Justice Not Revenge for Boston Bomber Issues of Journalistic Ethics

By Catalina Righter

News Editor

On April 8, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, known by most Americans as the Boston Marathon Bomber, was found guilty of 30 different counts related to the April 2013 bombing, including 17 which make him eligible for the death penalty, according to an article in The Washington Post.

The only decision left is sentencing, which has received world-wide attention as the jury will 0choose between a life in prison without parole or capital punishment for Tsarnaev.

This is an especially emotional question for the people of Boston, who were most closely affected by Tsarnaev’s act of terrorism, but are also staunchly against the death penalty. According to a piece in the New York Times, no one has been executed in Massachusetts since 1947.

Two main questions arise from this dilemma: Is capital punishment ever acceptable and do the rules change when the guilty party is responsible for terrorism?

Many people outright oppose it on moral grounds. One of the most compelling reasons for this is that capital punishment is essentially hypocritical in its premise. How does allowing the government of a country to kill dissuade the citizens of that country from killing?

A court room sketch of Boston Bomber, Dzhokar Tsarnaev, drawn during a trial last winter.

This brings up an interesting situation when the citizen in question, Tsarnaev, is a terrorist who committed his crimes against the government. Although he killed and injured private citizens in the April 2013 bombing ,Tsarnaev’s true intention was to punish the US government for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a May 2013 piece on cbsnews.com that details a note he left while evading capture following the bombing.

In cases of terrorism, where is the line drawn when the US government is not only upholding the laws of the country, but also confronting a personal attack on itself? There is a very real concern that the US’ treatment of Tsarnaev might stem not only for desire for justice but instead for revenge.

One of the most powerful voices against the US’ handling of this case is Tsarnaev’s mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, who feels that her son was the victim of a country looking to punish Muslims. She is quoted in USAToday saying her son “is in the hands of a predator preparing to tear him to pieces like meat.”

The American public at least, seems  to be ready to punish Tsarnaev. In the same piece from the New York Times mentioned above, the writer quotes former Federal Prosecutor Michael D. Kendall. He said “…the big choice for the jury [in Tsarnaev’s trial] is going to be which is more cruel, life without parole for a young man or the death penalty…They’ll pick whichever they think is worse.”

This is where the fault is, and it is the same place where fault is always found when the time comes to deal with the perpetrators of acts of terrorism: the function of the judiciary system is not a means to inflict suffering on criminals for their crimes.   

Despite how we may feel the utmost sympathy and respect for those affected by the bombing and no matter how much we may hate Tsarnaev for his hatred of us, we should not let those factors soley affect the sentencing.

Should Tsarnaev be sentenced to death for his crimes? Yes, absolutely.

He employed weapons of mass destruction to kill unarmed citizens and caused the death of police officers. However, the main reason a court should sentence him to execution is to ensure that he will not be repeating these actions and that the laws of the country are maintained.

Unfortunately for the victims of the Boston Bombing, whether they are victims of physical injury or emotional unsettlement, the job of the US judiciary system is not to find them closure. It is simply to punish criminals for breaking the laws of the country.

I hope they turn to the many US organizations that are there to provide them with the support and protection they deserve. These start right in Boston, from the increased safety guidelines for this year’s Boston Marathon outlined by Mayor Martin J. Walsh last Friday to the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance that works to find free mental health assistance for those affected.

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