Should Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Have the Rights of an American Citizen?

Capture and arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on April 19.
Capture and arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on April 19.

This is an issue that has floated around the media and people’s minds ever since Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s arrest on Friday, April 19. Following a four day search for the suspected Boston Marathon bombers, the two Tsarnaev brothers were chased and hunted by local law enforcement and federal troops throughout the greater Boston area. Finally, at around 8:30 p.m., Tsarnaev surrendered himself and was taken into custody. What became very controversial was how he should be treated; as a common criminal, or an enemy combatant.

Almost immediately after his arrest, Twitter and Facebook feeds exploded with updates on personal opinions on how to handle this case. Ideas ranged from common criminal trial, up to right on the spot execution, with many differing opinions spaced between. Keep in mind, the vast majority of these people who posted responses have no legal background, and therefore are not qualified to make a truly accurate judgment from a legal perspective. However, almost everyone has some background in history, as it is a core subject in traditional schooling. History may be the most important key in determining an informed opinion on how the case should be handled.

It is important to remember that Tsarnaev is legally an American citizen, and therefore has all the Constitutional rights that any other American is entitled to. This may upset many people hoping for swift justice, but legally speaking, he is protected. Make no mistake, the acts that he and his brother are accused of doing (and appearing to be guilty of) are terrorist acts, and deserve the highest justice. However, it is important to remember the importance of our rights, and how, historically speaking, events such as this have led to stripping of people’s rights.

At first, Tsarnaev was not Mirandized at his arrest; he has since been read his Constitutional rights. The justification for this action was the safety of the public, and the possible imminent threat that could have been lurking. Notice the reason behind this action: safety of the public. Let us remember Albert Camus’ wisdom when he said “”The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants.” How many times has history seen the rights of peoples stripped in the name of safety? Examples include Nazi Germany, with the theorized Jewish threat, the Communists in almost every regime, and most totalitarian dictatorship have done this in the name of safety and stability.

By not Mirandizing Tsarnaev (still a citizen mind you), it sets a precedent for everyone else who is accused of committing a crime. This is a case of terrorism, but the fact that the accused is a citizen adds a complicating factor into the equation. There seems to be a cross-road for the people in their opinion about this event. Either get the full-fledged justice that he seems to deserve, and deny his rights; or give him a citizen’s rights, and seemingly obstruct true justice.

Of course, it is up to the legal system to decide how to try Tsarnaev, either as an enemy combatant, a common criminal, or a special case trial. What is at stake here is the attitude of the America people and their mindset towards liberty versus security. Let us remember the words of Benjamin Franklin on this subject: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Is it worth it in the long run to deny a citizen their rights, no matter the severity of the crime? Knowing how the false sense of security has been used to deny people their rights, it is a smart idea to think about potential repercussions down the road in dealing with both terrorism and common crime. If the accused’s rights can be denied now, who is to say they may not be denied in the future?

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2 thoughts on “Should Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Have the Rights of an American Citizen?

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