TAMPA, April 22, 2013 – Predictably, neoconservative politicians have already called for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be treated as an enemy combatant, meaning that he would not enjoy the constitutional protections afforded criminal defendants in civilian courts. Pundits and blog commenters have echoed the sentiment that “terrorists don’t deserve due process” or other constitutional protections. According to this argument, they forfeited them when they decided to wage war against Americans.
This begs an obvious question. How do we know Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed the crime and therefore doesn’t deserve due process, when due process is the means by which we make that determination?
Neoconservative logic isn’t much better than Sir Bedevere’s in the witch scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Sadly, many Americans are acting every bit the mob depicted in that satire.
The entire reason for the Bill of Rights, specifically the 4th, 5th and 6th Amendments, is the assumption that the government may be wrong, even when evidence they have provided appears to support their accusation. We don’t have due process to protect rapists and murderers. We have it to protect innocent people who are accused of those horrible crimes. A person can be wrongly accused of being a terrorist as well.
When the government accuses someone of a crime and seeks an arrest warrant or an indictment, they don’t present both sides of the case. That’s not the government’s job. The only burden they have is to show probable cause for an arrest warrant and preponderance of the evidence for a grand jury indictment. In other words, until the defendant retains counsel and due process commences, no one has even attempted to challenge the government’s theory.
That’s where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s case stands right now. The government has accused him. They’ve presented evidence of his guilt, but no one has attempted to challenge that evidence. No one has questioned a witness under oath. No one has taken a statement from Tsarnaev or given him the opportunity to enter a plea. The whole world assumes he is guilty for one reason and one reason only: because the government told them so.
Do conservatives really want to go all in on that?
Conservatives are supposed to be the ones who don’t trust the government to do anything well. They argue that allowing the government to run health care would result in it having the efficiency of the Post Office and the compassion of the Department of Motor Vehicles and they are right. Why, then, do they suddenly consider the government infallible when investigating a crime?
Let’s not forget that no less than 4 other people have already been wrongly accused of this crime by the public, including a 17-year-old high school track star. Suppose that they had been arrested? Without due process, they may have been executed or spent the rest of their lives in jail for something they did not do, while the real perpetrators went free to commit future crimes.
Dzharkhov Tsarnaev is most likely guilty of this crime, but before the government takes his life or his liberty, we need to ensure that their case has been challenged. We may also benefit from information that comes out of the trial, including who else may have been involved and how authorities handled the situation before, during and after the incident. That could result in revelations that are embarrassing for the government, but they work for us, remember?
Conservatives routinely argue that the United States is an exceptional nation, citing freedom as the foremost reason. If that’s true, then it is not something in the water that makes the U.S. any freer than other nations. It is the Constitution, specifically the first 10 amendments thereof. We are not freer because our congressmen have to be at least 25 years old in order to serve. We’re freer because of the things our government isn’t allowed to do.
Chief among those is to deprive us of life, liberty or property unless it has proven that we’ve committed a crime. The more heinous the crime, the more severe the punishment and the more crucial it is that this restriction on the government’s power is enforced.
If it isn’t for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, it won’t be for you, either.
Conservatives have been arguing for months that the right to keep and bear arms is not important to protect our right to hunt or go target shooting. They have correctly argued that the 2nd Amendment was adopted to ensure that we have the means to protect ourselves against tyrannical government.
Now, it seems that we need to protect ourselves against them.
Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. He writes weekly columns on his blog and his weekly column in the Washington Times has been featured on The Daily Caller, The Huffington Post, Daily Paul, LewRockwell.com, 321 Gold! and Peter Schiff’s EuroPac.net. Tom has been a guest on Fox’s Freedom Watch with Judge Andrew Napolitano, Adam Vs. the Man, Free Talk Live, and numerous other programs.