On Thursday, the United States Department of Justice announced they will be seeking the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bombing suspect. Given Tsarnaev's age (20 years) many are concerned whether the death penalty is the correct course of action, especially in a liberal state such as Massachusetts, which does not use the death penalty. The New York Times reports that even United States Attorney General Eric Holder opposes the death penalty but has authorized it on a few occurrences. The Times writes, "Mr. Holder has said he opposes the death penalty because the legal system is imperfect and he worries that innocent people might be put to death."
All things considered, the United States' decision to seek the death penalty should not be surprising despite Tsarnaev's youth. Reason being the United States, especially under President Obama, has taken a zero tolerance approach to terrorism. This approach includes a lengthy "kill list" in which the government has authorized the assassination of certain individuals deemed too dangerous to live. This is most prevalent with the drone campaign currently being waged in Africa and Asia. Last week, a hellfire missile crashed into Somalia killing a high profile member of the terrorist group al-Shabaab and his driver. As CNN reported of the strike, "The military was authorized to try to kill Godane because of current
intelligence indicating he posed an 'imminent threat' against U.S.
interests in the region, one official said."
The stance the Obama administration has taken on these targeted killings is one of intellectual danger. Most recently, when a drone killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen and imam who embraced jihadist Islam and emigrated to Yemen, the position of the United States was that his ideas, propaganda, and influence made him a dangerous threat to national security - so much so that he was deemed too dangerous to be allowed to live. Of course, the administration maintains that capture is always the first option, but in a white paper issued by the Justice Department justifying the killing of Americans overseas, if the target poses an imminent threat, capture is unfeasible, or the action would be carried out in a manner consistent with international law, then the green light is given to deploy hellfire missiles.
As the New York Times noted, Tsarnaev's case is the first since that of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, to seek the death penalty. Many in the intelligence community fear homegrown terrorism much more than that of attacks from abroad. Since September 11, 2001, there have not been any successful terrorist attacks on United States home soil. While many attacks, such as the Unabomber, were foiled, the attacks at the Boston Marathon were the first successful attacks since 2001 and were carried out by an American citizen and his brother who had lived here since childhood. The United States feels Tsarnaev betrayed the trust the government held in him by granting him citizenship.
It has been determined that the Tsarnaev brothers acted alone with no help from outside groups. The unsettling nature surrounding this fact is that Dzhokhar's older brother, Tamerlan, became self-radicalized - much like that of Awlaki. According to the eight-page document released by the Justice Department, sighting the nature of the charges and Tsarneav's implicit intent as grounds for death, the DOJ charges Tsarnaev with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and the use of a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death, among others. In interviews conducted by the FBI after the incident, Tsarnaev has admitted to carrying out the attacks and has not demonstrated remorse for these actions in his courtroom appearances.
The Obama administration feels it must make an example out of Tsarnaev as deterrence to other similar acts in the future. It should not be surprising to anyone that the Justice Department is seeking the death penalty in light of their increased drone activity abroad. Some believe these assassination attempts do little to deter or disrupt terrorists anyway and members of al-Shabaab in Somalia have vowed revenge against the United States for their most recent attack. September 11, 2001 changed the game forever in terms of the War on Terror. If terrorist do not play by the rules, why should the United States? This is a major conundrum and many innocent lives have been lost in foreign countries through the use of US drone strikes. If there is one take-away from the events in Boston last April, it is that the United States is committed to ensuring the safety of its citizens, even if it means stripping human rights, Constitutional rights, and even killing those who wage war against them.