Graham and McCain would very much like Tsarnaev to be charged as an enemy combatant. Slate's Emily Bazelon spells out exactly why this is all pretense -- Graham knows this can't happen because "he helped write the 2009 law [pdf] that says Tsarnaev may not be tried as an enemy combatant and thus points away from holding him as one. But that’s not stopping Graham and the others from trying to score terror points—and, of course, trying to make the president appear weak. This isn’t about actually fighting terrorists. It’s about running for election."
So far, the rightwing blogosphere is following along like a brainless puppy. Mostly because they too are more interested in embarrassing Obama than rights or justice. After all, it was just weeks ago that half of them where defending the right of suspects like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to due process in the case of drone attacks on American citizens. But that was because the Obama administration held the opposite view, not because they gave a damn. Now that an American citizen is not in the sights of a drone hitman, they're all wondering why anyone would be at all concerned about due process for terrorists. As always, consistency is not their strong point.
But really, what would be the point of charging Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant anyway? Declaring him an enemy combatant would put him in the military tribunal system, rather than the criminal justice system. While military tribunals can be kangaroo courts (and that's the propaganda value for the Dimmer Twins -- to supposedly guarantee a conviction with sham justice), that's not the purpose of tribunals. Their purpose is the try actual international terrorists without compromising their value as intelligence assets. That's why certain rights recognized by criminal courts are ignored by tribunals. You don't get to see all the evidence against you, for example, because much of that evidence may still be classified and you can't possibly clear everyone involved in the case -- especially the defendant's lawyers. "Military tribunal" isn't shorthand for "super extra-mean court for people who don't deserve rights," as McCain and Graham apparently want you to see it. It's a very specific process for trying suspects while protecting the need to keep secrets. So the enemy combatant question isn't whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is an extra-bad guy, but whether he has any secrets the prosecution couldn't allow to be brought out in court.
And the answer to that is -- very , very clearly -- no. Despite a BS Daily Mirror story the rightwing blogosphere fell for, there's absolutely no reason to believe that the Tsarnaev's were working with any international terrorist organization or that Dzhokhar has any intelligence value at all. If you doubt that, check out Tim Murphy's listicle, "The 11 Most Mystifying Things the Tsarnaev Brothers Did," over at Mother Jones. It's enlightening.
According to the Mirror, the Tsarnaevs were so well-trained that they couldn't possibly have carried the bombings out on their own. Yet Murphy spells out some astonishingly brainless missteps that point not only to a lack of training, by a complete lack of any advance planning. Dzhokar made no effort at all to keep his face covered during the Marathon -- even going so far as to turn his hat backwards to expose his face -- despite being surrounded by hundreds of cameras. They ran out of money and used a hostage's card to rob an ATM. When they didn't get enough out of that machine, they tried another -- apparently unaware that ATMs are networked and giving prosecutors one more photo as evidence. That hostage escaped when the brothers stopped at a gas station to get snacks. They kept the hostage's cell, allowing police to track them using the phone's GPS. Among the weaponry they brought with them was a BB gun. A crack squad of highly trained international terrorists they were not.
And if they weren't working alone, how did they run out of money, anyway? Did Al Qaeda go broke at exactly the wrong time? For that matter, why did they have to resort to carjacking? People in terrorist sleeper cells would tend to have cars, I'd imagine. Someone could supply them with another. They were obviously alone, without support. The enemy combatant classification would make no sense.
The call to have Tsarnaev tried as an enemy combatant is shameless, grandstanding opportunism and nothing more. It's a PR move meant to make the president look weak, while making neocon tools like Graham and McCain look like they're super-serious about terrorism -- but a brief examination of the facts proves that they're not.
Like the anti-immigrant zealot Charles Grassley, these two are pimping tragedy to advance a political agenda. I'd say they should be ashamed, but the first qualification of a Republican candidate for anything seems to be shamelessness. So that's a dead end right there.
But that shouldn't stop you from being disgusted by them. They've taken a national tragedy and run with it, just as they did with 9/11. It's just as contemptible now as it was then.
[photo by isafmedia]
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