Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) pushed hard earlier this week to classify Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant. But this debate is over: Tsarnaev is an American citizen who confessed that he and his brother committed the Boston Marathon bombing, suggesting that they did not receive help from international terrorist groups. Though he confessed before being mirandized, prosecutors have more than enough evidence to convict him.
For critics who continue to push for enemy combatant status, Dana Milbank argued it succinctly in his properly titled Washington Post column, Military Tribunals Don’t Work:
Of the 800 people to pass through Gitmo, Bravin reports, there have been all of seven convictions in the tribunals: five plea bargains and two trials, only one of which was contested. The trials cost the government hundreds of thousands of dollars per week (much of it due to judges, lawyers, witnesses, journalists and all the rest who must be flown to the base in Cuba, where some sleep in tents) and produce questionable outcomes.
The numbers don’t lie. Since 9/11, federal courts have completed nearly 500 cases related to international terrorism, often using information received from people who cooperate. Of those, 67 cases have involved individuals captured overseas.
The bottom line: federal courts are the best judicial tool in America against terrorism. Those charged with terror are almost always convicted and often with long prison terms. Military commissions, however, have been a headache—needlessly delaying many high-profile terrorism prosecutions.
Tsarnaev, a self-proclaimed “enemy of the United States” who tried to kill Americans in “allegiance to Islam” is not a soldier. He is a terrorist–a criminal. Charging him as an enemy combatant will confirm his and others’ view that terrorists fueled by religious radicalism are soldiers in a global religious war. That’s clearly not the case.
Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar warns in an Reuters opinion piece that federal court critics should be wary of what they wish for. “This is not the time to derail the case by diverting it to a system that has repeatedly failed elsewhere,” Eviatar writes.
Americans will get justice from the Boston bombing. And we will get it from our federal courts.