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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?

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AMY GOODMAN: Glenn, speaking to Fox News on Saturday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, should be treated as an enemy combatant.

SENLINDSEY GRAHAM: If you read him his Miranda rights—and the public safety exception is an exception to Miranda that’s really not a terrorist-generated doctrine, it’s in criminal law, and it has a clock that begins to tick. You might get to hold a guy without Miranda warnings under the public safety exception for two or three days, maybe four—who knows? Under the law of war, when you interrogate an enemy combatant about potential military threats or national security threats, there is no plot. So, what I want to do is make sure we use both legal systems, because as the  FBI, the CIA and others put together the puzzle about who these guys were and where they went, I want them to have continued access to gather intelligence. It may be a month down the road when we find out something, so I want us to be allowed to go interview him for intelligence-gathering purposes, as long as the investigation goes on without a lawyer present. And the way you do that is you declare him a potential enemy combatant. He will have a day in federal court before a judge to see if the government can hold him under that theory. There will be a  habeas hearing, whether or not the government can hold him as an enemy combatant, but that comes down the road, too. So, the way you find out about what this guy may have done and who he knows is you investigate the case, trying to pursue intelligence gathering. I’m not worried about convicting him in court. Even I can convict this guy. I am worried about gathering intelligence.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. He was joined by the Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, Senator Ayotte of New Hampshire and Congressmember Peter King of New York, who applauded the decision not to read the suspect his Miranda rights and expressed concern that investigators may still do so. Your response, Glenn Greenwald?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, most legal experts across the spectrum are dismissing that view of Lindsey Graham and McCain and Peter King as not even serious. And that’s the right response, though I do think that it really kind of underscores several important points. For one thing, as radical as that view is being mocked as being, the United States government already has arrested a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil on terrorism charges and then proceeded to imprison him under that theory, that he’s an enemy combatant, and deny him not only the right to a lawyer, but any contact with the outside world or charges of any kind. His name was José Padilla, who was arrested in 2002 and then held for three-and-a-half years under exactly that theory, and there was very little backlash.

But I think the broader point raised by this debate—and it’s sort of odd that the debate is Lindsey Graham’s extremist theory 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—the fact that those are the two sort of extremes being debated, I think, is illustrative of where we’ve come.

But even the question about whether or not this is terrorism, I think, is a terribly important question. The assumption seems to be that this is terrorism. Everybody is running around calling these two brothers terrorists. Aside from the fact that it assumes their guilt, which we shouldn’t be doing, we know almost nothing about what it is that motivated them to go and do what they did. You know, when non-Muslims commit horrific crimes, whether it’s shooting far more people and killing them in Aurora in a movie theater or elementary school children in Sandy Hook or eight people in Tucson, Arizona, where Gabrielle Giffords was shot, quickly, soon as we find out they’re not Muslim, the idea is: Well, this isn’t terrorism; this is just people snapping, becoming mentally ill. The only thing that we really know about these two brothers, in terms of what might have motivated them, is that they identify as Muslim. And at least the older brother seems to have been associated with Islam, although the younger brother doesn’t really seem to have. And yet there’s this assumption—and that’s the whole debate—is that this is nonetheless an act of terrorism. There’s no indication that they have any association of any kind with designated terrorist organizations, any contact with those organizations, no indication that radical political or religious beliefs in any way motivated them to do what they did. It’s possible that that’s the case, but it’s possible it didn’t. And yet, the rush to declare this terrorism, I think, reflects the reality that all terrorism really means—politically, culturally and even legally—is it’s a special category of crime committed by Muslims that result in a whole deprivation of all kinds of rights and protections that is reflected in the current debate. And that is what I think is the most dangerous and enduring aspect of this entire last week, is the continued bolstering of the idea that terrorism is essentially nothing more than crimes committed by Muslims.

 
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