Boston Standoff’s End Signals Seminal Moment in War on Terrorism

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks from the White House about the capture of Boston marathon and Watertown, Mass., shootout suspect Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev on Friday evening. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama appeared late Friday night in the White House briefing room to applaud local and federal law enforcement officials for their efforts in capturing the second suspect in this week’s dramatic and deadly events in the Boston area. As he did, several Republican senators he has courted in recent weeks were pressing him to treat the young suspect as an enemy combatant.

The president called the dramatic capture in Watertown, Mass., of 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev “an important chapter in this tragedy.”

But it’s hardly the end for Obama and his administration. Local and federal law enforcement officials, in a nationally televised press conference, acknowledged they opted against reading the suspect his Miranda rights. Federal terrorism laws allow such moves in situations of national security, the officials said. Soon, the commander in chief will face a crucial decision that will shape U.S. counterterrorism and legal policy for years to come.

Influential GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, who have met with Obama lately on several occasions, are pressing the president to withhold Tsarnaev’s Miranda rights. Here’s what the duo wrote in a statement posted Friday evening on Graham’s Facebook page:

“The accused perpetrators of these acts were not common criminals attempting to profit from a criminal enterprise, but terrorist trying to injure, maim, and kill innocent Americans.

“Now that the suspect is in custody, the last thing we should want is for him to remain silent. It is absolutely vital the suspect be questioned for intelligence gathering purposes. We need to know about any possible future attacks which could take additional American lives. The least of our worries is a criminal trial which will likely be held years from now.

“Under the Law of War we can hold this suspect as a potential enemy combatant not entitled to Miranda warnings or the appointment of counsel. Our goal at this critical juncture should be to gather intelligence and protect our nation from further attacks.

“We remain under threat from radical Islam and we hope the Obama Administration will seriously consider the enemy combatant option.

“We will stand behind the Administration if they decide to hold this suspect as an enemy combatant.”

The CIA and other intelligence agencies, according to multiple reports, are pouring over previously untranslated intelligence “chatter” to determine whether Tsarnaev and his older brother, killed earlier Friday by police in a shootout in Watertown, had ties to al-Qaida or other radical Islamic organizations.

But the Miranda clock is ticking. Tsarnaev cannot simply be held by federal officials on U.S. soil forever without federal charges being filed. That means the Obama administration — and the nation — stand at a crossroads in the “global war on terror.”

As I Tweeted moments ago, the incident marks a potentially seminal legal moment in the nearly 12-year-old war on terrorism:

“How next 24 hours and the Miranda Rights reading are handled will shape US terrorism policy for years to come. Big moment for Obama admin.”

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett