Sunday, April 21, 2013

Boston Marathon Bombing: Follow The Physical Evidence

Boston Marathon Bombing: Follow The Physical Evidence

Today’s post is slightly off topic, but I thought I’d weigh in on the investigation of the Boston Marathon Bombing.  In my view, we’re headed in the wrong direction.  While the authorities aren’t saying much, we’re getting an idea about the direction from media reports and political reaction, and it’s not encouraging.  Moreover, the US Attorney has indicated that the surviving suspect will not be immediately read his Miranda rights.  I doubt the government will need the suspect’s confession to convict him, so the Miranda debate is a mere kerfuffle.  The real problem is that we’re treating this case as an act of war, rather than a crime.

Unfortunately, politicians like Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham are also pushing the inquiry in direction of an act of war. They’ve called on the Obama Administration to declare Dzhokhar Tsarnaev an enemy combatant and urged that the government incarcerate him in a military facility.  While the Administration is likely to keep this case in civilian courts, indications are that the investigation is being organized around the terrorist/war thesis.

Looked at as an act of war, the immediate instinct is to look for the motivations for the bombings and subsequent shootings by traveling to Chechnya and Dagestan where Tamerlan Tsarnaev visited in 2012, or exploring his turn toward fundamentalist Islam in recent years.  In due course, these are worthy areas of inquiry.

I strongly believe, we will get to the bottom what happened and why it happened by treating this as a criminal matter.  So let’s start by examining the physical evidence.  Where did the brothers get the bomb-making materials? Apparently, they had an overwhelming amount of firepower as evidenced by the first exchange of gunfire with the police in Watertown.  How did they acquire their weapons and ammunition?  Who sold or gave them the firearms?  Where was it stored?  Where did they learn to use these weapons?  In other words, let’s see what the evidence from the crime scene can tell us before we search for a motive.

In due course, this evidence may lead us to the Caucasus region of Russia or the madrasah of some radical Imam. On the other hand, it might take us in a completely different direction with domestic, rather than international or religious, implications.  If we start the inquiry with a Chechnyan or Islamic thesis, we’re going to view the physical evidence through that lens.   Let’s begin with the pressure cookers, bee-bees, homemade grenades, semiautomatic weapons, and handguns.  What do they tell us?

Since Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is unable to speak at the moment, perhaps we’ll get answers to the basic criminal scene questions, and the investigation will be steered in a better direction.  Meanwhile, many in Congress will use this tragedy to press an anti-terrorism agenda.  However, they may find out that the Boston Marathon Bombing has more to do with the domestic proliferation of firearms than international terror.  As we know, Congress has no problem coming up with the votes to confront terrorism.  However, if this case is about firearms, don’t expect anything useful or otherwise to come out of Washington.

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