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.

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.

The Tsarnaevs And The Immigration Debate

The Boston bombings came at an inconvenient time for the politicos who are working on an immigration reform bill — but that might be a good thing.

In our catch-phrase, talking-point era, the immigration issue has been reduced to mantras like “securing our borders” and fuzzy video images of people scaling flimsy walls in desert landscapes.  Of course, immigration involves a much more complex, multi-faceted set of concepts and questions.  We are a land of immigrants, built in large part through the hard work and aspirations of those who came to our shores in search of freedom.  We need immigrants to perform certain jobs in our economy, and we want immigrants who will be doctors and entrepreneurs.  We feel a more obligation to offer asylum to those seeking to escape persecution in their native lands.  Millions of people now working in America came here illegally; what are we realistically to do about them?

The Tsarnaev brothers accused of perpetrating the Boston bombings cast a different perspective on the immigration debate.  They didn’t come here smuggled in the hold of a ship or sneaking across the border in the dead of night.  “Securing our borders” through towering walls or armed forces in the southwest wouldn’t have stopped their arrival.  And what happened after they got here?  News reports indicate that various members of the Tsarnaev family received government assistance.  It’s not clear that the Tsarnaev brothers ever held a permanent job.  If they had had to find gainful employment, and didn’t have hours of free time to surf the internet for hateful messages and theories, would they have descended into apparent jihadist beliefs?  Tamerlan Tsarnaev eventually was targeted as a potential radical in comments from a foreign government, investigated by the FBI, and put on a CIA watchlist.  Should something more have been done about him?

The Tsarnaevs shouldn’t define the immigration debate, of course, but neither should we ignore lessons we might learn from them.  As immigration reform is debated in Congress, it’s entirely legitimate to ask whether our experience with the Tsarnaevs should cause us to revisit how we decide to allow people to come to America, what we should do, if anything, to monitor them after they arrive, and whether we should be able to take action if their conduct after their arrival indicates that they aren’t making positive contributions to society.

Facebook Fake-Outs

If you go on Facebook on any given day, you may see one posted by a Facebook friend.  It’s usually a picture with text, often capitalized and superimposed over the photo.  It might tell a tragic or moving story, or quote statistics about the handgun use, the abuse of animals, or another topic in the national conversation.  It then asks you to repost, or like the post, or take some other action.

How many of the stories are real?  How many of the statistics are accurate?

I’ve wondered about it and thought about it again when I read about Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s tweeting activities in the days after the Boston bombing.  Tsarnaev tweeted about a post of a picture of a man huddled over a prone woman that said the man was going to propose to the woman and instead found her dead.  Tsarnaev tweeted “fake story,”  and the news article reports that the claim wasn’t true.

Why would anyone feel the need to heighten the horrific nature of the Boston bombing by concocting a fake story about the people injured in the blast?  Why would anyone make up phony statistics about some political issue?  How many people are misled by such postings, and how much of the national conversation has been misdirected as a result of the false information?

I hope there aren’t many people who accept these kinds of Facebook posts at face value, without applying some skepticism and fact-checking.  My grandmother used to say “believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.”  That’s a good rule of thumb when it comes to Facebook information.

Let’s Let The Authorities Do Their Jobs

The second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing has just been caught, and already the full-scale second-guessing has begun.

I’m amazed at the criticism, from right and from left, that is being directed at the authorities.  Shouldn’t Dzhokhar Tsarnaev be read his Miranda rights immediately?  Shouldn’t he be treated, instead, as an enemy combatant and tried in a military court?  Why didn’t the FBI do more to identify latent terrorist tendencies when it received inquiries about Tamerlan Tsarnaev from a foreign nation?  Why didn’t the police put together Tamerlan’s lack of American friends, his prior bout with domestic violence, and his YouTube viewings of radical Islamic videos and identify him as a likely terrorist?

This kind of Monday-morning quarterbacking is absurd.  By any measure, law enforcement agencies have done a pretty good job in dealing with a very difficult terrorist situation in one of our largest cities.  They found and  apprehended the apparent perpetrators only a few days after they anonymously committed their horrible crimes.  Now the lone survivor, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, will be questioned in an effort to elicit more information about how this ncident occurred and whether there are other terrorists lurking, and then the justice system will take over.  All of this seems to be proceeding as it should be.

Can’t we all reserve judgment and back off a bit for the moment?  I suspect that we are going to be hearing a lot more about the Tsarnaev brothers and their activities over the coming weeks, and I would not be surprised if some of the information we obtain contradicts the conventional wisdom as it now stands.  It’s time to celebrate the fact that the culprits of the Boston Marathon bombing are off the streets and let the authorities do their jobs — without the backbiting.

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.