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April 24, 2013

Justice without extreme measures

“Who wouldn’t use torture on this punk to save more lives?”

So tweeted state Sen. Greg Ball, R-Carmel, last week after Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was apprehended. 

Fortunately for us, the answer to Ball’s question is, “The U.S. government.” 

So far, Tsarnaev has been cooperating with authorities. Unable to speak because of a gunshot wound to his throat, the 19-year-old has been nodding “yes” or “no” to questions asked by investigators about the motives and background for the April 22 bombing, which killed three people and wounded more than 200.  

Ball wasn’t the only one calling for extreme measures in dealing with Tsarnaev, who was charged Monday with one count of using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and one count of malicious destruction of property by means of an explosive device resulting in death. 

Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain argued that Tsarnaev should be treated as an enemy combantant, which would mean he would not be entitled to his Miranda rights (the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, among others). 

This strategy was rejected by the Obama administration in what conservative critics have called a mistake. 

We disagree. 

“We need to know about any possible future attacks which could take additional American lives,” the senators wrote. “The least of our worries is a criminal trial which will likely be held years from now.”

As crucial as it is to determine if any additional threats exist, the extreme step of declaring Tsarnaev an enemy combatant does not seem to fit the situation at hand. 

For one thing, there is no indication right now that the suspect and his older brother, Tamerlan, were working under the umbrella of a terrorist organization. We may still learn of such ties, but at this stage of the investigation, the brothers are being characterized as “self-radicalized jihadists,” according to a source in the U.S. government quoted by CNN. 

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