Boston Bombings: Various Perspectives
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should not face the death penalty, even for a capital crime
By Alan Dershowitz
24 April 2013
Now that the surviving marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has been charged with a capital crime, the Justice Department must begin a review process to determine whether to seek the death penalty if he is convicted or pleads guilty. Among the factors that will be considered are his youthful age (19), his clean prior record, his being influenced by his older brother and other possible mitigating factors.
But most of all, the nature of the crime itself will be a critical consideration. According to the affidavit submitted by the chief investigator, videotapes clearly show the suspect planting a knapsack in a crowded area and then leaving.
The prosecution will have little difficulty proving that the defendant knew that the knapsack contained a bomb loaded with pellets and nails designed to kill and injure as many innocent children, including young children, as possible. Proponents of the death penalty will surely argue that if any case demands the ultimate penalty, this one does.
That is a strong argument, in light of the calculated nature of the intended mass killings. Nonetheless, I would hope that the Justice Department will decide against seeking the death penalty, even in light of the extreme depravity shown by the defendant in this case.
There are two fundamental reasons why the death penalty should not be imposed in this case. The first is the obverse of the argument that if anyone deserves the death penalty, it is this defendant. That may will be true. But it follows that if this defendant does not deserve the death penalty, then no one does.
In other words, a decision to withhold the death penalty in this case would be a powerful argument against the morality of the death penalty in any case. As a lifelong opponent of capital punishment in all cases, I would argue that not applying it in this case could have a considerable impact on the movement toward abolition.
This abolitionist argument is unlikely to have much impact on the Obama administration, which favors the death penalty, at least in extreme cases, such as this one. There is an argument, however, that could have an impact even on proponents of the death penalty.
Seeking the death penalty against Tsarnaev, and imposing it if he were to be convicted, would turn him into a martyr. His face would appear on recruiting posters for suicide bombers. The countdown toward his execution might well incite other acts of terrorism. Those seeking paradise through martyrdom would see him as a role model.
Whether the death penalty actually deters crime has been long debated. I have little doubt that some criminals may well be deterred by the prospect of execution rather than life imprisonment, though I am not certain how many. But I also have little doubt that some defendants, especially those motivated by ideological extremism, may be incentivized by the prospect of martyrdom.
There will be enormous political pressures on the Department of Justice to seek the death penalty in this case. Republican lawmakers would have a heyday attacking their Democratic opponents for being soft on terrorism if Attorney General Eric Holder decided not to seek the ultimate penalty. Whether or not Holder is influenced by this pressure, the pressure itself is a strong argument against capital punishment.
Life and death decisions should not be made based on political calculations. Several years ago, the US supreme court decided a case, in which a judge in a southern state was threatened with electoral defeat if he did not impose the death penalty after a jury had recommended against it. The supreme court upheld the judge's decision to impose the death penalty, over a strong dissent.
Fortunately, under American law, there is an additional check on the imposition of capital punishment. A jury must decide to impose the death penalty based on a balancing of aggravating and mitigating factors. If this case is tried in Massachusetts – a state that has abolished the death penalty – the jury pool may well contain some people who would be sceptical about executing a man like Tsarnaev. To be sure, the jury pool will be skewed by a rule that eliminates any potential juror who has a conscientious scruple against ever imposing the death penalty. But those who have an open mind about its applicability in any particular case may serve.
One of the hardest decisions Tsarnaev's defence lawyer has to make is whether to keep the case in Boston or whether to seek a change of venue to another location. The argument for moving the case out of Boston is obvious: virtually every Bostonian regards himself or herself as a victim of this horrendous crime, which brought the entire city to a standstill. But it may turn out that Boston jurors would be less likely to impose the death penalty in this case than jurors in other areas.
In the end, this case is more likely to be about whether Tsarnaev lives or dies than about whether he is guilty of this monstrous crime. If he planted the bomb, Tsarnaev chose death. We should respond by choosing life.
Utah Muslims: Boston bombing suspects ‘perverted’ Islam
By Peggy Fletcher Stack
Apr 23 2013
If Boston bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were motivated by "extremist Islamic beliefs," as some assert, theirs was a "perverted" image of the faith, insist Utah Muslim clerics.
"I don’t know where they get their version of Islam; it’s absurd to us," Imam Shuaib Uddin, leader of the Utah Islamic Centre in Sandy, said Tuesday. "It doesn’t even make sense to me."
The Quran, Islam’s holy book, spells out "rules of engagement" during war, Uddin said, but targeting civilians is never OK — not even in battles between countries or armies.
"There is no justification for that whatsoever," the imam, or mosque leader, said.
Utah’s Muslim community has strongly condemned the Boston attack.
"We stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow American citizens and pray that the culprits are brought to justice," reads a statement posted on the Utah Islamic Centre’s website after the bombings.
Until a few years ago, the Tsarnaev brothers apparently were Muslims but not devout adherents. Then Tamerlan, the older, 26-year-old brother who died Friday in a shootout with police, began to pray five times a day, forgo alcohol and attend services at a Boston area mosque. On one occasion, news accounts say, he got angry when the imam compared civil-rights legend Martin Luther King Jr., a Christian minister, to the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Tamerlan reportedly was ejected from the service.
"To me, [the sermon] shows how open-minded the imam was," Uddin said. "Tamerlan was not in the mainstream of Muslims. He was on the fringe of his own congregation."
There is no Islamic point of view — orthodox or liberal — that would justify killing spectators or runners at an athletic event, said Imam Muhammed Mehtar, of the Khadeeja Islamic Centre in West Valley City. "This act is not even remotely appropriate."
Even Muslims in disputed Chechnya, the suspects’ ancestral home in Russia’s North Caucasus, do not favour violence against civilians, according to a 2012 Pew survey.
The Righteous Mind of the Brothers Tsarnaev
By Bill McKenzie
The part of the Boston story that mystifies me is how two brothers reportedly led fairly normal lives after they came to Boston, but then something flipped and their thinking grew rigid. So rigid that they decided to blow up innocents along the Boston Marathon route in order to make a statement.
How does something like that happen?
Jonathan Haidt argues in his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion that the righteous mind can readily shift into combat mode in political and moral arguments. We launch rhetorical grenades, which impress members of our own group, writes Haidt. But that does little to change the minds of our opponents, especially if they are in combat mode, too.
Of course, the Tsarnaev brothers did more than launch rhetorical grenades. They chose murder over the hard work of persuasion.
“If you really want to change someone’s mind on a moral or political matter,” Haidt counters, ” you’ll need to see things from that person’s angle as well as your own. And if you truly do see it the other person’s way — deeply and intuitively — you might even find your own mind opening in response.”
In other words, it is risky business trying to persuade people. The exercise may prompt us to change our own minds, which can be unsettling.”
So, here’s the question for you: Is it possible to keep the combat mode of the righteous mind from kicking in? If so, how?
America’s success in creating a cohesive environment to work and function effectively has hinged on a can-do attitude. Indeed, we have a choice “to keep the combat mode of the righteous mind from kicking in” or we can opt to let things go sour. But at the end, we have to restore the balance. We cannot function in a chaotic society.
Jonathan Haidt’s statement is certainly unsettling. The idea of seeing another person’s angle takes time, patience and humility. There is a fear in us, that knowing another point of view might change us, and we strongly resist it. On the surface, it amounts to self-negation, compromise or giving up on our own values, but shamelessly some of us demand the same from others.
The Tsarnaev brothers chose murder over the hard work of persuasion. They simply did not understand how democracy functions.
The Muslim community has done everything possible to guard the safety of fellow Americans, and nearly all of the bad guys caught by the FBI were reported by Muslims. Indeed the NYPD surveillance report violated civil rights, but the outcome absolved the Muslim community from radicalization.
GOP Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House’s homeland security subcommittee said this week: “Ninety-nine percent of Muslims are outstanding Americans, but the fact is, that’s where the threat is coming,” and added, ““If you know a threat is coming from a certain community, that’s where you look.”
As a Muslim I welcome this with a caution to Congressman Peter King: No witch hunting, sir. You will do more harm to the cohesive fabric of America than those terrorists could ever do. Please heed the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr. He said “Injustice to one is injustice to all.” Inflicting apprehension on Muslims is drilling fear in all Americans.
Since the Newtown massacre, 3,300 Americans have been killed in violence. Was the Newtown killer, Wisconsin shooter or Denver murderer authorized by American Christians to kill? American Muslims did not authorize Major Nidal and Faisal Shahzad either. Indeed, if they had any inkling, they would have been the first to report them to the FBI.
Timothy McVeigh was a loney and acted on his own, so are the Tsarnaev brothers who acted on their own. US News on NBC reports that Dzhokhar has admitted to acting alone.
As a society we need to make an effort to be inclusive in everything we do, from schools to places of worship and work place, a new culture of cohesiveness needs to emerge, where no one feels alienated. We need to watch for those, who have difficulty in resolving conflicts through dialogue and fall prey to the temptations of taking other's life.
Boston Attack Spotlights Struggle Half a World Away
By David M. Herszenhorn and Andrew E. Kramer
With an automatic weapon at his side and a black flag behind him, the Islamic rebel explained in a video why he had gone to war with his government. As is often the case in the broiling Muslim insurgency here in the North Caucasus, his complaints were intensely local: a police commander had announced a policy of harassing and threatening family members of suspected militants.
The rebel, Gadzhimurad Dolgatov, also known as Abu Dujana, who led the Kizilyurt cell of the Dagestan branch of the Caucasus Emirate, Russia’s most-feared insurgent group, caught the authorities’ attention. In December, he and six other rebels were killed by Russian forces in a spectacular raid involving hours of gunfire and several armoured troop carriers.
Abu Dujana also apparently caught the attention of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, who had posted the rebel’s videos on his YouTube account. It is still not known if Mr. Tsarnaev, who was killed in a confrontation with the police, met Abu Dujana or other militants during a six-month stay last year in Dagestan, or if he was an admirer from afar.
On Wednesday, Mr. Tsarnaev’s mother, who lives in Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital, faced a second day of questioning by American investigators trying to determine exactly whom he met and what he did, and perhaps confirm the statement by his younger brother, Dzhokhar, who has been charged in the bombing, that they were not part of any organized terrorist group.
Still, it is clear from interviews with friends and relatives in Dagestan and in the United States that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had firm views about the violent split between moderate Sufi Muslims supported by the Russian government and adherents of Salafism, an orthodox form of Sunni Islam — a tug of war that has driven the religious politics in the North Caucasus for two decades.
Mr. Tsarnaev sided squarely with the Salafist camp, which includes the jihadist rebels for whom violent revenge and score-settling are a way of life developed through years of anti-Russian insurgency. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, many of the Salafists studied at religious universities in the Middle East, forming a cadre of young ideologues who returned with strong objections to the more tolerant forms of worship they found in their homeland.
At his mosque in Cambridge, Mass., Mr. Tsarnaev had shown a preference for a strict Salafist interpretation of Islam, objecting to a sermon that approved the celebration of Thanksgiving and saying that he would not celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. While those views seemed out of place in the university town of Cambridge, in the wind-swept villages of Dagestan they are a part of the daily discourse, and of a legacy of violence going back decades.
Over the years, the Dagestan insurgency spawned its own ideological framework, based on Islam. In 1998, several mountain villages in Dagestan, in an area known as the Kadar Zone, rejected Russian law enforcement and courts and practiced Muslim religious law, called Sharia.
They were crushed by the Russian military in 1999, but the movement survived. Insurgents say they are fighting to uphold Islamic law and reject Russian institutions and practices, like women wearing revealing clothes and the sale of alcohol, and also to substitute for corrupt courts.
Bombings and assassinations are common. Alcohol shops are blown up; gunmen shot a schoolteacher who prohibited headscarves in class. A bomb buried in the sand of a beach volleyball court on the Caspian Sea sheared off the leg of a woman who played in a bikini.
Obscure local grievances have also led to some of the most notorious recent terrorist attacks in Russia. In 2010, Doku Umarov, the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, ordered a double suicide bombing in the Moscow subway that killed 39 people in revenge for the deaths, months earlier, of villagers picking wild garlic in a forest.
Here in Kizilyurt, a town about an hour west of Makhachkala, on the road to Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, the imam at the central mosque, Gadzhimurad Gasanov, 37, said that the Salafists practiced a particularly strict form of Islam, rejecting anyone who did not share their views.
“From the very first day, they bring blood,” Mr. Gasanov said in an interview in his office. “They consider us the infidels, and they say if you shed blood of an infidel it is not a sin.” He added: “These people are fanatics. These people are dangerous.”
Russian authorities considered Abu Dujana among the most dangerous. He took over as leader of the Kizilyurt cell last July, when the previous leader was killed. And he displayed the qualities of charisma — along with ruthlessness and a dark, macabre sense of humour — admired in guerrilla leaders in the North Caucasus.
He rose to prominence after appearing in mocking YouTube video holding bags of rubles that he said he had extracted from the police as protection money, setting the stage for an exchange of insults, attacks and killings that followed.
But after being nicknamed by supporters as a Robin Hood-style rebel, Abu Dujana felt compelled to issue a second, angry video, when the authorities encouraged the formation of a pro-government militia calling itself the Robin Hood band, and working in the same town.
The pro-government Robin Hood band appeared to consist of policemen who sought extrajudicial punishment for rebels by harassing, and threatening to kill, their family members, local leaders said. In his retort, Abu Dujana said rebels might also target wives and children of the police.
The authorities closed this chapter in December when they killed Abu Dujana. But the fight between Sufis and Salafists and between rebels and the Russian authorities continues. On Tuesday, officials said they had killed two militant suspects in the village of Sogratl, 55 miles south of Makhachkala.
Magomedrasul Saaduyev, the imam of the government-supported Grand Mosque in Makhachkala, said that residents had, sadly, grown accustomed to violence.
“Unfortunately, it’s a norm,” Mr. Saaduyev said in an interview. “When we hear an explosion, we get used to it, like a thunderstorm.”
Running Toward the Boston Marathon Chaos
By Zachary Bell
An improvised explosive device is meant to disrupt as well as kill and maim. This is a central element to guerrilla warfare tactics used by terrorists worldwide. The idea is that the device will not only cause physical harm but also incite fear, which will lead to chaos and more fear.
In combat, when a device explodes and is followed by a rocket-propelled grenade or mortar fire, it is hard to gather yourself and decide on your next action. In the Marine Corps, you are trained again and again to overcome this confusion. Repetition and muscle memory, the trainers hope, will help create instincts that guide a Marine through chaotic, violent moments.
Part of our training involves learning about Gunnery Sgt. Dan Daly, a two-time Medal of Honor recipient who in 1918, at the Battle of Belleau Wood during World War I, urged his men forward during an assault on German positions with the words: “Do you want to live forever?” Marines take that story to heart. It is part of our tradition, part of what it means to be a Marine.
I would repeat his words, in a less sanitized way, to inspire my squad before each patrol. It always brought a smile to their faces before we stepped into harm’s way. A version of Sergeant Daly’s quote lives on as the title of the Marine Corps’ current recruiting campaign: “Toward the Sounds of Chaos.” The phrase comes naturally to us.
Yet last Monday, I saw something more jaw-dropping than the tragedy at the Boston Marathon itself: people, many of them civilians, running toward the chaos. I saw police officers, marathon runners, race volunteers and even bystanders who did not flee, but moved toward the bomb blasts, without regard for their own safety, trying to provide assistance to the injured.
Mr. Rogers was a staple of my childhood. A quote of his sticks with me today. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news,” he said, “my mother would say to me: ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
For too long now, America has been polarized on issues ranging from gun control to school lunches. Last week, I saw people from every walk of life, undoubtedly of differing political opinions and religious beliefs, run toward the chaos. We will and should never forget this day. But we should also remember that even when we as a country get knocked down, we get up and run toward the chaos.
Zachary Edward Bell served with the First Battalion, Sixth Marines, from 2007 to 2011 as a rifleman, participating in two deployments to Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He lives in Tennessee with his wife and two children, works for a nonprofit veterans organization and plans to attend college in the fall to study clinical psychology.
2 U.S. Agencies Added Boston Bomb Suspect to Watch Lists
By Eric Schmitt and Michael S. Schmidt
Despite being told in 2011 that an F.B.I. review had found that a man who went on to become one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings had no ties to extremists, the Russian government asked the Central Intelligence Agency six months later for whatever information it had on him, American officials said Wednesday.
After its review, the C.I.A. also told the Russian intelligence service that it had no suspicious information on the man, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in a shootout with the police early last Friday. It is not clear what prompted the Russians to make the request of the C.I.A.
The upshot of the American inquiries into Mr. Tsarnaev’s background was that even though he was found to have no connections to extremist groups, his name was entered into two different United States government watch lists in late 2011 that were designed to alert the authorities if he traveled overseas.
The picture emerging Wednesday was of a counterterrorism bureaucracy that had at least four contacts with Russian spy services about Mr. Tsarnaev in the year before he took a six-month trip to Russia in 2012, but never found reason to investigate him further after he returned, or at any time before last week’s attacks in Boston that killed 3 people and injured more than 260.
Lawmakers this week criticized federal officials for failing to share investigative leads in the months leading up to the attack, and the new disclosures are likely to increase Congressional scrutiny of why the authorities did not pay more attention to an overseas visit that may have helped radicalize Mr. Tsarnaev.
After the C.I.A. cleared him of any ties to violent extremism in October 2011, it asked the National Counterterrorism Center, the nation’s main counterterrorism agency, to add his name to a watch list as a precaution, an American intelligence official said Wednesday. Other agencies, including the State Department, the Homeland Security Department and the F.B.I., were alerted.
That database, the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, contains about 700,000 names. It is the main repository from which other government watch lists are drawn, including the F.B.I.’s Terrorist Screening Database and the Transportation Security Administration’s “no fly” list.
The information conveyed to the watch list included a transliteration from Cyrillic of Mr. Tsarnaev’s name — “Tamerlan Tsarnayev” — two dates of birth (both incorrect, officials said), and one possible variant spelling of his name.
The first Russian request came in March 2011 through the F.B.I.’s office in the United States Embassy in Moscow. The one-page request said Mr. Tsarnaev “had changed drastically since 2010” and was preparing to travel to a part of Russia “to join unspecified underground groups.”
In response, counterterrorism agents in the F.B.I.’s field office in Boston, near where Mr. Tsarnaev was living, began a review to determine whether he had extremist tendencies or ties to terrorist groups. The review included examining criminal databases and conducting interviews with Mr. Tsarnaev and his family.
The agents concluded by June 2011 that they could not find any connections to extremists, and in August the results of the assessment were provided to the Russians, according to the United States official. At the time, F.B.I. agents requested additional information on Mr. Tsarnaev and asked to be informed of any further developments.
In closing out its report, the F.B.I.’s field office in Boston added Mr. Tsarnaev’s name to a second watch list, the Treasury Enforcement Communications System, or TECS, which was set up to send an electronic message to customs officials whenever Mr. Tsarnaev left the country.
Shortly thereafter, the F.B.I. repeated its request to the Russians for more information. The Russians, however, did not respond with anything new.
But a month later, the Russians sent the C.I.A. the same request for information on Mr. Tsarnaev that they had sent the F.B.I. .
That request prompted the C.I.A. to review its databases for information on Mr. Tsarnaev, but the agency came to a similar conclusion as the F.B.I. Around that time, the F.B.I. learned of the request to the C.I.A. and for the second time since providing its findings to the Russians in June, it went back and asked them for additional information on Mr. Tsarnaev, according to the official.
The official said the Russians never provided any additional information on Mr. Tsarnaev until after he was killed as he and his brother, Dzhokhar, tried to evade police officers who were chasing them in Watertown, Mass.
When Tamerlan Tsarnaev left the country on Jan. 12, 2012, for a six-month trip to Dagestan and Chechnya, predominantly Muslim republics in the North Caucasus region of Russia, his flight reservation set off a security alert to customs authorities, the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, told a Senate committee on Tuesday.
But Mr. Tsarnaev’s departure apparently did not set off a similar alert on the TIDE watch list because the spelling variants of his name and the birth dates entered into the system — exactly how the Russian government had provided the data months earlier — were different enough from the correct information to prevent an alert, a United States official said.
When Mr. Tsarnaev returned in July, the travel alert “was more than a year old and had expired,” Ms. Napolitano said.
The new details about the investigation and the coordination between American intelligence emerged as the deputy F.B.I. director, Sean Joyce, and other top counterterrorism officials briefed lawmakers for a second day Wednesday. But members of the House Intelligence Committee left closed briefings on Capitol Hill with many unanswered questions about what or who radicalized the suspects.