by Mark Scheinbaum
March 10, 2013
WHY NO PANAMA HATS AT AMERICA'S TOP TRAVEL SHOW
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- I remember writing more than once, during the national collective freakout after the Sept. 11, 2011, attacks. that what happened in New York and Washington was a crime, not an act of war, and should have been treated that way.
I thought about that in watching how events unfolded in Boston last week. Good police work, splendid teamwork between local, state, and federal agencies, and lots of patience and cooperation by citizens enabled the two men responsible for setting off the bombs at the Boston Marathon to be quickly brought to justice.
That's what could've happened after 9/11. If you turned a bunch of New York City cops on Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, they probably would've carried his head out on a pike in a matter of weeks. Instead, scheming men used 9/11 as the pretext for creating a whole new war without end, and treated the attacks as an act of terrorism rather than a crime.
We're still living with the results of that decision, and will be for years to come. From the Patriot Act to Guantanamo Bay to illegal spying on Americans to the suspension of habeas corpus, 9/11 became the justification for some of the worst infringements on our civil liberties in our nation's history. And even though there is a different President now, the policies inaugurated by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have mostly survived.
That's why it is so important that we get it right in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. What he and his big brother, Tamerlan, allegedly did on April 15 was more like Columbine or Tucson or Aurora or Newtown than 9/11.
The conservatives screeching for Dzhokhar to be declared an "enemy combatant" and be trundled off to Guantanamo Bay are off-base. He's an American citizen. He should be treated like one.
After some initial hemming and hawing, Dzhokhar was read his Miranda rights. He was arraigned in his hospital bed and will eventually be tried in a civilian court, and be held in a civilian jail. The civilian justice system will do its thing, and if the evidence stands up in court, Dzhokhar will likely be sent to prison for a very, very, very long time.
And conservative screeching about how we need more surveillance and more curtailment of our civil liberties rings hollow when they refuse to do anything about one of the most obvious sources of violence - our national gun fetish. We can put up video cameras everywhere, but we can't get 60 senators to approve having a open debate amount the merits of keeping records and doing background checks on gun purchases?
This leads to a very good question. Why are the mass killings at Columbine or Tucson or Aurora or Newtown considered acts of violence, while the Boston bombings considered terrorism?
Sadly, as civil libertarian Glenn Greenwald recently pointed out, "The word 'terrorism' is, at this point, one of the most potent in our political lexicon: it single-handedly ends debates, ratchets up fear levels, and justifies almost anything the government wants to do in its name. It's hard not to suspect that the only thing distinguishing the Boston attack from Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook and Columbine (to say nothing of the U.S. 'shock and awe' attack on Baghdad and the mass killings in Fallujah) is that the accused Boston attackers are Muslim and the other perpetrators are not."
It's been nearly a dozen years since 9/11, and people no longer think it is out of the ordinary that our public spaces are now filled with security personnel. It seems perfectly normal to be searched and frisked and poked and prodded when we leave our homes. It seems perfectly normal that access to previously public information is curtailed and hidden from view. It seems perfectly normal to conduct warrantless searches and wiretaps, to torture detainees, to imprison people indefinitely without charges.
Professionals in the field call this "anti-terrorism theater," actions that look impressive but do nothing to deter actual terrorism.
But these acts do have a larger purpose - to sow fear and confusion among the citizenry that can be exploited by the unscrupulous for political gain. Keep the public afraid of the evil that lurks beyond our borders, and you can manipulate that fear to keep yourself in power while portraying anyone who questions you as disloyal and un-American.
To those who say we must balance our civil liberties with security, I say it's a false argument being put forward by people who hate our freedoms and are looking for any excuse to create a police state.
Our Constitution has served us well through crises far worse than what we've been through since 9/11. The protections against unreasonable searches, seizures, and arrests contained in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments need to be strengthened, not weakened.
Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were not existential threats to the United States. They were, as their uncle Ruslan called them, a couple of "losers" driven by personal grievances we are slowly starting to hear about. They weren't jihadis. They were losers.
Tamerlan is dead. Dzhokhar has virtually zero chance of avoiding a lifetime in prison. And justice will be served without employing the booga-booga-booga of the so-called global war on terror. No military tribunals are needed. No extra-judicial methods have to be employed.
The cops got Dzhokhar. The courts will deal with him now. This how our justice system is supposed to work.
One of these days, when the hysterical people who want us to trade our liberty for security are finally ignored forever, and we treat terrorism as a crime and not as an act of war, this won't seem unusual.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A .from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and has been an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.