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Boston bomb suspect is in civilian court, where he belongs

Apr 25, 2013 By The Baltimore Sun

A 19-year-old naturalized American citizen is accused of committing a crime of violence in the United States, and a gaggle of elected officials are urging for him to be treated as an enemy combatant and placed in the hands of the military. Not just the usual suspects, but Rep. Peter King, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. John McCain are leading the chorus.

Thankfully, President Barack Obama did not listen, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was charged in his hospital bed this week by federal officials with using a weapon of mass destruction and malicious destruction of property. Civilian courts are more than capable of handling this case, and the rush to judgment by Messrs. King, Graham and McCain says much about the willingness of some to jettison the Constitution when it's convenient.

No definite connection between the bombing and al-Qaida has been documented. Indeed, it's not clear that Mr. Tsarnaev, who remains in serious but stable condition, has a link to any organized group, terrorist or otherwise.

The only details these elected officials know for certain is that the suspect is Muslim and that his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed Friday in a shootout with police, visited the Russian province of Dagestan last year. That rightly raises suspicions that the CIA, FBI and military are no doubt exploring in their interrogation of the teenager.

Are we really so distrustful of our own legal system that we think it's incapable of dealing with someone who police believe helped set off the bombs at the Boston Marathon? When we already have numerous video recordings of the Tsarnaev brothers in the act? And witnesses to their other criminal behavior?

If our police, prosecutors and courts can't mete out justice in a bombing case, how can we trust the legal systems for any murder or similar crime? Are the victims of those crimes less important? If it's about the perpetrators' political motivations, then what about Oklahoma City or the Unabomber or the various Ku Klux Klan attacks of years past?

The proper response to terrorism is never to panic. It is to react appropriately to the act, to deter similar behavior in the future and to bring those responsible to justice as swiftly as possible. Surely, we've learned this lesson enough by now.

We won't speculate on the exact motivations behind the bombings or whether there's a substantial overseas connection. We can wait to hear the evidence. Surely, elected officials can do the same. To act otherwise is not only to invite future acts of terrorism but to erode public faith in our founding principles and most specifically in a criminal justice system that has served this nation well. Civilian prosecutors and courts have brought innumerable murderers of every race, creed and religious faith to justice under the protections of a time-tested Constitution we should not be nearly so anxious to circumvent.

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