South Carolina senator Lindsay Graham is one of the GOP’s biggest hawks. So it was no surprise when he spoke out Monday in favor of trying the surviving Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant instead of as a U.S. citizen. Graham and longtime ally John McCain released a press statement with Graham calling for the Obama Administration to try Tsarnaev in a military court as a non-civilian, receiving backing from Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire (who's been intent on becoming the GOP's next big foreign policy powerhouse) and Congressman Peter King of New York.
However, Graham and his allies were clearly in the minority – not only did the White House ignore their advice, but even fellow Republicans rebuffed the idea of treating Tsarnaev as anything but a citizen. Rand Paul, who has taken up the mantle of the anti-neocon of the senate, flat-out rejected Graham’s suggestion on Constitutional grounds, saying that as heinous as Tsarnaev’s actions were, there is no need to go above and beyond the measures usually taken for American mass-murderers.
The debate over how to handle the fallout from an attack like the one in Boston is one full of emotion, and rightfully so; Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev killed four people - three in Boston and one at MIT – and injured more than 200 others. It has become clear that the attacks were likely motivated at least partially by religious and political extremism, and that it was not targeted at any particular person or even group of people. It was meant to kill or maim as many American civilians as possible, and to put the rest of the nation in shock. The Tsarnaevs were not just any killers – they were killers with a message and a mission.
On the other hand, there is no evidence that the Tsarnaev brothers were working with a larger organization with a concrete goal. It seems that the planning, preparation and final attack were the acts of the Tsarnaevs alone. Even if the bombing had killed 3 thousand people instead of three, it would not have presented the same institutional threat that Al Qaeda did in its strikes against the United States. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev no longer represents a danger in any way to the American people, and there is no evidence that his citizenship was illegitimate.
Although there was some mild controversy surrounding the fact that Dzhokhar was not read his Miranda rights upon arrest, few public figures are criticizing that move, claiming it was out of pure necessity. Tsarnaev was in critical condition, and had he not been rushed to the hospital as quickly as possible, he would have died. He was at risk of permanently losing his ability to speak, thus making it more difficult to question him in court. Now that any immediate danger is out of the way, Tsarnaev is being treated as any other criminal, but that may not even matter when it comes to the final verdit, because even though Tsarnaev is not being tried as a combatant, the prosecution against him is still seeking the death penalty. Massachusetts does not practice the death penalty, but if he is found guilty in a federal court, the option of capital punishment would remain on the table.