After reading this post by Imani Gandy on Lindsey Graham’s tenuous grasp of the Constitution, I was struck by the contrast between the President’s remarks on the capture of suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the reaction of many on the right, including Sen. Graham, Sen. John McCain, and Liz Cheney, whose only qualification to speak on matters of national security is that her father once hid in an underground bunker.
After Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s capture, Pres. Obama said:
One thing we do know is that whatever hateful agenda drove these men to such heinous acts will not – cannot – prevail. Whatever they thought they could ultimately achieve, they’ve already failed. They failed because the people of Boston refused to be intimidated. They failed because, as Americans, we refused to be terrorized. They failed because we will not waver from the character and the compassion and the values that define us as a country. Nor will we break the bonds that hold us together as Americans.
That American spirit includes staying true to the unity and diversity that makes us strong – like no other nation in the world. In this age of instant reporting and tweets and blogs, there’s a temptation to latch on to any bit of information, sometimes to jump to conclusions. But when a tragedy like this happens, with public safety at risk and the stakes so high, it’s important that we do this right. That’s why we have investigations. That’s why we relentlessly gather the facts. That’s why we have courts. And that’s why we take care not to rush to judgment – not about the motivations of these individuals; certainly not about entire groups of people.
That was a statement of faith in America and faith in our criminal justice system. With those words, the President made it clear that we, as Americans, should not be afraid of Tsarnaev, nor should we be afraid of trying Tsarnaev for his crimes.
Conservatives, on the other hand, embraced fear. Sen. Graham doubled down on his stupidity, joined today by Sen. McCain (who bears no resemblance to the fictional “Maverick McCain” created by the media). The Los Angeles Times reports:
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), said Saturday in a joint statement that alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be denied a defense attorney and declared an “enemy combatant.”
They added in a statement on Graham’s Facebook page, “It is clear the events we have seen over the past few days in Boston were an attempt to kill American citizens and terrorize a major American city.”
The two Republican conservatives have demanded that terror suspects not be Mirandized or tried in federal courts and instead be shipped to the detainee prison on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
On Twitter, Liz Cheney echoed that sentiment:
NBC reporting Obama admin will treat terrorist as a “criminal” and not enemy combatant. Will Obama allow him to lawyer up?
(I can’t embed that Tweet, because apparently Ms. Cheney blocked me. Maybe that’s because I asked her: Why do you hate America? That right there’s a double-shot of irony with an ironic chaser.)
But, anyway, here’s the point: While the President said that we “refuse to be terrorized,” Graham, McCain, and Cheney (along with any number of other conservatives, of course) are, apparently, willingly being terrorized. Why? Because let’s not forget what “terrorism” is. As I’ve mentioned before, federal law defines terrorism to include violent criminal acts that are intended:
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government … .
18 U.S.C. § 2331(5)(B) (emphasis supplied).
In other words, the very point of a terrorist act is to cause populations and governments to change their behavior out of fear. Which is precisely what Graham, McCain, and Cheney are suggesting.
What the Tsarnaev brothers did may well be an act of terror (although we still don’t know what their actual motive was), but so was Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and Eric Rudolph’s bomb attacks, and Ted Kaczynski’s, too. Each of those men was indicted for the crimes they committed, put on trial, convicted, and sentenced in due course. Why? Because that’s what the government normally does in such circumstances. That’s normal policy, even in cases of terrorism.
So, what Graham, McCain, and Cheney are suggesting is this: In response to the Tsarnaevs’ acts of terror, our government should change its policies. It should handle Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s case differently from the way it’s always handled cases like this.
In other words, they’re saying that we should give the terrorist what he wants: To alter our behavior, our policy, our way of doing things, in response to the act of terror.
Well, Graham, McCain, and Cheney may be cowards, but Pres. Obama isn’t, and I’m not either. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should stand trial in a criminal courthouse, because that’s the way we do things here.
That’s what it means to say, as Americans, we refuse to be terrorized.