It’s understandable why some Americans, including some prominent U.S. Senators, wanted to see Dzhokhar Tsarnaev declared an enemy combatant for his role in the Boston Marathon bombings.
After all, American citizens were targeted, maimed and murdered on U.S. soil during one of this nation’s most prestigious and public sporting events.
Americans have a right to feel violated.
Nevertheless, the Obama administration made the right decision to try the 19-year-old Tsarnaev in a civilian court.
Tsarnaev — who along with his older and deceased brother, Tamerlan, allegedly planted two pressure cooker bombs near the finish line of last week’s Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring scores more — is an American citizen. He was naturalized in 2012.
That means something.
A naturalized American is no different than someone born in this country. They are entitled to the same rights and privileges as any American. This includes a speedy trial by a jury of one’s peers when charged with a crime — however heinous.
This principle should be familiar to Jews, for Judaism makes no distinction between those born into the faith and those who convert to it. In fact, Jewish tradition teaches that a convert to Judaism is never to be reminded that he or she once belonged to another religion, lest that fact be taken to suggest the convert is less a Jew than others.
For better or worse, the Jew by birth and Jew by choice, are equally Jewish in the eyes of our faith, and should be. The same is true of the American by birth and the naturalized American.
There is no difference between the born and naturalized American.
There’s another good reason why Tsarnaev can’t be declared an enemy combatant: it’s probably illegal.
Under the Authorization of the Use of Military Force law enacted after 9/11 and the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, only someone who is “part of” or “substantially supporting” al-Qaida, the Taliban, or affiliated groups can be legally designated an “enemy combatant.”
Authorities were already questioning Tsarnaev before a federal magistrate charged him in his hospital room, which is probably why authorities keep stressing that the brothers probably acted alone and have no apparent links to al-Qaida or other terrorists groups.
We have faith that Tsarnaev will get a fair trial in a civilian court and face the appropriate punishment should the facts prove his guilt. The evidence appears overwhelming, according to many legal experts, and to underscore the severity of this crime, the death penalty is on the table.
Someone should remind Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina of these facts. Legally and properly, Tsarnaev belongs in a civilian court, not in indefinite detention.