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“Holding The Boston Bomber As An Enemy Combatant?”: Would Tsarnaev Be Convicted Under President McCain?

That was justice at work. It took a week less than two years, an impressively brisk time window, for federal prosecutors in Massachusetts to deliver justice to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and the jury needed just 11 hours to deliberate. We didn’t waterboard him or send him to Gitmo, his jailers didn’t make him strip naked and get down on all fours while they led him around on a leash; and still, miraculously, despite these failures of our resolve, the people of the United States got a conviction.

I say “failures” above, obviously, in an ironical kind of way. But I wrote it like that because it strikes me that this is a day more than most other days to take stock of such matters and to remember that in this case, if John McCain and Lindsey Graham had had their way, some of those things could conceivably have happened to Tsarnaev. You might be tempted to say, so what, he’s a mass murderer. And that he is. But he’s a citizen of the United States, and citizens of the United States, no matter how despicable, have rights.

But in April 2013, right after the bombing, when the demagogue needle was way over in the red, McCain and Graham were leading the call for Tsarnaev to be detained as an enemy combatant. Not to be tried as one—even they understood that that would be crossing the line when it came to a U.S. citizen. But they wanted him held and questioned as an enemy combatant—thrown in a military brig and then questioned by military and CIA personnel rather than the FBI, a process that would have stripped him of his right to legal counsel and other basic rights to which any citizen is entitled.

McCain and Graham were joined by their usual compatriots in these crusades, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte and New York Congressman Peter King. Their argument was that holding Tsarnaev as a combatant for a certain period of time would allow the government to ascertain things like whether he had any al Qaeda connections. Graham said at the time that being able to question Tsarnaev without a defense lawyer present was his whole point. That might sound reasonable, if it weren’t for, you know, the Constitution.

I don’t doubt that there was some measure of sincerity in McCain’s and Graham’s belief at the time, but even if it was quasi-sincere, it was just the worst kind of demagoguery. This did not happen in a vacuum, of course, but was yet another instance in a long chain of McCain-Graham demagoguery that went back to the very beginning of the Obama administration, when the new president was trying to close Gitmo, and Republicans—Graham was particularly noxious, as I recall—were running around charging that Obama was trying to release Gitmo prisoners onto the American mainland so they could live among us.

The reality, of course, is that the Gitmo detainees would by and large have been transferred only to the most secure Supermax prisons in the continental 48. But the reality didn’t matter, see, because what was important was to establish the narrative that this new president, with his suspicious name and questionable provenance and terrorist-palling-around and so on, didn’t want to defend America the way you and I did.

Then came the uproar over the administration’s plan to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian New York court. Now to be sure, the administration botched that one in p.r. terms, by not reaching out in advance to then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg and to Senator Chuck Schumer to make sure they’d both be on board. It wasn’t the first time or the last that the administration has aimed the revolver at its own foot.

But where are we now on that front? KSM still sits down in Guantanamo Bay, awaiting trial. He’s been ping-ponged from the military court system to the civilian and back again. He purports in more recent years to have had a change of heart, bless him, regarding the whole wholesale slaughter of innocents business. Whatever the case on that front, the core fact remains that the families who lost loves ones on 9/11 have not seen any resolution with regard to the legal fate of the mastermind of those attacks.

The families of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, on the other hand, got justice in two short years. And this civilian-court efficiency is no aberration. Up through 2011, according to Human Rights First, federal civilian criminal courts had convicted around 500 terrorism suspects. Military courts had convicted eight, and three of those were overturned completely and one partially. It’s hard to find more recent precise numbers, but it’s not exactly as if military tribunals have caught up since then. The bottom line is clear. Civilian prosecutions work, and they live up to (well, more or less—Tsarnaev was questioned before being read his Miranda rights) constitutional standards.

And yet the snarling from McCain and Graham and their amen corner never ends. Obama/Democrats soft on terror is too tantalizing a story line, a toothsome steak that they can’t help but bite into. One of Obama’s more admirable attributes, in fact, is the way he has stood up to this bullying. He’s tried (without always succeeding) to bring our terrorism policies more in line with our stated values while at the same time still prosecuting actual terrorists. If you lament Obama’s shortcomings, just stop today and ask yourself where you think we’d be on these fronts if President McCain had been elected in 2008. His fomentations tell us all we need to know.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 10, 2015

April 11, 2015 Posted by | Boston Marathon Bombings, GITMO, John McCain | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The “Other Than 9/11 Argument”: How Not To Rehabilitate A Failed President

A confluence of events appears to have created a curious new talking point on the right. With former President George W. Bush’s library set to open, and last week’s Boston Marathon bombing still very much on the public’s mind, Republican pundits see value in trying to tie the two together in the hopes of improving Bush’s reputation.

The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin, for example, published this gem yesterday:

“Unlike Obama’s tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11.”

A few hours later on Fox News, Eric Bolling echoed the sentiment.

“I will tell one thing, from you 9/12/01 until the time President Obama raised his right hand January of ’09, the man kept us safe. And there — you certainly can’t say that since President Obama has taken the oath of office.”

When it comes to Bolling, I should note that this is an improvement from his previous stance. Two years ago, he suggested on the air that he didn’t recall 9/11 at all: “America was certainly safe between 2000 and 2008. I don’t remember any terrorist attacks on American soil during that period of time.”

I should also note that neither Rubin nor Bolling seemed to be kidding. Their comments weren’t satirical or jokes intended to make Republicans appear silly.

As for the substance, there are three main angles to keep in mind. The first is the bizarre assertion that President Obama somehow deserves the blame for the bomb that killed three people in Boston last week, because he didn’t “keep us safe.” The argument reflects a child-like understanding of national security and is absurd on its face.

Second, though the right likes to pretend otherwise, there were terrorist attacks during Bush/Cheney’s tenure — after 9/11 — that shouldn’t be ignored. Indeed, it’s a little tiresome to hear Republicans argue in effect, “Other than the deadly anthrax attacks, the attack against El Al ticket counter at LAX, the terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush’s inability to capture those responsible for 9/11, waging an unnecessary war that inspired more terrorists, and the success terrorists had in exploiting Bush’s international unpopularity, the former president’s record on counter-terrorism was awesome.”

And finally, I’m not sure Republican pundits have fully thought through the wisdom of the “other than 9/11” argument.

Bush received an intelligence briefing on Aug. 6, 2001, at which he was handed a memo with an important headline: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”

Bush, however, was on a month-long vacation at the time. He heard the briefer out and replied, “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.” A month later, al Qaeda killed 3,000 people.

For Rubin and Bolling, the response is, in effect, “Yeah, but other than that, he kept us safe.” The problem, of course, is that’s roughly the equivalent of saying other than that iceberg, the Titanic had a pleasant voyage. Other than that one time, Pompeii didn’t have to worry about the nearby volcano. Other than Booth, Lincoln enjoyed his evening at Ford’s Theater.

It is, in other words, a little more difficult to airbrush catastrophic events from history.

I can appreciate the zeal with which Republican pundits want to rehabilitate Bush’s poor standing, but they’ll have to do better than this.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 24, 2013

April 25, 2013 Posted by | Boston Marathon Bombings, National Security | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Saying What Everyone Felt”: Uncle Ruslan And Big Papi Remind Us That We’re All In This Together

From California to the New York Island

From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters

This land was made for you and me.

–Woody Guthrie, 1944

For what it’s worth, almost everybody in Arkansas who can find Massachusetts on a road map was appalled by state Rep. Nate Bell’s grotesquely inappropriate Twitter post. (Of course not everybody can, but that’s a different issue.) At the height of the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers, the Mena Republican informed the world, “I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?”

Reaction from New England was swift, often witty and rarely polite. “Go put on a pair of shoes and fry me up some squirrel, Gomer,” my pal Charles Pierce wrote on his Esquire blog. In a post entitled “Bite Me,” he urged readers to remind Bell “that God loves him as he loves all mouthy hicks.” Joe Koehane, the Boston-bred columnist, was less circumspect: “Might want to take a flight up north and try saying that in person, you waterheaded, little-d**k hillbilly a**hole.”

Note to Nate: Anybody who thinks Boston’s a city of Perrier-sipping pantywaists has clearly spent no time there. It didn’t help that in photos, Bell looks less like a Navy Seal than a guy who’s never personally assaulted anything more lethal than the buffet table down at the Squat n’ Gobble Barbecue Shack. Many Bostonians speculated that his fondness for big guns originated in less-than-robust manliness. Southerners are sometimes surprised to learn that when provoked, New Englanders remember the Civil War too—particularly the Irish.

Back home, Arkansans long sensitive to being caricatured as ignorant hayseeds urged Bell to resign. My sainted wife, a lifelong Arkansan (apart from our three long-ago years in Massachusetts), summed things up wearily. “Oh my God,” she said. “He’s just pathetic.”

It’s merely ironic that “redneck” remains the last socially-acceptable ethnic slur in American life. Fools like Rep. Bell help make it so. It’s a wonder the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce or the Parks & Tourism people didn’t have him kidnapped and transported to Mississippi.

Then after the big dope said he was sorry for the unfortunate “timing” of his remarks, Davy Carter, the Speaker of the Arkansas House, and also a Republican, had the decency to post a proper apology:

“On behalf of the Arkansas House of Representatives and the state of Arkansas, I want to extend my deepest apologies to the people of the City of Boston and the state of Massachusetts for the inappropriate and insensitive comment made this morning by an Arkansas House member. I can assure the people of Boston and the people of Massachusetts that Arkansans have them in their thoughts and prayers during this tragic time.”

Of course they do.

Indeed, if there’s any good to come from evil acts like the Boston Marathon bombing, it’s to remind Americans that the things binding us together as a people far outweigh our differences. In all the rage and sorrow, the words that rang truest to me came from the bombers’ immigrant uncle Ruslan Tsarni and a baseball player from the Dominican Republic.

Uncle Ruslan spoke with rare passion. He urged his surviving nephew Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to turn himself in and beg forgiveness. Maybe he needn’t have said that his brother’s sons had shamed and embarrassed all Chechen immigrants, because we don’t do—or we’re not supposed to do—collective racial and ethnic guilt here in America. But anybody who grew up with first- and second-generation immigrant families knows exactly where he was coming from. Better to hear it raw than listen to mealy-mouthed apologetics on MSNBC.

Uncle Ruslan allowed his nephews no excuses. He found their alleged religious motives fraudulent and contemptible. More than that, he spoke in terms of bedrock Americanism common to Boston, Little Rock and his Maryland home. He said he teaches his own children that the United States is the best country in the world. “I love this country which gives (everybody) a chance to be treated as a human being.”

And then came Big Papi, David Ortiz, a beloved bear of a man who briefly addressed a Fenway Park crowd after a pregame memorial service. Gesturing to his chest, Ortiz pointed out in Spanish-accented English that on that day his uniform shirt didn’t say Red Sox.

“It says Boston,” he said. ““This is our f***ing city, and nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”

Expletive and all, he said what everybody felt. The crowd erupted in a spontaneous roar.

Sitting halfway across the country in front of a TV set at my home on a gravel road in darkest Arkansas, I have to tell you, I damn near cried.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, April 24, 2013

April 25, 2013 Posted by | Boston Marathon Bombings | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Even In Tragedy, A Nation Divided”: The True State Of The Union, The America We Have Come To Be

Ordinarily, I’d thank you for writing.

But truth is, I am not grateful you wrote; your note last week was one of the more troubling things I have read. I do not blame you for leaving it unsigned.

“We stand together,” I had written. “We stand defiant. And we stand with Boston.”

You disagreed.

“Your wrong pal we do not STAND TOGETHER.OH MY GOD we need a CIVIL WAR.The American people against the LIBERAL DEMACRAT SCUM that we have let allow SCUMBAGS like those that would BLOW UP people in BROAD DAYLIGHT to be here … WE NEED A CIVIL WAR.Those demacrats that happen to still be breathing after that CIVIL WAR will have a choice. BECOME NORMAL or you are LEAVING with the 11 million illegals that ARE GOING HOME … THIS IS SO CLOSE TO HAPPENING THAT EVERY LIBERAL IN THIS COUNTRY SHOULD START LOSING SLEEP … THERE IS A CLEAR REASON WHY WE ARE ARMED TO THE TEETH …”

And you know, there was a time, not so long ago, I’d have laughed off your semi-coherent, misspelling-riddled rant. But I don’t laugh so much anymore, because you concretize a question I have been struggling with: Is America sustainable? Can a nation pulling so energetically in opposite directions survive?

We call it hyper-partisanship, polarization, balkanization. But those are SAT words, polysyllabic expressions that make abstract what they describe. So let us face what you embody and call it by name. It is hatred. And it is contempt.

It’s not just you. It’s Arkansas state legislator Nate Bell tweeting, “I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?” as the hunt for bombers closed that city down.

Before that, it was that man in Florida who committed suicide because Barack Obama was re-elected. And so-called “patriots” in the woods plotting against the government. And a sign promising death to the First Lady and her “two stupid kids.” It’s the true state of the union, the America we have come to be.

Yes, I know. Bill Maher once called Sarah Palin a crude and sexist name. Shame on that smarmy little man. But no, that does not suggest an equivalence of hatred and contempt. In volume, vociferousness and pure venom, Maher and the handful of other left-wing pundits who mistake name-calling for argument and coarseness for wit have nothing on the army of Hannitys, Coulters, Savages, Santorums, Limbaughs, Palins, Bachmanns, Malkins, Nugents, Trumps and Becks trolling the sewers of American disunion.

Now, to them, we add you, my nameless countryman, advocating for war. War.

And I am struck by the fact that I am not struck by the fact. Even this is just business as usual now.

A nation is more than common geography. It is also common values, a common way of looking at the world — not that everyone agrees on everything always, but that we are at least tethered by similar understanding of who we are and what that means.

It is that test this country fails now with regularity. We can’t even agree on who we are anymore, so swamped are we by the rage red holds for blue.

The road to Civil War began 153 years ago as Southern states, led by South Carolina, passed ordinances of secession from the Union. But, as a nation is more than just geography, so, too, is secession therefrom. The act represents a tearing away that is as much spiritual and emotional as it is geographic. Maybe even more.

So if the likes of you and Mr. Bell are right, if it is really beyond us now even to stand shoulder to shoulder with stricken fellow citizens, then we have lost more than bombs could ever destroy. And secession has already occurred.

By: Leonard Pitts Jr., The National Memo, April 24, 2013

April 25, 2013 Posted by | Boston Marathon Bombings | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“A Double-Barreled Standard”: When We Say “Never Again” About Terrorism, We Mean It, But Not About Gun Violence

The nation demonstrated again last week how resolute it can be when threatened by murderous terrorists — and how helpless when ordered to heel by smug lobbyists for the gun industry.

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s deadly rampage through the Boston area provoked not fear but defiance. Even before one brother was killed and the other captured, the city was impatient to get back to normal, eager to show the world that unspeakable violence might shock, sadden and enrage but never intimidate. “Sweet Caroline,” the eighth-inning singalong at Fenway Park, became an unlikely anthem of unity and resistance.

The Obama administration decided Monday to charge the younger Tsarnaev , in custody at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, under criminal statutes rather than as an “enemy combatant.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and some others will disapprove, but this is really an issue of semantics. No one has argued for kid gloves and leniency.

There is also the unanswered question of whether the Tsarnaev brothers had contact with some terrorist organization or acted alone. I have no doubt that authorities will find out. No stone will be unturned, not just in Cambridge and Watertown, Mass., but in the remote vastness of Chechnya and Dagestan as well. The brothers’ relatives and acquaintances will be interviewed, their movements traced, their Internet habits minutely examined for any possible clue.

Can the Tsarnaevs’ motive be described as “Islamist,” and would that be in a religious or cultural sense? When Russian security officials flagged Tamerlan Tsarnaev for scrutiny, did the FBI drop the ball? Are there telltale patterns of behavior that hint at dangerous self-radicalization? Or is this tragedy more like Columbine, an unfathomable orgy of death?

It may be, in the end, that there simply was no way that authorities could have anticipated and prevented the bombing of the Boston Marathon. But rest assured that we will move heaven and earth looking for answers. Since the 9/11 attacks, we have demonstrated that when alienated young men who are foreign-born and Muslim kill innocents, we will do anything in our power to keep such atrocities from happening again.

Shamefully, however, we have also shown that when alienated young men who are not foreign-born or Muslim do the same, we are powerless.

It is inescapably ironic that while Boston was under siege last week, the Senate was busy rejecting a measure that would have mandated near-universal background checks for gun purchases nationwide — legislation prompted by the massacre of 20 first-graders and six adults last December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Gun violence costs 30,000 lives in this country each year. Other steps proposed after Newtown — such as reimposition of a ban on military-style assault weapons and large-capacity magazines — were deemed too much to hope for. But expanded background checks once had the support of the powerful National Rifle Association, and experts considered them potentially the most effective way of keeping deadly weapons out of the wrong hands. They might not have prevented the last senseless mass shooting, but might prevent the next.

However, the NRA changed its position on background checks to “never” and dug in its heels, threatening to punish senators who voted in favor. And so, despite polls showing that up to 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could not muster the 60 votes needed to move the legislation forward.

Some critics say President Obama didn’t push hard enough for action on gun violence, didn’t twist enough arms or slap enough backs. Some say Reid could have done more to keep red-state Democrats in the fold. Some say the barrier arises from the architecture of the Constitution, which gives Montana’s 1 million residents the same number of senators as California’s 38 million.

There are lots of explanations for the failure of legislation on background checks, but no good reasons.

Imagine what our laws would be like if the nation were losing 30,000 lives each year to Islamist terrorism. Do you think for one minute that a young man named, say, Abdullah or Hussein — or Tsarnaev — would be able to go to a gun show and buy a semiautomatic AR-15 knockoff with a 30-round clip, no questions asked? Would the NRA still argue, as it essentially does now, that those thousands of lives are the price we must pay for the Second Amendment?

When we say “never again” about terrorism, we really mean it. When we say those words about gun violence, obviously we really don’t.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 22, 2013

April 24, 2013 Posted by | Boston Marathon Bombings, Gun Violence, Terrorism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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