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US charges against Boston bombing suspect allow for death penalty (+video)

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Boston Marathon bombing suspect, was charged Monday with using an IED to destroy lives and property, a federal crime that carries a potential death sentence. The affidavit outlines why the FBI believes it has the right man.

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Tsarnaev’s case could become a test case for that proposition.

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Nonetheless, many legal analysts say federal agents and prosecutors may already possess more than enough evidence from other sources to convict Tsarnaev at trial without having to rely on how he might nod or shake his head or move his eyes while lying sedated in a hospital bed.    

The initial contacts with the suspect took place as the Obama administration effectively ended what had been an ongoing debate over how best to handle and interrogate Tsarnaev.

White House spokeman Jay Carney said earlier on Monday that the administration had concluded that the suspect would not be treated as an enemy combatant. He said it would violate US law to place a US citizen on trial before a military commission rather than in federal court.

Mr. Carney said the nation’s civilian federal court system had repeatedly proved to be effective in trying and convicting suspected terrorists.

Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham had urged that Tsarnaev be classified as an enemy combatant and shifted to military custody to facilitate open-ended interrogation without interference from defense lawyers or the courts.

Democratic Sen. Carl Levin and others said there is no legal basis to detain Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant because there is no evidence – at this stage – that he was part of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or an associated group.

Under US law, individuals suspected of a crime who are taken into police custody are either charged or released. The defendant’s case is presented to a neutral judge, who ensures that the defendant’s rights are being respected.

That is true in all criminal cases, from the lowly tax cheat to the most sophisticated mass-murdering terrorist. The US Constitution and its protections do not come with an on-off switch.

But there is one important exception. After the 9/11 attacks, Congress passed the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF). The law empowered the US military to take action against Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and any associated forces. That provision has been interpreted to authorize the military detention of terrorism suspects.

It is under that authority that the 166 detainees at Guantánamo are being held in a US military prison camp.

Less clear is whether the AUMF authorizes open-ended military detention without charge of a US citizen arrested on US soil for suspected involvement in a bombing in the US.  

Tsarnaev is believed to be a naturalized US citizen. Federal agents are expected to ask him – prior to advising him of his right to remain silent – whether he or his older brother have any connection to Al Qaeda or Islamic militants in Chechnya who in the past have maintained an association with Al Qaeda.

Without such a connection, Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force would not appear to apply to an individual who acted outside of any such group.


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Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

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