capacity magazine ban were all defeated because of their potential to harm the Second Amendment. To the GOP, the slightest risk that a law runs afoul of the Constitution is enough to merit its rejection.

But the Constitution does not just apply to gun owners — it applies to everyone. If due process is effaced in favor of an “enemy combatant” label for an individual with no known ties to an enemy of the United States, there is nothing to shield the innocent from the overreaching of bureaucrats. Tsarnaev is innocent until proven guilty, not through trial by media, but through a civilian trial with a jury of his peers.

If the war on acts of mass violence cannot be won without destroying the Constitution, than we have already lost.


Nathaniel Haas is a freshman majoring in political science and economics.


9 replies
  1. Joe
    Joe says:

    Not sure what the debate is all about. Everyone says he has a “right” to have his Miranda rights read to him. This simply isn’t the case, and everyone in the media is clueless to the actual law — which is to say, that these Miranda rights are only necessary IF THE GOVERNMENT INTENDS TO USE THE STATEMENTS MADE BY THE DEFENDANT AT HIS TRIAL. If they DO NOT want or need to use those statements, they can talk to him without reading him his rights. Of course, if anything is coerced out of him and as a result more evidence is found against him as a result of his coerced statements, that presents a problem, but this issue that the police had an “obligation” to read him his Miranda rights and that that’s the end of the story is ludicrous.

  2. Liberty Minded
    Liberty Minded says:

    Can we stop charging people with “terrorism”? Exploding bombs inside one of these united states is TREASON.

  3. Arafat
    Arafat says:

    The white “Christians” you mention were not practicing Christians while the Tsarnaev brothers were devout Muslims who strongly identified with Al Qaeda. You’re comparison is misleading and only serves to muddy the water.

    There is little doubt – other than in the deluded minds of liberals – that Islam is a supremacist religion with core tenets that promote and encourage violent and aggressive jihad against non-believers. It is imperative that our leaders be vigilant when confronted with Muslims who act on these Islamic values.

    I do not understand the nuances of the legal procedures used in treating the surviving Tsarnaev brother differently than they usual suspect, but I have read from experts in this field that there was nothing illegal in doing so.

  4. Tommy T
    Tommy T says:

    I’m glad that I’m not the only one who shares this opinion. Thanks for writing about this.

  5. 3ACR Soldier
    3ACR Soldier says:

    The suspect is an American citizen and by the letter of the law he should have his Miranda rights read and should be tried in a court of law and convicted by a jury of his peers. The suspect was not born in the United States right? He is not a real American or an American born citizen right? I have a question for the immigration department or anybody that wants to respond. Why does the United States allow and give people access to immigrate to the United States legally knowing there from Mid-Eastern countries that have a strong Al Qaida presence but we do not allow or give access to legal immigration from individuals from Mexico ? Which is why most Mexican people risk their lives coming into this country illegally because if they were given the same immigration opportunities the Mid-Eastern people get then they would not com e into our country illegally? 99 percent of Mid-Eastern people are great people it’s the one percent of the people that want to destroy America. I know that some Mexicans come to our country to have kids and live off the government but most come to work jobs Americans don’t want or are too lazy to work. I served eight years in the US Army and two combat tours so I have met Al Qaida and other Muslim terrorist on the battle field. My point is that the United States does not allow or provide legal immigration access to Mexicans who come to this country to work jobs Americans don’t want like picking fruit in the California fields but the United States allows and provides legal immigration access to people that come from the Mid-East and who com e to bomb and kill Americans like in Boston or the guys that flu the two planes into the World Trade Center. What’s wrong with American when Fox News and CNN are blaming Mexican illegal’s for all the problems in America but not questioning why so many people from the Mid East get papers to legally live in the US so then they can become US citizens and commit a terrorist act on American soil against Americans. I love America and I’m proud of being an American, I have earned my freedom on the battlefield fighting against our enemies that now allowed to immigrate to our country. GO ARMY BEAT NAVY!!!

    • K. C.
      K. C. says:

      Although not born in America, Dzhokhar became a citizen and was a sophomore in college studying marine biology and wanted to be a dentist. Disregarding the prejudice behind excluding a whole population because they are residents from Middle Eastern countries, the Tsarnaevs are from a region of Russia – not the Middle East. Although immigrating is a difficult, long, and complicated process, it is allowed from Mexico, Russia, Middle Eastern countries….

  6. Don Harmon
    Don Harmon says:


    You are correct about this, but you are spending a lot of effort knocking down a “strawman” (a non-issue). You argue beautifully about an obvious conclusion already made.

    Yes, the “enemy noncombatant” designation was bandied about, but naturally nothing came of it. Perhaps it would have made sense if the bomber were caught in Afghanistan waging war against American troops, but nothing like that happened. Instead, a US citizen on US soil committed violent acts against ordinary civilians. Horrible as it was, it was and is for state and Federal courts to try.

    Now turn your excellent logiic and writing skills toward a real issue.

    • Nathaniel Haas
      Nathaniel Haas says:

      Mr. Harmon,

      Thank you for your comments.

      For our sake, I wish it was a non-issue.

      The Obama administration’s statement that Tsarnaev will not be treated as an enemy combatant does not excuse the five Republican senators and representatives who still persist that he be tried as such. Senator Graham suggested on Monday morning that he be detained for thirty days for intelligence-gathering purposes, without access to a lawyer.

      This morning, Senator Graham said in an interview that the Obama administration was “letting its guard down.”

      I think the idea that five elected officials would protect the Constitution in some instances and eschew it in others is certainly a real issue. The correct decisions of the majority to not excuse the dangerous suggestions of the minority.

      Nathaniel Haas

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