America was, and is, mesmerized with coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing. Coverage has been 24/7 since two bombs turned the April 15 race into a scene of charnel and mayhem.
I compliment the FBI and local law enforcement officials for the way the investigation was conducted. They processed the crime scene quickly and released only a minimal amount of information to the public, initially something I was critical of.
In the days following the attacks, there was a dearth of hard information. When the FBI released pictures of the unidentified perpetrators and appealed for the public’s help, I thought the investigation was stalled. I expected an investigation to take years, as with the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.
Apparently, law enforcement knew more than was made public.
The information gap was particularly felt by the media; many outlets seemed compelled to report every rumor as if it were fact. The Daily Beast has a compendium of “media errors,” and number one was CNN’s report that a “dark-skinned male” had been arrested. The NY Post took second place for its front-page picture headlined “Bag Men,” which erroneously fingered two spectators as the culprits.
Then there were the politically correct pundits who noted that the marathon was held on April 15, which is both Tax Day and Patriots’ Day, a Massachusetts state holiday marking the battles of Lexington and Concord, the first of the American Revolution. Eschewing the possibility that this could be the work of jihadists, these spinmeisters — including Chris Matthews, Rep. William Keating (D-Mass.), and presidential adviser David Axelrod — offered now-disproven speculation that the bombings were the work of right-wing extremists.
Particularly offensive was David Sirota’s Salon piece, “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.” Sirota claimed there is a double standard: White terrorists are dealt with as “lone wolves,” while Islamists are treated as existential threats. He got two-thirds of his wish. The actual perpetrators were white, and one was a naturalized American, but they were Muslims motivated by jihad.
In the past, the administration has gone out of its way to avoid the use of the term “terrorism,” hesitating to use the term in relation to Benghazi. Therefore, it was surprising that the president declared the marathon bombings “an act of terror” on April 16.
While everyone is in agreement that the bombing was an act of terrorism, there was debate over whether the bombing was the act of a “lone wolf” or an act that goes beyond its immediate suspects.
I have problems with the “lone wolf” theory of terroristic acts. Some acts are truly one-off, sui generis. I would place Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook in this category. The motivations are unique to the actor.
On the other hand, if a perpetrator believes the act is in furtherance of conduct advocated by others of similar belief, or is knowingly abetted by others, can we truly say that the actor is a lone wolf? Such a claim is often used as a modesty shield to hide a politically inconvenient truth.
The perpetrators of the Boston bombing are believed to be two Chechen Muslim brothers, Tamerlan, 26, and Dzhokhar, 19, Tsarnaev, who have been in the United States for a decade. Are they domestic or foreign terrorists?
The Tsarnaevs entered this country on tourist visas in 2002. Both got asylum and permanent resident status. Dzhokhar took the oath of citizenship on Sept. 11, 2012.
The brothers’ social media sites show increasing radicalization and focus on Islam.
The Russians gave us a heads-up about Tamerlan in 2011 but, after investigation, the FBI found no terrorist connections.
Last January the older brother went to Russia with reported side trips to Chechnya and Dagestan, where Dzhokhar was born.
Chechens have a history of violence as part of a movement to separate from Russia and have perpetrated terrorist attacks inside Russia that resulted in massive casualties. They have also taken to the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq as part of Islamist forces. It is doubtful that the Boston attack was about separatism.
There are many questions to be answered and issues to be considered:
With immigration reform on the front burner, reformers should take a close look at the case of the Tsarnaevs. As with the 9/11 hijackers, this raises the issue of border security.
In questioning Dzhokhar, a citizen who allegedly committed crimes on American soil, the FBI held off on reading him his Miranda rights, claiming that there was an immediate public safety threat. This could affect a trial in a civilian court, where, the administration has said, it would prefer to prosecute terrorists.
Lastly, there is an immediate issue of public safety: Will the government reconsider its position on enhanced interrogation? Calling Jack Bauer.