If Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial teaches us anything, it is that the War on Terror does not discriminate. All accused will be prosecuted with a heavy hand, despite their circumstances and no matter their age.
The most recent boys to join the saga are a pair from Kazakstan, two college friends of the alleged Boston Bomber. On Thursday, federal prosecutors issued conspiracy charges. What’s wrong with this picture? Their real crime is being 19-year-olds with poor decision-making skills. But the system indicting them can’t tell the difference between a teenager and a terrorist.
On April 18, three days after the Tsarnaev brothers detonated explosives onto the Boston marathoners, Dzhokhar sent this text to his friend, Dias Kadyrbayev, who then shared it with another, Azamat Tazhayakov: "If yu want yu can go to my room and take what's there."
When Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov entered the room, they found a book bag containing Tsarnaev’s laptop, fireworks (some opened), and a jar of Vaseline. According to the indictment, “Kadyrbayev told Tazhayakov that he [Kadyrbayev] believed Dzokhar Tsarnaev had used the Vaseline ‘to make bombs,” or words to that effect.”
They took the bookbag to their apartment and discussed what to do with the items. A few hours later, Kadyrbayev kept the laptop, but put everything else in a garbage bag and tossed it all in a bin outside. They watched the news coverage that evening, a day before officials named the Tsarnaev brothers as the bombers.
Though not accused of planning the bombings, Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakoz have been indicted for obstructing justice by destroying evidence. If proven guilty, this charge could result in a sentence of 25 years on top of a $250,000 fine, and then subsequent deportation.
Yet there is no indication that either boy meant to obstruct justice. And according to their lawyers, neither one had any idea Tsarnaev was behind the plot. That may seem like all talk, but so far all the evidence collected supports their claim.
One major piece of information the indictment lacks are messages between Tsarnaev and his friends explaining why they should take the backpack. He never indicated guilt or that crime had occurred. But if, let’s say, the three boys had discussed the bomb plot before Tsarnaev’s text on April 18, Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakoz would have thrown away the computer as well. And when the officials asked for the computer, the two boys would not have handed it over so easily.
No one knows yet why they decided to go to the room and take the bag, but if anything it seems the two made the poor choice of placating a friend’s suspicious request. Perhaps they reek of naiveté, but as do they of innocence.
It seems therefore that these boys are not being indicted for their crimes, but rather for America’s anger with the bombing itself.
Robert G. Stahl, Kadyrbayev’s lawyer told the Boston Globe, “It’s disappointing that the government would charge Dias and Azamat, given that they cooperated fully. Obviously in this situation and the political and social atmosphere, no one is going to give them any breaks.”
But should justice be considered a “break”?
In this era, in the world of terror, and the war we’ve waged against it, the one thing we cannot lose is our sense of right and wrong. The propaganda of post-9/11 America is that terror – embedded all among us – must be vanquished by all means necessary. Even when that means drone strikes and Guantanamo Bay. Our paranoia has forced principle to the side and replaced it with the iron hand of “justice.”
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakoz are just the latest victims of our attempt to de-terrorize America, and show the world that we mean business.
But imprisoning two naïve teenagers shows not moral prowess, but an insistence on skewing justice against those too vulnerable to protect themselves.
If all we want is a guilty verdict in this case, we'll win that fight. But if we take on terrorism and sacrifice our morals in between, we are sure to lose the war.