Should Boston Bombing Suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Be Charged in Civilian Court?

Some are calling for Dzokhar Tsarnaev, an American citizen, to be treated as an enemy combatant with little or no right to due process.

By Dara Sharif


The suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing could be put to death if he's convicted in last week's rampage of terror that left at least four people dead and scores maimed.

But some critics on the right are crying foul. Could this be a sign of a double standard?

Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is among a chorus of voices from conservative quarters who argue that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is a "likely" agent of radicalized Islamist extremists from outside the U.S. and should be treated as an "enemy combatant," with little or no right to due process.

"You have a right, with his radical Islamist ties and the fact that Chechens are all over the world fighting with Al Qaeda—I think you have a reasonable belief to go down that road, and it would be a big mistake not to go down that road," Graham said.

Here's the thing, though: Tsarnaev is an American. The Chechen immigrant took the oath of citizenship in September. And under U.S. law, Americans cannot be held as enemy combatants, at least not without evidence of collusion with foreign forces. That evidence so far does not exist.

So what would justify treating this American any differently from other Americans who have done the unthinkable? That he's an immigrant? That he's Muslim?

The Boston Marathon bombing, and the crime spree and gun battle with police that followed days later, were horrible crimes. An 8-year-old boy lost his life, along with two young women in their 20s and a police officer at a local college. A dozen more were maimed, with arms and legs blown off, their lives forever altered.

But December's massacre of kindergartners at Connecticut's Newtown Elementary School also was a horrible crime, as was last summer's mowing down of moviegoers in Aurora, Colo. The 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, an outright case of homegrown terrorism, killed 168 people, including 19 kids.

Americans were implicated or charged in all of these crimes, and all faced justice in civilian courts.

U.S. law bars discrimination on the basis of race, origin or religion. Holding Tsarnaev to a double standard would diminish the very American values that acts of terrorism like the Boston Marathon bombing are meant to stamp out.

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