Boston Bomber To Use Civilian Court


Since the Boston Marathon Bombings, some have advocated processing the surviving defendant in a Military Tribunal, but since he is a U.S. Citizen, and a civilian, he will be indicted and tried in the ordinary American criminal court system.

Whether someone is to be tried as a civilian, or as a combatant, depends on the circumstances. The following is a review of the various categories.

Civilian U.S. Citizens, who are not combatants, alleged to have committed a crime in the United States, are given access to the civilian courts, with all the rights of the accused, provided in routine jury trials. If they are found “guilty,” they can be sentenced to prison or to death if the offense and the jurisdiction allows it, but if the verdict is “not guilty,” they must be released. An example in this category is the domestic terrorist, Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, who was convicted in our civilian court system, sentenced to death, and executed.

Combatant U.S. Citizens, enlisted in the U.S. military, and charged with an offense, would be entitled to Courts-Martial proceedings, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, again with all the due process rights and privileges provided by our Constitution. An example would be U.S. Lt. William Calley, who was charged with massacring hundreds of defenseless Vietnamese women and children, and convicted by U.S. combat officers, who served as a jury of his peers.

Enemy Alien Combatants, captured in the field, who may have killed our soldiers, but who did not violate any of the Laws of War, would be entitled to Prisoners-of-War status, and can held for the duration of the conflict, provided they are granted prisoner rights, under the Geneva Conventions. For example, thousands of ordinary German soldiers, taken prisoner by the U.S. in WWII, were entitled to this status, as they were held and later released to go home.

Unlawful Enemy Alien Combatants, captured in the field, would initially be treated as prisoners-of-war, but if evidence surfaced they had committed illegal acts in violation of the Laws of War, they could be subjected to a trial by a Military Commission to answer for their illegal acts. For example, many Japanese commanders in WWII, who had executed defenseless civilians in the Philippines and elsewhere, were tried in Military Commissions, convicted, and executed.

The Boston Marathon Bomber is not a member of the armed forces of another nation. He was not for example an Afghan Taliban captured in the field or a member of the Iraqi Army. He has no status as a enemy combatant, and cannot be tried in a Military Commission. Moreover, he is not an alien, but rather a naturalized American citizen. His status as an American guarantees him all of the Constitutional rights allowed under our civilian judicial system.

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