The request of two senators to designate Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an “enemy combatant” reflects legal confusion that, in the name of security, sets a dangerous precedent regarding the rights and protections for individuals in our society.
Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have called for this status for the surviving suspect of the deadly attack on the Boston Marathon. This means denying him the minimum legal protections guaranteed by the Constitution and even sending him to the legal limbo of Guantanamo.
That would be a mistake, because there are legal resources like the “public safety” exemption that is being used now. This allows the authorities to conduct a limited interrogation of the suspect without first reading him his Miranda rights.
The crime committed a week ago was horrific. Its alleged author, a naturalized U.S. citizen, must face justice like anyone else. In particular, when there isn’t a proven connection with terrorist groups defined in the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Act.
It is true that Tsarnaev would not be the first American designated as an “enemy combatant.” The case of José Padilla showed an irresponsible use of this designation, which subjected him to mistreatment and solitary confinement for three years, only to later be sentenced in court for crimes other than the ones he was arrested for. This example should make people think twice before calling for that same designation.
A democracy’s response to terrorism is not sending an American suspect to an island so he can be tortured outside the judicial system. We have repeatedly said that the erosion of civil liberties is an inadequate response and the deterioration of our values is the wrong answer.
This case showed the solidarity and strength of the residents of Boston. The trial of Tsarnaev in a civilian court will demonstrate the solidity of the judicial system.