Dzhokar Tsaernaev Death Penalty Could Be in Eric Holder's Hands


The decision of whether to seek the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is in the hands of Attorney General Eric Holder, who likely will decide shortly after the prosecutors make their recommendation to him by October 31. Despite the horrendous nature of the crime of which Tsarnaev is accused and will probably be convicted of, Holder should take a stand and make an example of Tsarnaev by not seeking the death penalty. 

Of course, it will not be an easy decision for the attorney general. The crimes of detonating a homemade bomb in a public space packed with civilians, and then of killing a pursuing police officer and wounding others, certainly deserve no sympathy. Indeed, punishment to the fullest extent of the law is justified, if not prudent. The usual supporting arguments will be made: How can we justify spending $33,930.00 per year keeping a domestic terrorist in prison? Why should we show him such civility when all he showed this country was brutality? Doesn't he deserve to pay for what he did? 

However, more is at stake than simple retribution. The United States has been deservedly criticized for its increasingly selective application of the law to terrorists. For example, American citizens accused of terrorist activities abroad can be killed without a trial. So-called "enemy combatants" can be detained indefinitely, and their right of habeas corpus perminently suspended. A fair trial, where Tsarnaev is treated as nothing more than a common criminal, would go a long way in restoring the faith of the international community and the American public in the procedural protections that have been the hallmarks of the U.S. justice system for so long. Refusing to seek the death penalty for Tsarnaev would lend some credibility and some perception of mercy to an American justice system that so badly needs it.

Holder should also take into account the opinions of those most closely affect by the bombing: the citizens of Boston. Bostonians are overwhelming against the death penalty for Tsarnaev. The death penalty hasn't been exercised in Massachusetts since 1947. Though Tsarnaev was charged under federal law, Holder must consider the views of those were actually terrorized by Tsarnaev and his brother. 

Perhaps most importantly, sentencing Tsarnaev to death could transform him from a murderous and tragically misguided kid into a martyr for those who seek to harm American civilians. While he was wounded and cornered before he was captured, Tsarnaev scribbled a desperate note which could easily become a call to arms:

“When you attack one Muslim, you attack all Muslims."

In the eyes of those similar to the Tsarnaevs (weak minded, easily influenced, religiously fanatical, and unhappy) the tale of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar is easily romanticized. Tamerlan went down in a blaze of glory, and Dzhokhar is later executed by the tyrant nation. Sentencing him to die only adds to his legend.

President Obama seems to have a grasp on the risks of empowering the Tsarnaev brothers' cause. After Osama bin Laden was killed, Obama wisely had his body disposed of at sea, after observing traditional Muslim burial rights. There was a discussion after Dzhokhar's capture of him being held as an enemy combatant, in which case he would not have been afforded a trial and could have been executed expediently. However, Obama elected to have Dzhokhar arrested and tried as a common criminal. It seems as though the Executive Branch, which Holder is accountable to, is seeking to take the wind out of Dzhokhar's extremist narrative sails.

For these reasons, Holder should not seek the death penalty. Try, convict, and lock up Dzhokhar like the monster that he is. Let the world know that he is nothing special and that his deplorable and illogical actions won't shake American from its principles. Make an example of him by showing would-be terrorists that what waits for them is far worse than death: indifference, solitude, and obscurity.