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Greenwald writes: "The overarching principle here should be that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is entitled to a presumption of innocence until he is actually proven guilty. As so many cases have proven ... people who appear to be guilty based on government accusations and trials-by-media are often completely innocent. Media-presented evidence is no substitute for due process and an adversarial trial."

Connecticut State Police lead children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., following a shooting there Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. (photo: Shannon Hicks/Newtown Bee)
Connecticut State Police lead children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., following a shooting there Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. (photo: Shannon Hicks/Newtown Bee)


Why Is Boston 'Terrorism' but Not Sandy Hook?

By Glenn Greenwald, Guardian UK

23 April 13

 

Can an act of violence be called 'terrorism' if the motive is unknown?

wo very disparate commentators, Ali Abunimah and Alan Dershowitz, both raised serious questions over the weekend about a claim that has been made over and over about the bombing of the Boston Marathon: namely, that this was an act of terrorism. Dershowitz was on BBC Radio on Saturday and, citing the lack of knowledge about motive, said (at the 3:15 mark): "It's not even clear under the federal terrorist statutes that it qualifies as an act of terrorism." Abunimah wrote a superb analysis of whether the bombing fits the US government's definition of "terrorism", noting that "absolutely no evidence has emerged that the Boston bombing suspects acted 'in furtherance of political or social objectives'" or that their alleged act was 'intended to influence or instigate a course of action that furthers a political or social goal.'" Even a former CIA Deputy Director, Phillip Mudd, said on Fox News on Sunday that at this point the bombing seems more like a common crime than an act of terrorism.

Over the last two years, the US has witnessed at least three other episodes of mass, indiscriminate violence that killed more people than the Boston bombings did: the Tucson shooting by Jared Loughner in which 19 people (including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords) were shot, six of whom died; the Aurora movie theater shooting by James Holmes in which 70 people were shot, 12 of whom died; and the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting by Adam Lanza in which 26 people (20 of whom were children) were shot and killed. The word "terrorism" was almost never used to describe that indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people, and none of the perpetrators of those attacks was charged with terrorism-related crimes. A decade earlier, two high school seniors in Colorado, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, used guns and bombs to murder 12 students and a teacher, and almost nobody called that "terrorism" either.

In the Boston case, however, exactly the opposite dynamic prevails. Particularly since the identity of the suspects was revealed, the word "terrorism" is being used by virtually everyone to describe what happened. After initially (and commendably) refraining from using the word, President Obama has since said that "we will investigate any associations that these terrorists may have had" and then said that "on Monday an act of terror wounded dozens and killed three people at the Boston Marathon". But as Abunimah notes, there is zero evidence that either of the two suspects had any connection to or involvement with any designated terrorist organization.

More significantly, there is no known evidence, at least not publicly available, about their alleged motives. Indeed, Obama himself - in the statement he made to the nation after Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured on Friday night - said that "tonight there are still many unanswered questions" and included this "among" those "unanswered questions":

"Why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?"

The overarching principle here should be that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is entitled to a presumption of innocence until he is actually proven guilty. As so many cases have proven - from accused (but exonerated) anthrax attacker Stephen Hatfill to accused (but exonerated) Atlanta Olympic bomber Richard Jewell to dozens if not hundreds of Guantanamo detainees accused of being the "worst of the worst" but who were guilty of nothing - people who appear to be guilty based on government accusations and trials-by-media are often completely innocent. Media-presented evidence is no substitute for due process and an adversarial trial.

But beyond that issue, even those assuming the guilt of the Tsarnaev brothers seem to have no basis at all for claiming that this was an act of "terrorism" in a way that would meaningfully distinguish it from Aurora, Sandy Hook, Tucson and Columbine. All we really know about them in this regard is that they identified as Muslim, and that the older brother allegedly watched extremist YouTube videos and was suspected by the Russian government of religious extremism (by contrast, virtually every person who knew the younger brother has emphatically said that he never evinced political or religious extremism). But as Obama himself acknowledged, we simply do not know what motivated them (Obama: "Tonight there are still many unanswered questions. Among them, why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?").

It's certainly possible that it will turn out that, if they are guilty, their prime motive was political or religious. But it's also certainly possible that it wasn't: that it was some combination of mental illness, societal alienation, or other form of internal instability and rage that is apolitical in nature. Until their motive is known, how can this possibly be called "terrorism"? Can acts of violence be deemed "terrorism" without knowing the motive?

This is far more than a semantic question. Whether something is or is not "terrorism" has very substantial political implications, and very significant legal consequences as well. The word "terrorism" is, at this point, one of the most potent in our political lexicon: it single-handedly ends debates, ratchets up fear levels, and justifies almost anything the government wants to do in its name. It's hard not to suspect that the only thing distinguishing the Boston attack from Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook and Columbine (to say nothing of the US "shock and awe" attack on Baghdad and the mass killings in Fallujah) is that the accused Boston attackers are Muslim and the other perpetrators are not. As usual, what terrorism really means in American discourse - its operational meaning - is: violence by Muslims against Americans and their allies. For the manipulative use of the word "terrorism", see the scholarship of NYU's Remi Brulin and the second-to-last section here.

I was on Democracy Now this morning discussing many of these issues, as well as the legal and civil libertarian concerns raised by this case, and that segment can be viewed here (a transcript will be posted here later today):

Update:

Andrew Sullivan, back in his fight-the-jihadis mode, proclaims that - unlike President Obama - he knows exactly why the Tsarnaev brothers attacked Boston. "Of Course it Was Jihad", he declares in his headline, and adds that it was "an almost text-book case of Jihadist radicalization, most likely in the US." He then accuses me "veer[ing] into left-liberal self-parody" for suggesting today that the evidence is lacking to make this claim.

But in trying to negate my point, Andrew instead demonstrates its truth. The only evidence he can point to shows that the older brother, Tamerlan, embraced a radical version of Islam, something I already noted. But - rather obviously - to prove that someone who commits violence is Muslim is not the same as proving that Islam was the prime motive for the violence (just as the aggressive attack by devout evangelical George Bush on Iraq was not proof of a rejuvenation of the Christian crusades, the attack by Timothy McVeigh was not proof of IRA violence, Israeli aggression is not proof that Judaism is the prime motivator of those wars, and the mass murder spree by homosexual Andrew Cunanan was not evidence that homosexuality motivated the violence). Islam or some related political ideology may have been the motive driving Tamerlan, as I acknowledge, but it also may not have been. You have to produce evidence showing motive. You can't just assert it and demand that everyone accept it on faith. Specifically, to claim this is terrorism (in a way that those other incidents of mass murder at Aurora, Sandy Hook, Tucson and Columbine were not), you have to identify the "political or social objective" the violence was intended to promote: what was that political or social objective here? Andrew doesn't have the slightest idea.

But this proves the point: "terrorism" does not have any real meaning other than "a Muslim who commits violence against America and its allies", so as soon as a Muslim commits violence, there is an automatic decree that it is "terrorism" even though no such assumption arises from similar acts committed by non-Muslims. That is precisely my point. (About the younger brother, Andrew asserts that "the stoner kid [] got caught up in his brother's religious fanaticism" but he has no evidence at all that this is true, and indeed, his friends say almost uniformly that he never evinced any religious fanaticism).

The most bizarre statement from Andrew is also quite revealing: "but does Glenn wonder why Tamerlan thought it was ok to beat his wife, whom he demanded convert to Islam?" In case Andrew doesn't know, domestic violence in the US is at epidemic levels, and the overwhelming majority of men who abuse women have nothing whatsoever to do with Islam. Yet with this claim, Andrew simply assumes that any bad act done by a Muslim - even a bad act committed mostly by non-Muslims - must be caused by Islam, even though he has no evidence to prove this. This irrational, evidence-free assumption of causation that Andrew so perfectly illustrates here (any bad act committed by a Muslim is, ipso facto, motivated by religious or political Islam) is precisely what I was describing and denouncing. And it only rears its ugly head when the perpetrator is Muslim.

Update 2:

The New York Times today reports that "United States officials said they were increasingly certain that the two suspects had acted on their own, but were looking for any hints that someone had trained or inspired them." It also reports that "The FBI is broadening its global investigation in search of a motive." There's no reason for the FBI to search for a motive. They should just go talk to Andrew Sullivan. He already found it.

In sum, neither the President nor the FBI - by their own admission - know the motive here nor have evidence showing it, but Andrew Sullivan, along with hordes of others yelling "terrorism" and "jihad", insist that they do. That's the special species of rank irrationality that uniquely shapes public US discourse when the issue is Muslims.

 

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+42 # Vardoz 2013-04-23 12:49
Remember when you vote. Remember those who voted against the 99%
 
 
+70 # George D 2013-04-23 13:10
Well, that certainly wasn't the read I expected it to be. Kudos to you Mr. Greenwald for making the case about America's "terrorism" frenzy and how it damages the rule of law.

Of course, use of a "bomb" in place of a gun, seems to be the one thing that simple thinking people can grasp. Bomb? Terrorism. Gun? Mentally ill.

As you clearly point out, the weapon used has little to do with the motive for the crime, or an affiliation with a "terror group" with the agenda of attacking "America" as opposed to a one or two people that are just pissed off at the world and want to kill people.

Was Charles Manson a "terrorist". By today's definition, he could have been.

But wait; There would be one or two ingredients missing. Manson is white and NOT a Muslim.
 
 
+46 # hawaiigram 2013-04-23 18:04
Obviously the rhetoric and terminology are designed to continue to keep fear at the forefront and to justify the war frenzy . . .

Language is a powerful propaganda tool.

Would anyone be at all surprised if we become embroiled in some sort of action in Chechnya in the relatively near future?
 
 
+2 # Billy Bob 2013-04-26 13:46
I would. Chechnya doesn't have anything we want, and Russia is already doing a pretty good job of stepping on its throat. Chechnya has no gripe against the U.S. and we're too busy eyeing Syria and Iran right now (gotta get those port open for OIL business).
 
 
+51 # PABLO DIABLO 2013-04-23 19:45
THANK YOU Glenn Greenwald for some level headed thinking (finally).
 
 
+15 # Ellisdtripp 2013-04-23 20:23
Crazy people kill because they are crazy, no rational reason needed. Terrorists kill because they have an ideology that demands it (and they may be a bit crazy too!). To the victims it makes no difference.
 
 
+16 # BobboMax 2013-04-23 20:51
And what about those people in West, Texas? Through failure to institute reasonable and prudent safety measures, they killed 14 people and injured 200. They may not have set out to kill people but that's what they did. Where do they stand on the terrorist/madma n/dumb cluck spectrum? They were unlucky and killed people, but probably won't go to prison.

If Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been lucky and the bombs hadn't gone off, would he still go to prison? For one answer to that question, consider the case of Mohamed Mohamud in Portland, OR. He didn't even build the pretend bomb- the FBI did it for him and handed him the cell phone to "set it off.". Nobody got hurt, but Mohamud is going to prison- apparently being an abysmally stupid teenager is now a crime deserving of a life sentence.
 
 
-3 # uptonoc 2013-04-23 21:08
...assert it and demand everyone accept it on faith.. (god) or almost anything comming from gop
 
 
-14 # JackB 2013-04-23 21:57
I wonder how Ft Hood missed the cut. Didn't fit in with the picture he was drawing? But that massacre was workplace violence so who knows. Well, besides Divine Barry who knows?
 
 
+6 # Merschrod 2013-04-24 06:20
Reminds me of the origin of the expression "going Postal."
 
 
+1 # Billy Bob 2013-04-26 13:41
I think Ft. Hood missed the cut for the same reason Sandy Hook did. The murderer was an obviously insane lunatic with no coherant motive.

I guess that doesn't fit into the picture you're trying to draw either, does it?
 
 
+5 # RICHARDKANEpa 2013-04-23 22:13
Tamerlan Tsarnaev yelled you can’t say that you can’t praise a non Muslim Martin King, however his younger brother was no more political than Adam Lanza.

One difference this time is neither brother was a video game addict

Rebels against Russia used to be referred to as freedom fighters even bin Laden. its the term freedom fighter rather than terrorist that badly needs better defining.
 
 
+19 # humactdoc 2013-04-23 22:33
Why were back pack bombs weapons of mass destruction and not high capacity semi-automatic/ automatic weapons?
 
 
+29 # X Dane 2013-04-23 22:49
Congress should read this article. They are falling over themselves to declare this a terrorist attack. Muslims are involved...so it MUST be terrorism.

Also using the term terrorism will scare the public and make them easy to maipulate. Take more of their freedom away, put more restrictions into effect.

Phillip Mudd, former counterterroris m director just said on Charlie Roses program: "These two guys are not terrorists, they are pissed of and want to take it out on innocent people."
There you have it.
 
 
+18 # RMDC 2013-04-24 02:23
from Counterpunch.or g --

"Critical thinking is dead in this country, at least in the public sphere, for the most serious and urgent questions are never asked, or only briefly aired to be ridiculed. Take the Boston bombing incident. It is known that the FBI has lured and guided many fanatical idiots into participating in fake bomb plots, with each step of the process meticulous planned by their FBI handlers. Duds planted, these framed fools can be triumphantly arrested by the US government as it points a finger at its chosen enemy. Now, I don’t claim to know what is happening in Boston, which is still ongoing as I type, with the second suspect still at large, but I have a strong hunch he will never live to see a court room, for a serious investigation into his network of backers might just turn up Uncle Sam himself, for this terror incident benefits American global and domestic agendas, and not, by any stretch of the imagination, Chechens or Muslims in general. . . . Also, I don’t see the Boston Marathon as having special significance for those who hate Americans, for it is an international meet routinely won by foreigners. For the US government, however, any major event allows it to bring in agents to facilitate the planting of duds or bombs, as it sees fit. Finally, let’s not forget that our terrorist government has often aligned itself with, and manipulated, lesser terrorists of every stripe and level of competence, from Italy to Syria, and many, many other countries."
 
 
+15 # bikewriter 2013-04-24 03:28
I think the presumption of terrorism, by those who presume it rests on both the ethnicity of the perpetrators and the use of bombs vs. guns. I see it really as an example of profiling.There seems to be another element, perhaps related to our worship of guns, that puts a shooting ina different category.
 
 
+14 # turtleislander 2013-04-24 03:43
I agree with everything here so far. I found less agreement in many ordinary daily conversations. When I say "alleged" and "suspected" and "there is a presumption of innocence" I would frequently get strange looks or even argument. The trial-by-media of people deemed guilty by the state is a terrifying degradation of civil rights and I find that far more frightening than the bombs.
The forces of "law and order" (and those who pull their strings) should be risking their lives and limbs protecting the principles of our rights above all else: not subverting them while crying "terrorism!".
 
 
+16 # walt 2013-04-24 04:12
Good question from Glenn Greenwald, and one that demands an answer.

Could it be that anyone even remotely connected to a middle eastern country or religion is considered dangerous? After all, we have spent decades with lost lives and trillions of dollars debt trying to bomb such folks into oblivion. And could it be true that guns and the Bible are sacred cows in the USA? Having an automatic assault rifle is, after all, standing one's constitutional ground of the second amendment.

The answer seems obvious, but surely not to many. And let's ask one more question. What are years of war,targeted killing, drone attacks, invasions, etc. doing to us as a people and to our country?
 
 
+4 # Urbancurmudgeon 2013-04-24 04:37
I pretty much agree with your analysis of the situation but you ignore one very important aspect, the means of execution. Of all the examples you use, the current suspect is the only one who used a bomb, the traditional weapon of terrorists. If for no other reason than perception, this choice would seem to mark Tsarneav as a terrorist. Realizing that choice of weapon is not a legal definition, we still must understand that public perception very much identifies the type of crime.

This act was immediately identified as that of a terrorist; not after the perpetrators were identified as Muslims, but as soon as the bomb went off. I think this puts a big hole in your theories. After all the nut who tried to blow up times square or the guy with his socks full of power on the plane were immediately identified as terrorists, just as the many gun toting nuts you describe, were not. I reiterate, choice of weapon, more than anything else seems to be the chief identifier in most cases.
 
 
+16 # tigerlille 2013-04-24 04:45
I don't understand why the media has given President Obama a pass on assuming that the brother's are guilty
on national television. How can there be any discussion about a fair trial under these circumstances? I remember when President Nixon made a public declaration about the guilt of s suspect who had yet to be tried, or perhaps the trial was underway. I was very young and don't remember the details of the crime receiving national attention at that
time. But I do remember the shock and outrage about President Nixon's conduct in proclaiming this individual guilty, and thus making it almost impossible for him to receive a fair trial. 40 years later Obama does the same thing and nary an eyebrow is raised, and there is no open discussion of his impropriety in the national media. Remember, these are lawyers we are talking about, who certainly knew better.
 
 
+4 # restore2america 2013-04-24 08:37
Interesting, isn't it, that we have not heard any substantive evidence suggesting that these brothers were the guilty parties? At least I haven't. And how long as this guy been in police custody with no info about his condition? He is being tortured to extract a confession, but we already know that information extracted by torture is unreliable at best. This looks to me like a cover up - find someone guilty and keep the population frightened. Acclimate the population to more police, more control, fewer rights. Convince the population to abdicate more of their rights and freedom. Even if these guys are in fact guilty, are they the real problem? 3 people died in this event. How many people has our government murdered through illegal wars, torture, and illegal police activity? We have had train wreaks and boat sinkings that killed and injured far more people than this. Smells to me like the public fear level is being manipulated.
 
 
+3 # X Dane 2013-04-25 14:41
restore Jamaica.

Well, there are a Number of people who SAW the bombers set down the backpacks and seconds later the bomb went off.

One was a young man, who had BOTH his legs blown off. He told doctors that he wanted to tell FBI that he SAW the man. HE DID, and he DESCRIBED the guy.

Also many videos and pictures, showed who the bombers were, rarely has a crime been so thoroughly documented. There is no guessing or jumping to conclusions here.
 
 
-5 # RobertMStahl 2013-04-24 04:51
Paul Craig Roberts has it right about this conflict, plus, there is the manipulation of gold/silver in the demise of the nation-state where regional ecologies should be at play, now, to which he addresses, as well. Furthermore, this whole criminally suspect 'scrambling air space' enterprise with so many false flags everywhere (even here, blaming Timothy McVeigh when the OK city bombing was, likely, as much inside the building as out changing the Rules of Engagement), makes the overall confusion, likely designed about the God of Abraham symbols here supporting the wholesale idiocy of what is going on in the Middle East, particularly Syria, also. Guess what symbols they are privy to, Muslim or otherwise? Do we know Thomas? Ignorance, and no ironic distance for the rest of us supports this standing in evolution (Bateson and Saul Bellow). Did you know we were supporting both, al-Nusra and al-Qaeda, at opposition with each other in the Syrian conflict?

http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2013/04/21/if-you-want-to-go-to-heaven-you-had-better-get-busy-overthrowing-syria-paul-craig-roberts/
 
 
+3 # kalpal 2013-04-24 04:55
It may seem silly but I ascribe the older brother's radicalism to be in part attributable to being a boxer. Being hit in the head eventually scrambles your ability to think clearly. The lack of planning of an exit strategy and the robbery of a place noted for having very little cash but lots of video cameras cements my theory that the older brother was unable to think clearly. I'd be fascinated to read a reasoned explanation that counters my reasoning.
 
 
0 # restore2america 2013-04-24 08:31
Quoting kalpal:
It may seem silly but I ascribe the older brother's radicalism to be in part attributable to being a boxer. Being hit in the head eventually scrambles your ability to think clearly. The lack of planning of an exit strategy and the robbery of a place noted for having very little cash but lots of video cameras cements my theory that the older brother was unable to think clearly. I'd be fascinated to read a reasoned explanation that counters my reasoning.


Kalpal, you need to think carefully about what you are saying. Most of us are viewed as radicals by the GOP. Were we hit in the head? Mohammed Ali was hit in the head lots in boxing, but is he a radical? Many crooks - like many people - are not too clever. Your idea doesn't stand up to reasoning.
 
 
+3 # charsjcca 2013-04-24 05:31
Whose definition are you using? It is not the color of the building's bricks that determines the value of education it is the curriculum.
 
 
+6 # fredboy 2013-04-24 05:40
A GREAT question. Yes, both Boston and Sandy Hook and all the Colorado shootings and Arizona shootings and so many more were all "terrorism." Thus terrorism is a CRIME. Yet--hang on--isn't it amazing that there has never been a complete investigation of the 9/11 attacks? Just a whitewash.
 
 
+7 # hardtraveling 2013-04-24 06:11
According to Greenwald's article, bombs were used in the Colorado incident by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Yet, it was not designated as terrorism. Another facet of this: designating the Boston incident as terrorism gave the authorities an excuse to lock down an entire city and its suburbs, putting them under virtual martial law. This was an unprecedented escalation of the continuing abridgement of our Constitutional rights. One possible fallout from all this is that CISPA may pass in the Senate, whereas previously it was rejected there. This is a concern to progressives and libertarians alike.
 
 
+1 # humanmancalvin 2013-04-24 06:12
Easy peasey. They were the frightening Muslims that are all coming to rape our women & kill our babies. The shrill cries from the right has this particular religious group painted as the enemy of all things American. This blind hatred must end before real acts of terrorism are carried out against innocent all-American Muslims in the name of Jesus Christ who the faux-Christians seem to have re-branded into the God of War who was obviously an American citizen who somehow ended up in the middle east.
 
 
0 # Emily 2013-04-24 06:42
I am not in the camp that these men are actually the guilty one, there is conflicting evidence, and even the lack of evidence for these boys, I am not convinced that the evidence, a blurring spy camera, showing a white and grey backpack on one, and a not very bulging one at that is enough to hang them.
 
 
+4 # restore2america 2013-04-24 08:28
And why is taking pictures of livestock facilities proposed as a terrorist crime by ALEC, but fracking and hiding GMOs in food without labeling isn't?
 
 
+7 # restore2america 2013-04-24 08:39
"The overarching principle here should be that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is entitled to a presumption of innocence until he is actually proven guilty. As so many cases have proven - from accused (but exonerated) anthrax attacker Stephen Hatfill to accused (but exonerated) Atlanta Olympic bomber Richard Jewell to dozens if not hundreds of Guantanamo detainees accused of being the "worst of the worst" but who were guilty of nothing - people who appear to be guilty based on government accusations and trials-by-media are often completely innocent. Media-presented evidence is no substitute for due process and an adversarial trial."

This is the core issue that all of us need to be thinking about. And when we see "terrorist" bandied about by the government and press absent any evidence, we need to ask WHY?
 
 
+4 # Quickmatch 2013-04-24 08:40
An explosion occurs and someone dies. What caused this? According to conservative thought, if the explosion occurs in a pressure cooker and propels nails into the victim it is a weapon of mass destruction, If the explosion occurs in the chamber of a semi-automatic rifle and propels a bullet into the victim it is a Second Amendment expression of rights.
 
 
+2 # Sallyport 2013-04-24 09:48
"Terrorism" might more usefully be applied to the motive for getting equipped with automatic, high-capacity rifles and magazines designed for massacres.
 
 
+2 # JSRaleigh 2013-04-24 10:35
Anyone consider the possibility that the "motive" may have died with the older brother?

What if the kid brother doesn't know why?
 
 
0 # Billy Bob 2013-04-26 13:43
If he was involved in the attack he's just as guilty as he would be if he knew what the incoherent reasoning for it was.
 

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