Boston bombing suspect faces civilian court, not ‘enemy combatant’ status

Question of the Day

What has been the biggest debacle on Obama's watch?

View results

Federal prosecutors charged suspected bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Monday with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction in the deadly attack on the Boston Marathon, as the Obama administration opted for a civilian court with a possible death sentence over dubbing him an “enemy combatant” for investigative reasons.

Listed in serious but stable condition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and unable to speak because of a gunshot wound to the throat, Tsarnaev, 19, was accused in a criminal complaint unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court in Boston of conspiring with his brother, Tamerlan, 26, to set off two bombs near the crowded and festive marathon finish line. The elder brother died later during a frantic shootout with police.


SEE ALSO: Attack on Boston puts Obama’s anti-terrorism policy to the test


Tsarnaev is conscious and responded to questions from authorities in writing, but the criminal complaint shed no light on the motive of the attack.

An affidavit in the case by FBI agent Daniel R. Genck said Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was seen using a cellphone after placing a knapsack on the ground at the second explosion site and that he was calm when the first explosion triggered chaos around him.

“Approximately 10 seconds later, an explosion occurs in the location where Bomber Two had placed his knapsack,” said the affidavit. It did not indicate whether they thought it was triggered by the cellphone.

The charges were filed exactly one week after the deadly explosions, which survivors, residents and state officials remembered with a moment of silence across Boston.

Hundreds of family and friends packed St. Joseph Church in Medford, Mass., for the funeral of a Boston Marathon bombing victim, Krystle Campbell, 29. In attendance were Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Cardinal Sean O'Malley.

Ms. Campbell was one of three people killed near the finish line, and more than 180 others were injured. A restaurant manager, she had gone to watch a friend finish the race.


SEE ALSO: FBI missed Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s Russia trip because of misspelling, Sen. Lindsey Graham says


It remained unclear Monday whether the younger brother was wounded by police or shot himself as FBI agents and police officers encircled and then closed in on his hiding spot in a tarp-covered boat in a Watertown, Mass., backyard. Also unresolved is whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed during the ferocious gunbattle early Friday with Watertown police or died when his brother drove over him in their carjacked Mercedes-Benz sport utility vehicle. An autopsy is pending.

Civilian court vs. military tribunal

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration had no choice but to charge Tsarnaev in federal court. He said U.S. citizens cannot be tried by military tribunals, adding that since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the federal court system has been used to convict and incarcerate hundreds of terrorists.

Tsarnaev became a naturalized U.S. citizen on Sept. 11 last year.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said the Obama administration is wrong to rule out classifying Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant, saying such a move is premature and will limit interrogation tactics that could secure vital information about the magnitude of the plot. He said Tsarnaev’s access to an attorney will undermine the investigation.

Mr. Graham agrees that Tsarnaev isn’t eligible for a military tribunal because he was not caught on a foreign battlefield.

He did issue a stark warning, saying lawmakers must make sure they have the strongest laws on the books for attacks on American soil.

Tsarnaev also is likely to face state charges in connection with the fatal shooting of Massachusetts Institute of Technology Police Officer Sean A. Collier, 26, who was shot in his cruiser during the suspected bombers’ desperate attempt to flee.

The charging documents said a preliminary examination of the remains of the explosive devices used in the marathon bombing revealed that they were low-grade explosives housed in pressure cookers that also contained ball bearings and nails. It said many of the BBs were contained within an adhesive material and the explosives had green-colored hobby fuses.

Devices later discovered at the scene of the police shootout were constructed similarly.

The documents also said one of the bombers told a carjacking victim, “Did you hear about the Boston explosion? I did that.” At that point, the affidavit said, one of the bombers showed the driver a loaded gun and told him, “I am serious.”

Authorities have described the brothers as ethnic Chechens from Russia who have lived in the U.S. for about 10 years. Authorities have looked into a trip the elder brother took last year to Chechnya and Dagestan, in a region of Russia that has become a hotbed of Islamic extremism.

Late Monday, The Associated Press, citing anonymous sources, said evidence from an interrogation suggests the brothers were motivated by their religious views, but there was no evidence of ties to specific Islamic terrorist groups.

Tsarnaev is specifically charged with one count of using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction an improvised explosive device or IED against persons and property within the United States resulting in death, and one count of malicious destruction of property by means of an explosive device resulting in death. The statutory charges authorize a penalty, upon conviction, of death or imprisonment for life or any term of years. Tsarnaev had his initial court appearance Monday in his hospital room, and several news organizations reported later that the 19-year-old was read his Miranda rights.

“Although our investigation is ongoing, today’s charges bring a successful end to a tragic week for the city of Boston, and for our country,” said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. “Our thoughts and prayers remain with each of the bombing victims and brave law enforcement professionals who lost their lives or suffered serious injuries as a result of this week’s senseless violence.”

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, whose office will prosecute the case, called the charges the “culmination of extraordinary law enforcement coordination and the tireless efforts of so many, including ordinary citizens who became heroes as they responded to the call for help in the hours and days following the marathon tragedy.”

“The impact of these crimes has been far-reaching, affecting a worldwide community that is looking for peace and justice,” Ms. Ortiz said. “We hope that this prosecution will bring some small measure of comfort both to the public at large and to the victims and their families that justice will be served.”

Much work remains

Col. Timothy P. Alben, superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police, said that while Friday night’s capture of the suspect brought immediate relief to a community from a public safety viewpoint, much work remains and many questions require answers.

“Today’s charges represent another step on the long road toward justice for the victims of these crimes,” he said.

On Sunday, hundreds attended a Mass at St. Ann Catholic Church in Dorchester, Mass., for Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy who was killed in the attack. On Monday night, Boston University students and faculty members gathered at a service for Lu Lingzi, 23, the Chinese graduate student who died in the bombing. Later this week, MIT will remember Officer Collier.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys William Weinreb and Aloke Chakravarty from the Anti-Terrorism and National Security Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, with assistance from the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks