Tag Archives: terrorism

Why is it so hard to talk about Charleston?

By Christopher B. Daly

What happened in Charleston this week meets the literal definition of terrorism.

Here’s a dictionary definition (from Dictionary.com):

noun

1.

the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.

Here’s the FBI’s definition:

“Domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:

  • Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
  • Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
  • Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

So, why do the media find it so difficult to call it an act of domestic terrorism?

The NYTimes was willing to discuss the issue but not to use the term in its main coverage.

The most extreme case (as so often happens) involved Fox News. The Thursday morning episode of the show “Fox and Friends” hit a new low — in which the hosts and guests strained to frame the violent assault by a white man seeking to take his country back as an assault on religion and an attack on Christians. Wha?

Here’s a brilliant analysis by Larry Wilmore, who is getting better by the week. (courtesy of Comedy Central and TPM).gctqv5mtkz5pr8y6j2bi

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Filed under Fox News, Journalism, media, news, terrorism

Govt. releases memo giving legal reasons for killing Americans overseas

By Christopher B. Daly 

Finally, under court order, the Obama administration has divulged its legal rationale for killing Americans abroad without trials, charges, or even arrests. That reasoning appears in a contested legal memo written four

Al-Alawki in 2010.  Getty.

Al-Awlaki in 2010.
Getty.

years ago in the Office of Legal Counsel offering arguments that would justify using a drone to take out Anwar al-Awlaki — who was an American citizen living (hiding?) in Yemen and fomenting attacks against you and me and our country.

Leaving aside (for the moment) whether al-Awlaki deserved to die in a drone strike, it was an offensive outrage that the Obama administration not only had a secret plan for killing Americans abroad but they also had a secret rationale for doing it, and they said no mere citizen could even read those arguments. Now, we mere citizens can read them for ourselves.

You can find the court ruling ordering the memo’s release and the arguments themselves here, thanks to the Times. That is, we can sort of read the memo. The ruling by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the government some wiggle room so that officials could redact (i.e., “censor”) some parts that pertained to secret stuff the government knew about al-Awlaki through the fruits of spying on him. That makes a certain amount of sense, I guess, but any time that the government is allowed to redact its own documents, you have to wonder what’s missing.

In any case, the president should long ago have made this argument himself, in public. If he believes in it, then he owns it. It is his duty to protect and defend the Constitution and, therefore, to show why his actions are in conformance with his understand of the Constitution. If he makes the case and the people accept it, fine. If he makes his case and the people reject it, then he’s got a problem. But there is no reading of the Constitution that authorizes the president to carry out a secret assassination program and not tell anyone about it.

For now, I will pass on the question of whether al-Awlaki had it coming and whether Obama has a legal leg to stand on. I want to read the document and think it over. The policy might be acceptable, but what was not acceptable was the secrecy.

Meanwhile, kudos to the Times‘ Charlie Savage and Scott Shane, who are named among the plaintiffs who pried this decision out of the courts, along with the Times itself and the ACLU. No matter what we each think about the president and his policies, these plaintiffs have done the whole country a service. Thank you.

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Filed under Journalism, New York Times, Uncategorized

Death penalty for Marathon bomber: A reluctant “NO”

By Christopher B. Daly 

[Update, 2.4.14: A new study shows a surge in exonerations.]

I was opposed to the death penalty last April 14, the day before two immigrant brothers allegedly set off two homemade bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, causing death, grievous wounds, maiming,and mayhem. It was a despicable act, and it made me furious (not terrified, by the way).

In the heat of the moment, I wanted to find the perpetrators and punish them. I thought maybe they should be put into stocks on Boston Common and subject to whatever vengeance the public wanted to wreak. I think they would not have lasted long.

The Boston case – in which Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Thursday that federal prosecutors would seek the death penalty – illustrates exactly why we have laws. It strikes me that we make these laws as much for ourselves as we do for the criminals. When we are not furious, we have the chance to deliberate and to make wise laws that we agree to abide by even when all hell is breaking loose.

Before the Marathon Bombing, I thought the death penalty was a bad idea, for several reasons. It has become so rare in the United States — especially in Massachusetts, where the first execution took place in 1630 and the last execution took place in 1947 — that it could be seen as so “unusual” that it is unconstitutional on those grounds alone.

What I find even more compelling is the experience of the Innocence Project at the Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University and similar efforts carried out by journalists and journalism students. For lots of reasons — racism, inadequate public defenders, bogus confessions, and more — there are a horrifying number of people in America who have been placed on Death Row only to be exonerated before execution. (As of today, the Innocence Project tallies 312 cases of exoneration of prisoners slated to be put to death.) And of course, some innocent people have certainly been wrongfully killed by the state — which is to say, by all of us, through our laws and our taxes.

Ultimately, the problem is this: the death penalty is an irreversible climax to an imperfect system of justice. If we could be absolutely sure that our courts never made a mistake, then the death penalty might be worth considering. But the fact is that we know that our courts (and our cops and our prosecutors) sometime make mistakes. So, it is illogical and immoral to cap off such a system with a penalty that has no remedy.

For these reasons, as someone who was born in Boston and works here I am pleased that the Massachusetts Legislature has repeatedly refused to reinstate the death penalty. The last time the issue came up for a vote, in 2001, the Legislature rejected it by a vote of 94-60. Even in the aftermath of the Marathon Bombing, a large majority of Bostonians said they opposed capital punishment. And I am glad that in a time of peaceful deliberation, the people of Massachusetts were able to listen to the angels of our better nature and put in place restraints on ourselves.

In the Marathon bombing, the would-be terrorists used death as the instrument of their purpose. Let us not sink to their level.

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Give the Marathon bomber a fair trial

By Christopher B. Daly 

Here’s my two cents:

As a native of Boston and someone who has cheered at many Boston marathons over the years, I say we should give Dzhokar Tsarnaev a fair trial, which begins with reading him his Miranda rights as soon as he is lucid. To do anything less means that we are falling apart as a society.

The bombing of the marathon was a horrible crime — a violent assault on the persons of those killed and maimed and an assault on civilization itself and all its hard-won gains.

If we in Boston are as wonderful and as “strong” as we have been telling ourselves this week, then we can really do no less that to follow our own laws. We have to acknowledge that, as far as we know, Tsarnaev is a U.S. citizen who committed a crime on American soil. Therefore, he should be tried in a regular criminal court. We should not sink to his level, which was sheer barbarism. Nor should we pretend that he was some kind of soldier. We are not at war, and our courts are open and functioning. (To call him an “enemy combatant” is ridiculous: he was not wearing anyone’s uniform, and he was not following orders. He was part of a fantasy, not an army.)

I will grant that he appears to be a rotten bastard who did not deserve the blessings of living here, but that doesn’t mean we have to panic and throw out some of our highest achievements. We should use this occasion to remind ourselves who we really are — and to let freedom ring, from Cambridge to the Caucuses. All the angry young men in the world should see that we actually are fair, that we follow the rule of law, and that (by the way)  if they mess with us, we will defend ourselves — by following the rule of law.

In other words, we should give him a fair trial — not for his sake, but for ours.

That would be Boston strong.

U.S. District Court, Boston

U.S. District Court, Boston

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Terror or fear?

By Chris Daly 

Is Tarek Mehanna a miserable loser who does not appreciate the blessings of America?

Maybe.

Is Tarek Mehanna a terrorist?

Almost certainly not.

Today, a federal jury in Boston found otherwise. But no matter how hard I try in looking at the reports of the prosecution’s case, I could not find convincing evidence of any actions taken by Mehanna that come close to terrorism.

I certainly don’t find anything he did that should prompt the rest of us to set aside the Constitution and say this man is so dangerous that we need to suspend our precious rights of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.

Mehanna had a first-rate defense, provided by attorney Jay Carney, whom I have covered in other high-profile cases and whom I admire. The problem here is not that Mehanna couldn’t find a good lawyer. The problem is that a dozen of our neighbors appear to have chosen some definition of safety over almost any definition of freedom.

This feels like a bad day for the Constitution.

[Apologies: I would normally post a photo here, and I would make a decent effort to caption and credit it. But I am writing this post on the desktop in my BU office, which is owned by the university. The i.t. folks at BU have apparently put some filter on here that makes it impossible to upload jpeg files. And, of course, they don’t tell us that they have done so, or why. Arrgghh.]

 

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Why everybody gets a lawyer

By Chris Daly 

Here’s the latest from the Globe about yesterday’s day in court for an accused “terrorist” — a U.S. citizen named Tarek Mehanna.

Personally, I would put these “day stories” from Mehanna’s trial on Page 1, but it’s not my call.

As far as I can tell, the Herald is, regrettably, not covering the trial on a daily basis.

 

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