The Real Meaning of Boston Strong

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev might not be the easiest name for native English speakers to pronounce or to spell, but it soon became a household name as the manhunt for Tsarnaev became a hot topic in the national media. It should come as no surprise that a man who is suspected of orchestrating and participating in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings would be one of the most hated people in the United States.

Still, I was taken aback at the sheer number of people who do not believe that he deserves constitutionally mandated due process and a fair trial.

If the allegations are correct, Tsarnaev has committed atrocities and he deserves to be punished. However, many Americans have slipped into a fit of irrationality, fueled by anger; to them, the actions of Tsarnaev warrant abandoning the rules of law prescribed by the U.S. Constitution. Many were outraged when he was given his Miranda warning.

Without getting too wonky, let us review: issuing a Miranda warning affirms the following:

-They have the right to remain silent

-Anything the suspect does say can and may be used against them

-They have the right to have an attorney present before and during the questioning

-They have the right, if they cannot afford the services of an attorney, to have one appointed, at public expense and without cost to them, to represent them before and during the questioning

Whenever suspects are being brought into custody, they must be Mirandized; ask any police officer. There are few exceptions to this rule. However, one of those exceptions, known as the “public safety exemption,” has been frequently discussed as of last week.

In the 1984 case New York v. Quarles, the Supreme Court created the public safety exemption, after a police officer was led to believe that a suspected rapist had hidden a firearm. The decision stated, “it permits police to ask a limited range of questions for the purpose of removing any imminent threats. It does not permit wide-ranging questions intended to build a case against the suspect.” That is why Tsarnaev was not immediately Mirandized.

Many Americans believe that the harsher the interrogation technique, the more effective it is. Therefore, this thinking goes, “coddling” Tsarnaev with his Constitutional rights would impede on the ability of the authorities to ascertain information. However, the intelligence community does not uniformly agree.

When right-wing opinion network Fox News invited Christopher Voss, a former FBI special agent and adjunct Georgetown professor, on-air to discuss Mirandizing, they likely expected him to bemoan these Constitutionally-required procedures. He didn’t, as Mediaite reports:

“[Voss] said that interrogators tend not to be aggressive when attempting to extract intelligence from a suspect, but they will more often try to strike a rapport with the suspect.”

“The FBI doesn’t do that because we’re nice, we do that because it worked,” Voss added, “Miranda – they can do that and then continue the relationship. It’s not a big problem. It’s not a major obstacle. It’s almost irrelevant.”

Others, such as Senator Lindsay Graham, have made the case that Tsarnaev should be tried as an “enemy combatant” in a military tribunal. The U.S. Army runs military tribunals, which have been criticized by human rights groups as unfair and unjust.

Even the far-right website Big Government – founded by the late Andrew Breitbart – agreed that there is no need for Tsarnaev to be tried in such a manner. Ken Klukowski, a professor of law at the conservative Liberty University writes:

‘Tsarnaev could possibly be tried as an enemy combatant if it was demonstrated he was a member of or associated with a terrorist group, like Al Qaeda, that we are in an ongoing war with. If he was receiving any direction from abroad and became a domestic agent of a group affiliated with Al Qaeda, the argument could be made that his case becomes a national security and foreign policy matter.

But, as of tonight, it does not appear there is strong argument for that scenario; it looks like Tsarnaev belongs in federal court.”

Let us also not forget that Tsarnaev is a citizen of the United States. While this citizenship might only be under one year old, that fact is irrelevant from a legal perspective: the United States does not have a “grace period” wherein new American citizens are still considered to be without American citizenship. Tsarnaev is an American.

On Sunday, I sent out a provocative tweet, which read: “Those opposed to a fair trial and due process should use the #BostonWeak hashtag. Terrorists shouldn’t make Americans abandon their values.” I fully stand by this statement.

The United States of America has used its system of justice to try dozens of people who have committed terroristic atrocities: Charles Manson, James Holmes and Timothy McVeigh, to name a few. What makes the Boston bombings so different?

The answer is simple: Despite all of the “Boston strong” rhetoric, Americans are scared. Americans have not only been deeply shaken by the attempted mass killings of the past year (e.g. the movie theater in Aurora, the elementary school in Sandy Hook), but also by the increased awareness of terrorism since the attacks on September 11, 2001.

These critical moments have made Americans question whether abandoning age-old, constitutionally required cornerstones of the American system could make them feel safer. The lack of widespread public outrage concerning the use of torture, the so-called PATRIOT Act, warrantless wiretapping and the abandonment of habeas corpus exemplify this uncertainty. Despite all of these unprecedented moves, no evidence exists to suggest that they have actually made anyone safer.

These moves have no basis in American history. In the 1775 Boston massacre, British troops killed five American colonists, while injuring more than double that number. Despite the monumental threat that the British posed to American colonists’ way of life, it was understood that a fair trial and due process were essential parts of having a just democratic society.

Who represented these murderous British troops in court, despite their rampant unpopularity? None other than Boston native John Adams, a man who would one day be considered a Founding Father of the United States. He did not defend them because he agreed with their cause or because he liked them. He defended them because everyone deserves a fair trial and due process. Now that’s Boston strong.