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Weapon of Mass Destruction charge, explained

When you hear the term "weapon of mass destruction," what comes to mind? A nuclear warhead? Biological agents? The sort of armaments so destructive, in fact, they are pitched as grounds for war. Homemade pressure cooker bombs -- as we now know all too well -- can wreak murderous, flesh and bone cleaving devastation. But are the devices used in the Boston bombings really weapons of mass destruction?

The Massachusetts U.S. Attorney announced Monday that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be federally charged with "using a weapon of mass destruction against persons and property at the Boston Marathon." No one would seek to underplay the heinous act that killed three people and injured over 170. But the WMD charge already prompted some confusion, given the D.I.Y. nature of the tools used in the bombings. Nukes they were not.

Last month, before the marathon massacre, Wired's Spencer Ackerman explored the way in which the WMD designation has become so expansive that it is barely descriptive. "U.S. law isn’t particularly diligent about differentiating dangerous weapons from apocalyptic ones," wrote Ackerman in a post about possible WMD charges brought against Eric Harroun, a U.S. Army veteran who joined the rebellion in Syria.Ackerman noted:

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