Sunday, April 21, 2013

Two more thoughts on Boston

Okay, I can't seem to let this go.

Last Thursday while lunching with a friend, I confessed I was hoping desperately that whoever set off the marathon bombs would turn out to be what people in this country call "white." The bombing itself had done enough damage to the social fabric; we didn't need an explosion of race hatred on top of that damage. We agreed.

So Thursday night when the authorities put out pictures of the men they thought were the bombers, I was pleased to see they appeared "white."

Like Joshua Marshall, I thought of frat boys -- perhaps college students like those my partner teaches. Boston has lots of those.

So it turns out, I wasn't altogether wrong. They had, at least recently, been college students. And they were as Caucasian as any of us can get -- actual immigrants from Central Asia. But they were also from Muslim backgrounds. So the usual suspects now are howling.

I have to wonder: does the historic practice in the United States of branding people who a majority fears mean that we must now believe that Muslims from the Caucasus region are non-white? It wouldn't be the first time we incongruously applied a racial label for an ethnic origin. It would however be flat out absurd -- and instructive about our notions of race.
Up until the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I was prepared to give Massachusetts authorities and the Administration pretty high marks for not engaging in bellicose posturing in response to the crime. And they still deserve credit for largely tamping down unrealistic fears; a "Westerner's" chance of being killed in a terrorist attack in modern times is "one in three million each year, or the same chance an American will be killed by a tornado" according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.

But then the feds had to blow it by announcing they were going delay giving the surviving Tsarnaev his Miranda warning -- put off telling him he had a Constitutional right to shut up and ask for a lawyer. Withholding the warning is just Administration posturing, demonstrating they are "tough." This guy is a kid who grew up with cop shows and, having completed naturalization, probably studied the Constitution; in theory he knows he has such rights.

I'll outsource legal comment on what is wrong with failing to expeditiously warn the prisoner:
Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said it would be acceptable for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to ask Mr. Tsarnaev about “imminent” threats, like whether other bombs are hidden around Boston. But he said that for broader questioning, the F.B.I. must not “cut corners.”

“The public safety exception to Miranda should be a narrow and limited one, and it would be wholly inappropriate and unconstitutional to use it to create the case against the suspect,” Mr. Romero said. “The public safety exception would be meaningless if interrogations are given an open-ended time horizon.”
Sure, there are lots of things our security spooks want to know from this guy. And they are going to find out; they've got an airtight case with a death penalty option.

Choosing to use exceptional procedures because this concerns a crime of terror signals weakness, not strength. The Administration has turned down Republican calls to hand the guy over to the inept, law-free military commissions, but apparently it couldn't resist making a gesture to our homegrown authoritarians. Too bad; they'd been doing a good job.


Rain Trueax said...

That is one side but the other side is the possibility that someone in the Boston area is promoting violence and these aren't the only two little cells that are being influenced. If they allow him to not speak to authorities, the kind who can get information out of almost anybody, then what if it happens again? Who takes the blame? Their uncle says there is someone who has been pushing for this kind of violent action.

It's also interesting that we were warned by Russia a few years ago about the potential here. We went there, talked to them but with no evidence of an actual act, that was the end of it. So we wait until people are blown up and then we can act?

I didn't feel immediately designating them as enemy combatants was right because this may be just some extremists, but right now the authorities do not know and as much as is possible-- they need to know. What i have heard is that the waiting on the miranda rights is about having some time to assess what is also out there as well as what led to this. It will get dicey as it takes awhile for him to be able to communicate even if he wishes to do so.

One other thing is that Americans should have a right to be told what the government knows in this case. They won't want to do that as they like to hold back supposedly for our safety. I don't trust that at all especially not how they have let Bush/Cheney and their ilk get away with lying us into a war and torture. Too big to prosecute is how it seems to work and that's not reassuring.

janinsanfran said...

Hi Rain -- I certainly agree that we deserve to be told what the government knows as truthfully and quickly as possible. By and large, I think we've been getting that. This Administration seems to recognize that everything comes out -- better to tell us coherently and honestly.

The thing is: the Marathon bombings were not an "act of war." The only people who might think so are nutty terrorists (and dumb Senators.) They were a terrible crime and should be treated as such. Any other response inflates the importance of monstrous perpetrators.

Rain Trueax said...

I don't even know why they'd want to declare them enemy combatants as that would mean they were soldiers and entitled to the rights of soldiers. I don't see this as the same.

BUT exactly what is going on and whether the kinds of bombings that have been perpetrated overseas and heavily in Afghanistan, could end up here and those who do it will see it as an act of justifiable war-- that's more uncertain. There are mythologies that some buy into as a justification for their acts. In this case, they can afford to question this young man, if he can ever answer such questions, and not worry about it endangering his prosecution as there is plenty there without his own words.

IF there are those in the US who are preaching violence and encouraging those with 'skulls full of mush' as my father-in-law used to call the young and gullible, it is something we need to take into consideration for what we do to prevent more 'lone wolf' terrorists who blow up any group that has gathered for any purpose. We need to know what he knows but the truth is we may not get it. We will get pieces though and they are gathering that now. Any religion can be radicalized and find some within it who justify violence to meet a 'higher' purpose. Those who preach such need to be identified at the least.

Act of war is a vague term but if we have a group that is teaching and encouraging the use of violence for their political aims, that is a lot more significant to most of us than the so-called war on drugs or poverty or so many other things.

As for how much we are told... I know that Obama made the decision not to go after Bush for what I consider war crimes. I don't see the justification for that myself. To me you should not be too big to prosecute.

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