I am bothered by all the discussion over Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. I am bothered by the outbursts, the ignorance, and the “I love America!” outcry that inevitably breaks out when a tragedy on this scale occurs. I have been told this means I am sympathizing with terrorism. But sympathy and concern are not the same.
I want justice to be done for both the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and for Tsarnaev. We’ve heard the calls to treat him as an enemy combatant, to summarily pronounce him guilty, even to kill him in the public square without trial. There were even calls to reinstate the death penalty in Massachusetts for this one occasion. But justice is not something you do to someone, it’s something you do for someone. Justice is a service, not a punishment. It is because of the faith I have in this country, the belief I have in the rightness of our justice system, and yes, even the patriotic love I have for the United States that I say Dzhokhar Tsarnaev deserves the chance to be tried before a jury of his peers.
Not because I think he’s innocent. This is the modern age. There is overwhelming evidence of his guilt. I expect him to plead guilty to avoid the circus, because a jury of his peers is certainly going to convict him. He is going to prison for the rest of his life, no matter what happens. But regardless of how obviously guilty he is, this does not mean that we get to skip right to the sentencing. Tsarnaev is guaranteed certain rights in the Constitution. And he ought to receive every last one.
Tsarnaev immigrated to the country legally and for a legitimate purpose ““ legal asylum as a Chechen refugee. He is not a foreign national who entered domestic soil for the sole purpose of causing harm, therefore he is not an enemy combatant. He cannot be indefinitely detained or summarily judged. He is entitled to the criminal rights outlined in the Bill of Rights, the same as you or me.
We should want to give him those rights, too. Every time we deny someone their full rights ““ jury, fair and speedy trial, secure from unreasonable searches and seizures, cruel and unusual punishment ““ we erode just a little bit of the freedoms won for us by our founding fathers. And we don’t just erode them for the obviously guilty, we erode them for the possibly innocent. This is one issue where we cannot afford to give an inch. The criminal justice system is time-consuming. But it’s important to go through all those steps. Every time we follow all the rules, we’re keeping those rights safe and available for everyone.
This country is a great place. And while the Great American Experiment is still running, and does not always run smoothly, I firmly believe it’s headed in the right direction. Here, everyone is, or at least should be, treated fairly and equally under the law. Even you. Even me. Even a terrorist.