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Glenn Greenwald: How Do We Know That the Boston Bombings Were an Act of Terrorism?

Can an act of violence be called 'terrorism' if the motive is unknown?

Kids run past a SWAT truck in Boston Commons on April 20, 2013 as people get back to normal life the morning after after the capture of the remaining suspect wanted in the Boston Marathon bombings. The arrest of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect has ign


Update: Dzokhar Tsarnaev will be tried in civilian court, not as an enemy combattant. 

The following is a transcript of a Democracy Now! interview with Glenn Greenwald on the aftermath of the Boston bombings. 

Authorities have used a public safety exception to delay reading Boston Marathon suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his Miranda rights to remain silent and to have an attorney present, a move that has sparked controversy. The Obama administration has been criticized in the past for rolling back Miranda rights after unilaterally expanding the public safety exception in 2010. A group of Republican lawmakers have also called for Tsarnaev to be held as an enemy combatant, but the Obama administration has signaled its intention to try him in civilian court. Constitutional lawyer and Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald joins us to discuss the legal issues surrounding the case. "It’s sort of odd that the debate is Lindsey Graham’s extremist theory [to hold Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant] or rushing to give President Obama credit for what ought to be just reflexive, which is, if you arrest a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil of a crime, before you imprison him, you actually charge him with a crime and give him the right to a lawyer," Greenwald says. "The fact those are the two sort of extremes being debated, I think, is illustrative of where we’ve come."

AMY GOODMAN: The Justice Department is expected to bring charges as early as today against 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who’s accused with his deceased older brother of the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three people and injured more than 170. An  FBI high-value detainee interrogation team is now in Boston to question the suspect, who remains hospitalized in Boston in critical but stable condition. There are conflicting reports about whether the college student has already begun responding to questions from interrogators and to what extent he’s even capable of speaking, given his injuries. Authorities say they plan to use a public safety exception to delay reading Tsarnaev his Miranda rights to remain silent and to have an attorney present.

The decision to question the Boston Marathon bombing suspect without an attorney present has been criticized by some legal groups. In a statement, the Center for Constitutional Rights said, quote, "However horrific the crime, continuing to erode constitutional rights invites continued abuse by law enforcement, and walks us down a dangerous path that becomes nearly impossible to reverse."

The Obama administration has been criticized in the past for rolling back Miranda rights. In 2010, the Justice Department unilaterally expanded the public safety exception to Miranda. An  FBI memo from October 2010 said the "magnitude and complexity" of a terrorist threat justified, quote, "a significantly more extensive public safety interrogation without Miranda warnings than would be permissible in an ordinary criminal case."

The Obama administration is also being criticzed by some Republicans for planning to file criminal charges against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte, as well as Congressmember Peter King, issued a joint statement saying the government should instead hold the teenager as an enemy combatant.

To talk more about these legal issues surrounding the Boston Marathon bombings, we’re joined by constitutional lawyer and  Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald.

Glenn, welcome to  Democracy Now! Can you talk about the legal aspects around this case right now?

GLENN GREENWALD: The issues are framed by this overarching question that really has driven all of these questions since the September 11th attack, which is: Are we going to dismantle our traditional legal protocols and constitutional protections in the name of fear, and in particular under the banner of one word, which is "terrorism"? And all of the controversies brewing over this case are essentially a byproduct of that overarching question.

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