The wrongs of the George W. Bush Administration haunt the handling of the Boston Marathon Bombing suspect and future cases
With the younger of the two Boston Marathon Bombers in custody and the older brother dead, it is time to ensure these individuals are held accountable for their actions and learn what can be learned from this tragedy. Although our public officials and public protectors performed well in the aftermath of the bombing, the handling of the young suspect and future perpetrators of such violence could get very murky given past oversights introduced by the far right through the George W. Bush Administration.
Clearly, national security is far too politically charged as politics pushed the hands of the Obama Administration to classify the massacre as a terrorist attack prematurely. On the right, a strong coalition of influential individuals would have liked to see the young suspect treated as an enemy combatant in order to circumvent his Constitutional rights guaranteed to him as a US citizen.
The use of concepts like terrorism, enemy combatant, and weapons of mass destruction offer insight into the wrongheaded thinking of these influential Americans. How words are used matters, especially when they come from the mouths of public officials and influential persons, because the working definition of key concepts determines if we embrace proper, effective policies or simply complicate issues.
A terrorist is a criminal and can be a murder; however, a terrorist is more than a criminal as a terrorist acts to intimate society as means of changing public policy through fear. In the vagueness of the legal and working definition of terrorist, a protestor or freedom fighter may be labeled by a government as a terrorist or a supporter of terrorism. Consider that the CIA is regarded by many in the Middle East to be a state-sponsored terrorist organization while the militarized wing of Hamas is not.
The reason the definition of terrorism matters is that governments misuse the term to legitimize the abuse of those seeking their freedoms and radical groups misuse the term to manipulate would-be recruits. In events like the Boston Marathon Bombing, the distinction between a murderer and a terrorist is important, because a murder is motivated by different thinking than a terrorist; therefore, the threat of further terrorism must be addressed differently than the ongoing threat of murder.
Meanwhile, one of the most damaging aspects of the George W. Bush era was an effort by the far right to circumvent the US Constitution and basic American values concerning human rights. The rise of globalized terrorism tested the fabric of our society by forcing us to recognize the need to balance freedoms with security. Instead of rising to that challenge with our best efforts, our public officials gave into the temptation and ease of engaging in practices like torture and unwarranted detentions.
It is these same voices on the right who wish to ignore the young Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s citizenship and the Constitution to interrogate him as an enemy combatant in Guantanamo Bay. The term enemy combatant has great significance. It implies war, but the use of it in classifying terrorist suspects stretches the definition of war to mean any act of violence against all self-proclaimed US interests. Because war tends to involve a loosening of Civil Rights, an ill-defined perpetual war is a threat to our freedoms and values.
Furthermore, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is charged with the use of a weapon of mass destruction, among other criminal offenses. The concept of a weapon of mass destruction was originally introduced as a classification for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. The entire point of using the term “weapons of mass destruction” was to alert public officials and the general public to the enhanced treat that they present. In turn, laws were supposed to created and action taken to deal with the increasing threat of WMDs.
Quite frankly, the threat posed by something that can be made from horse shit, i.e. a fertilizer bomb, is not the same threat posed by a nuclear weapon. Creating a legal standard that treats someone, who sets off a conventional explosive, which is admittedly terrible destructive, in a similar manner as someone trying to build a chemical or biological weapon at home lessens the significance of the charge. Laws had already been written to punish people for bombings; the laws against the use of WMDs needed to exist in order to offer an enhanced punishment for using an actual weapon of mass destruction.
Perhaps more importantly, the broadened use of the term WMD paves the way for human rights violations, i.e. the death penalty could be expanded to crimes that would otherwise not result in the death penalty. If someone uses an explosive as a weapon with the same potential to cause harm as a gun, equal treatment under the Fourteen Amendment demands a near equivalent punishment. Should an individual or business accidently kill someone in an explosion, such as the one in West, Texas, any intentional wrongdoing could translate into a death sentence under the WMD classification when a lethal car accident caused by drunk driver would result in a far less punishment. We must also ask whether it is reasonable to subject a child to the WMD charge for using a cherry bomb on a mail box.
Moreover, the reason the misuse of these concepts matters is that these situations will play out at some point while our legal system needs to be consistent. After all, the justice system only has value to society, because it promotes order through equal treatment. Just as sneak-and-peak searches under the Patriot Act were used for drug enforcement when they were intended to be limited to investigations into terrorist threats, the increasing misuse of concepts like terrorist, enemy combatant, and weapons of mass destruction is certain to undermine public policy and our civil rights. Instead of addressing key questions on how to deal with terrorism, the US government has far too often chosen to avoid finding a means of balancing security with freedoms.
Just a thought…
Because George W. Bush and his Administration view terrorism as antifreedom; they viewed any means of stopping it to be profreedom. Although he and his political allies might agree torture is bad, the use of the practice is completely justified in their minds as they still believe it helps fight the threat of terrorism. Similarly, Al Qaeda operatives and other violent criminal actors view America to be a violator of their righteous and cultural practices, i.e. we deny them freedom. Such individuals may believe killing, including killing Americans, is wrong, yet they also view violence as a legitimate means of fighting US oppression. (Attacks on civilians are further legitimized as the US is a democracy and the government is supposedly beholden to the People.)
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