Death To The Boston Bomber?

On Friday a jury concluded that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should receive the death penalty for his involvement in the Boston Marathon bombings.

Last month, the same jury found Tsarnaev guilty of planting bombs that killed three people and maimed and injured hundreds more, as well as the killing of an MIT police officer.  The jury then heard evidence about the appropriate punishment for his crimes and deliberated for three days before unanimously concluding that death is the appropriate sentence of Tsarnaev’s placement of a bomb that killed an 8-year-old boy, Martin Richard, and Lingzi Lu, a graduate student from China.  By all accounts, the jury took its job seriously and soberly and carefully considered Tsarnaev’s childhood and cultural background, as well as evidence that his older brother was the mastermind of the bombings, before deciding that the death penalty was appropriate.

Tsarnaev’s crimes were terrible and unforgivable.  They were terrorism in the truest sense of the word, because they were not targeted at any specific person.  Their only purpose was to kill and hurt people indiscriminately, harm the reputation of a venerable American institution, and cause the general populace to worry that they might be risking their lives whenever they attend or participate in a mass sporting event or rally.  There is simply no justification for the commission of such crimes.  Whatever his upbringing, anyone who can rationalize placing a bomb in a crowd and killing wholly innocent people is a bad man who deserves to be punished.

Nevertheless, I’m opposed to the death penalty for Tsarnaev, as I am in other cases.  I don’t think we need to show terrorists overseas how tough we are, and in any case I doubt that they pay much attention to the workings of the American justice system.  I also don’t think killing Tsarnaev is going to dissuade others from committing acts of domestic terrorism, just as the execution of Timothy McVey for the Oklahoma City bombing didn’t stop the Tsarnaev brothers from proceeding with their crimes.  A death sentence simply ensures that we will spend huge amounts of time and money on appeals and will be reminded of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his awful crimes every once in a while, when his case is reargued and reargued again in court.

I’d rather we just throw this evil man into prison and leave him to rot, alone and forgotten, for the rest of his miserable and misbegotten life.

When Is A Beheading An Act Of Terrorism?

Last week, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, a woman working at a food distribution center was beheaded by a former co-worker.  Witnesses said that the killer had been trying to convert other employees to Islam, and his Facebook page included a photo of Osama bin Laden and a picture of a beheading.

And now the media is engaged in a debate:  should the killing be described as an act of terrorism, or as the deranged action of a disturbed guy who just went “postal” after his firing?  An interesting piece in the Christian Science Monitor poses that question and wonders just how terrorism should be defined.  Is premeditation required?  Does a terrorist act have to be part of achieving some larger terrorist goal?

In some respects, this seems like a debate about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  After all, it’s not as if all terrorist acts are carefully calibrated to achieve some larger and rational geopolitical objective.  The Boston Marathon bombings, for example, weren’t designed to take out American leaders or discourage American actions in some faraway land, they were simply designed to terrify random people — which seems like a pretty good definition of terrorism to me.

By that definition, a beheading of an innocent former co-worker by an Islamic man who has tried to convert co-workers and apparently follows the teachings of terrorists falls comfortably within the ambit of terrorism.  The depredations of ISIS and other Islamic terrorists have made beheadings — as opposed to other methods of killing — a form of terrorist political statement, and I don’t think it’s far-fetched to conclude that the Oklahoma City killer chose his approach with that understanding in mind.

If we can’t recognize terrorism for what it is, how can we hope to defeat it?

God’s Boat Plan

I tend to be suspicious when people start invoking God as directing their actions.  Whether it’s sports figures suggesting that God cares about the results of a silly game, or politicians suggesting that God favored them over their opponent, or people who presume they know what God would want to be published on a billboard or a bumper sticker . . . well, color me skeptical.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, has taken the God notion to new levels.  He apparently thought that God — and his dead brother — were with him as he huddled in a boat in somebody’s back yard, hoping to avoid capture for his criminal killing and maiming of entirely innocent civilians who participated in the Boston Marathon.  A note that he wrote on that night says it was God’s plan for him to hide in a boat and “shed some light on our actions.”  Tsarnaev also said that Muslims are “one body” and if you “hurt one, you hurt us all.”  Yeah, right!  Nice try, Dzhokhar!

If there is a God, could he actually have carefully plotted out Dzhokhar’s descent into terrorism and the series of sociopathic decisions that ultimately placed him under a tarp in a boat, hoping he wouldn’t be found?  Sorry, Dzhokhar, I don’t think the Almighty is troubled by you, personally, or your little trivialities — so you’re going to have to accept personal responsibility for your murderous actions.  As as for having the opportunity to “shed some light on our actions,” you don’t need God for that — hopefully the American justice system will serve.  I’ll be interested in hearing why you don’t think you’re to blame.

Dzhokhar, On The Cover Of The Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone magazine is featuring Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, on the cover of its next issue.  The decision to make Dzhokhar the Cover Boy has some people in the social media very riled.

They think the cover photo makes Tsarnaev into a rock star and glams up an accused terrorist.  Rolling Stone defends the cover, saying the story is legitimate journalism that explores how a young man, in the same age range as many Rolling Stone readers, became involved in a “tragedy.”  (I’m not sure that “tragedy” is quite the right word to describe an intentional bombing specifically designed to kill innocents, but let’s pass on that issue.)  The headline on the cover says:  “THE BOMBER:  How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam, and Became a Monster.”

I’m not quite grasping what the big deal is.  I’m not falling for the Rolling Stone statement about “serious journalism” as a justification for the decision.  You could do a serious piece about Tsarnaev without putting his tousled mug on the cover.  I’m sure Rolling Stone, like every other magazine, hopes that the cover will attract the eye of casual newsstand browsers and lead to increased sales.  There’s nothing wrong with that; Rolling Stone just doesn’t want to admit it.  The fact that the cover already has become controversial and provoked lots of chatter probably was something the magazine was hoping for, too.

But really — who cares if Tsarnaev is on the cover of Rolling Stone?  Do people really believe that anyone will become a terrorist in hopes that he, too, will make a magazine cover?  And what’s with the “glorification” argument?  Tsarnaev’s cover photo has already been on the front page of just about every news website; I don’t remember any outcry about glamming then.  Are people really arguing that, any time a terrorist act is committed, newspapers and websites can’t publish a photo that makes the suspect look like anything other than a deranged killer?  That seems silly.

So let Rolling Stone publish its piece, and let it try to sell a few extra magazines in doing so.  I’d like to see some real digging into what happened to the Tsarnaev brothers, to see whether there is something we can do to prevent the next terrorist attack.  Maybe if Rolling Stone sells out this issue, more journalists will cover that very important story.

Let Him Be Buried

According to the BBC, there’s a controversy brewing in Boston about the burial of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  People are protesting outside the funeral home that holds his body, and his family is struggling to find a cemetery that will allow his burial.

Like every American, I’m angered and sickened by the terrorist actions of the Tsarnaev brothers, and I can understand the impulse to deny a final resting place on American soil to someone who cruelly and intentionally killed and injured innocents . . . but I say let Tsarnaev be buried.  A controversy about his remains is just a distraction from the real issues raised by the Tsarnaev brothers and the Boston Marathon bombing — issues like whether they should have been permitted to come to America in the first place, how they came to be radicalized and whether there are steps that can prevent others from becoming similarly radicalized, why Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s friends allegedly would try to cover up for someone who committed a terrorist act, and whether the FBI and other authorities missed warning signs that should have alerted them to the dangers posed by the Tsarnaev brothers.  Picketing some unfortunate funeral home that holds Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s remains isn’t going to help answer any of those questions.

I say, plant Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s corpse in the corner of some remote cemetery and be done with it.  Ignore this wretched excuse for a human being and let his headstone crumble into dust.  Forget about his body, focus on his actions, and figure out what we can do to keep them from ever happening again.

Resisting The Bloodlust, And Trying To Understand

All day today police have been on a manhunt in Boston.  They are looking for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a 19-year-old who is a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing and who was involved in a shootout with police last night.  Tsarnaev somehow eluded capture and is on the loose in the Boston area.  His brother, also a suspect, was killed in the shootout.

The news stories today are all about these brothers, who came to the U.S., lived here, and somehow became radicalized to the point where they ruthlessly killed innocents without a second thought.  I’m sure many people enjoyed hearing that the dead brother’s body was so riddled with bullet holes they couldn’t even be counted; there is still force to the notion of an eye for an eye and a thirst for outright vengeance.

But as Kish and I drove around Nashville today, listening to reporters interview people who knew Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I found myself trying to choke back the bloodlust and hoping that the authorities can somehow catch him alive.  The reports all speak of an immigrant who became assimilated in our culture, had American friends, was a star on the wrestling team, and because a citizen on September 11, 2012.  What happened to this kid?  How did he go from a wrestler who helped motivate his teammates to a cold-blooded killer who dropped off a backpack with a bomb loaded with shrapnel and designed to inflict as much death and damage as possible?

We can’t wait for terrorists to show up, commit their cowardly terrorist acts, and then try to kill them off.  That strategy will never work in an open society like ours.  Terrorists could go to any large American city and, on any given weekend, find countless events that could be the subject of a terrorist act.  We need to figure out what causes someone like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to become a terrorist in the first place.  We need to understand, and then we need to determine how to prevent terrorist radicalism from incubating in the hearts and souls of the Dzhokhar Tsarnaevs of the world . . . or we will never be safe.

Who Did It, And Why?

There have been no significant developments in the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing, and that in and of itself is noteworthy.

No terrorist group or domestic fringe organization has stepped up to claim responsibility for the attack — but the information about the nature of the explosive devices used establishes that the bombs were carefully constructed to achieve maximum carnage.  The bombs apparently were built in pressure cookers and were loaded with ball bearings, nails, and other metal objects, and much of the damage to the innocent people nearby was caused by the effects of the intentional shrapnel.  The death toll from the blast now stands at 3 — including an 8-year-old boy — and more than 170 were wounded.  My heart aches for them and their families, and I know that my feelings in that regard are not unique.

What would motivate a person to build bombs that would tear off the limbs of random, unlucky people who just happened to be in the vicinity when the bombs exploded?  It’s hard to imagine that even the most disturbed domestic group would think that injuring participants in the Boston Marathon would win converts to a cause, or make a meaningful statement about an issue.  Even accepting that the targets of terrorist acts are selected through a twisted, hateful analysis, why would the Boston Marathon even be considered?  How would an event that features everyday people running through city streets be viewed as a suitable object for an attack?

We need to find out who did this, and why.

The Boston Bombing

The awful story about bombs exploding near the finish line of the Boston Marathon demonstrates that — unfortunately — we’re probably always going to have to be on the lookout for terrorism here in the United States.

The bombs killed two people, left a number of others in critical condition, and injured more than 100 people.  At this point, details about the incident are still sketchy, and it likely will be some time before final information becomes available.  Preliminary reports indicate, however, that there were multiple bombs, that they did not include high-grade explosive material, and that there were other devices that failed to explode in what appears to have been a coordinated attack.

As I write this, no organization has stepped forward to claim responsibility for the cowardly, murderous attack.  Of course, that doesn’t stop people from speculating about whether the attack was the work of foreign terrorists, or a domestic group, or someone angered by having to pay their taxes.  It’s hard to see why a domestic group or anti-tax zealots would target the Boston Marathon, but terrorists aren’t exactly known for their rational thought processes.

The frightening aspect of this attack, viewed from the standpoint of a suburban home in the middle of Ohio, is its terrible randomness.  One moment runners and their families and friends are celebrating finishing America’s most famous marathon, and the next people are sprawled in the street, injured and bleeding and dying.  It makes you wonder about the security of any large gathering of people, whether it’s a baseball game or a rock concert or a state fair.  Of course, the whole idea of terrorism is to make people cower in fear and change their habits — which means the best way for all of us to combat the terrorists is to go about our business, undeterred by the efforts to sow fear.

I’ll try to do that, but I’m sure I’ll be uneasy about it.