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Why Tsarnaev Should Be Treated Like Other Suspects in Violent Crimes


Whether in the milder form of refusing to read Tsarnaev his Miranda rights for no good reason or in the egregious Republican form of suggesting that Tsarnaev be declared an “enemy combatant,” making exceptions for “terrorists” in custody on American soil doesn’t make any sense. At a minimum, anyone who favors exceptions to ordinary criminal procedure should explain why Tsarnaev is different than other domestic terrorists such as Timothy McVeigh or Scott Roeder:

Creating a precedent where people labeled “terrorists” are not entitled to the same treatment as other criminal suspects is particularly dangerous because it reflects the Bush administration’s belief that there’s a zero-sum tradeoff between civil liberties and public safety where terrorist acts are concerned. As Slate’s Emily Bazelon explains, this is generally a false choice. Among other things, information obtained in coerced interrogations tends to be unreliable (which is one reason the framers included a prohibition on compelled self-incrimination). There is no reason to believe that an interrogation conducted with respect for the defendant’s rights is less effective than an interrogation conducted without the Miranda warning. It’s hard to imagine that Tsarnaev, an American citizen who has presumably seen a police procedural before, would be willing to provide two day’s worth of valuable information without the Miranda warnings but would refuse to say anything if informed of them.

To illustrate the last point, consider the case of another terrorist who killed and was captured in the United States. In 2009, Scott Roeder culminated a long campaign of harassment and violence against abortion provider Dr. George Tiller and his Wichita, Kansas, clinic by murdering the doctor. Roeder was part of a movement that has committed many more acts of violence on American soil in the last 30 years than Islamic terrorists. But Roeder was read his Miranda rights in a timely manner and then given a fair trial in front of a jury of his peers. This is how it should be, and Tsarnaev should be treated in the same way. There’s no reason that acts of “terrorist” violence cannot be appropriately dealt with while adhering to both the letter and spirit of the Bill of Rights.

Among other things, the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings is an object lesson in the facts that 1)the Democratic Party isn’t good enough and 2)is so much better than the Republicans that the choice between them isn’t even agonizing. Add reasonable, moderate, thinking person’s authoritarian Michael Mukasey to those who think that Tsarnaev should be treated differently than other domestic terrorists because MUSLIM!!!!!!

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