I want Dzhokhar Tsarnaev represented by the finest lawyer in America.
I want him put on trial in an ordinary American courthouse to face judgment by an impartial jury of his peers.
I want him read his Miranda rights and subjected to all manner of due process afforded any other American citizen.
I want him to have his day in court.
Tsarnaev is, of course, the surviving member of the pair of brothers who stand accused of plotting and executing last Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing, which killed three and injured 170. He is further accused of the murder of an MIT police officer named Sean Collier at the start of a car chase and shootout that led to the wounding of several more police officers and the killing of Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan.
Given the extraordinary circumstances of the whole business, a movement has sprung—led by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, among others—to deny Tsarnaev the usual processes of the American justice system, and instead to treat him as a so-called “enemy combatant.”
The essence of McCain and company’s argument, in effect, is that the American justice system is simply too good for the likes of Tsarnaev. That the crimes he has allegedly committed are too horrid, too outsized—too much of an affront to all the values we Americans hold sacred—for our usual system to handle. Courtesies such as due process and trial by jury? Why, he doesn’t deserve them.
That, in so many words, is the point.
The American justice system is too good for someone like Tsarnaev, if he did what we assume he did. His crimes were horrid, profane and utterly out of proportion. He doesn’t deserve the sort of patience and accommodation the United States court system offers all those who are accused of breaking United States law.
And that is precisely why we are going to go through with it anyway, and why, if we don’t, we’ll regret it for the rest of our days.
Our system is designed to be too good for those who undergo its oh-so-elaborate machinations. It is meant to accommodate those who don’t deserve to be accommodated. It is built to withstand the most horrendous crimes imaginable and, what is more, to give those accused of committing them every possible opportunity to proclaim their innocence.
Never forget: The burden of proof is always on the prosecution, not the defense. As Americans, we would rather let a guilty man go free than an innocent man go to prison.
Were we suddenly to abandon these core principles, granting an exception in any particular case, then our Constitution would be rendered meaningless.
Let’s not dance around what is surely a central, if unspoken, concern: The danger of Tsarnaev being found not guilty on the basis of a technicality, such as a key piece of evidence being gathered in an improper fashion.
Well: By all known accounts, Boston’s law enforcement has conducted itself with the utmost care and professionalism throughout this whole ordeal. What better way to prove it—if only to ourselves—than to put all their hard work to the test?
Some argue the brothers Tsarnaev should be treated as foreign terrorists, their plot as some unorthodox act of war against the United States.
In point of fact, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is an American citizen who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is no less American than you or me or John McCain. While he (and especially his brother) may well have been influenced by ideas and rhetoric from his place of birth in the Caucasus, in the Boston bombing he and Tamerlan appear to have acted on their own. Can America really be said to be engaged in a war against an individual?
In any case, we ought to try Tsarnaev as we do any other accused person because that is what a great and strong country does.
A great country is one that follows its own rules. That takes every opportunity to demonstrate that its system of laws is superior to every other. That treats its citizens as equals. That presumes a man innocent until he is proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
In the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, his guilt in the Boston Marathon atrocity seems so self-evident and, indeed, so far beyond doubt that any trial will surely amount to a mere formality—a slam dunk.
All the more reason not to deviate from the usual routine. As Charlie Brown might say: We are going to do this trial, and we are going to do it right.