It may be plainly obvious who was responsible for the horrific Boston Marathon bombing on Patriots’ Day: ethnically Chechen brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one dead in a shoot-out with police, the other seriously wounded and sedated in a Boston hospital where investigators are eager to interrogate him.
Unexploded bombs were found in their apartment, surveillance videos show them carrying heavy backpacks in the vicinity of and just before the explosions that killed three people and injured more than 180, and they are said to have acknowledged their responsibility to the driver of a car they hijacked.
But less than a week after a train of events that kept Boston-area towns on lock-down for days, the political maneuvering and blaming have already begun.
Russian officials warned the US about the older Tsarnaev brother – Tamerlan – in 2011. When Tamerlan returned from a six-month stay in Russia the next year, US officials questioned him and his family about any ties with radical Islam but determined that he was not a threat.
“The ball was dropped in one of two ways,” US Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “The FBI missed a lot of things, is one potential answer, or our laws do not allow the FBI to follow up in a sound solid way.”
“It’s people like this that you don’t want to let out of your sight, and this was a mistake,” Sen. Graham said. “Either our laws are insufficient or the FBI failed, but we’re at war with radical Islamists and we need to up our game.”
"This is at least the fifth case I'm aware of where the FBI has failed to stop someone," Rep. King said on "Fox News Sunday," citing the examples of Anwar al-Awlaki, Nidal Malik Hasan, Carlos Bledsoe, and David Coleman Headley.
"This is the latest in a series of cases like this … where the FBI is given information about someone being a potential terrorist," he said. "They look at them, and then they don't take action, and then [those individuals] go out and commit murders."
"Unfortunately, that intelligence service stopped cooperating," said Rep. Rogers, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee. "What happens is that case gets closed down."
How to prosecute Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is becoming another point of contention as well.
On Saturday, key Republican lawmakers – Rep. King and Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Graham – urged the Obama administration to prosecute the younger Tsarnaev brother as an enemy combatant, which would deny him certain legal rights afforded those charged in civilian courts. Others have suggested that he be sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D) of California said that’s not a good idea, noting that the US Justice Department has successfully prosecuted 435 terrorist cases in civilian court.
“I do not believe under the military commission law that he is eligible for [designation as an enemy combatant],” Sen. Feinstein said. “It would be unconstitutional to do that.”
“I think there’s going to be a great deal of evidence put together to be able to convict him, and it should likely be a death penalty case under federal law,” Feinstein said. "I very much regret the fact that there are those that want to precipitate a debate over whether he's an enemy combatant or whether he is a terrorist, a murderer, et cetera."
No matter how the political maneuvering turns out – and it’s beginning to feel like earlier debates over how the Obama administration wants to prosecute terrorists – law enforcement officials investigating the attack have no doubt about who was directly responsible, and that Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev intended to wreak more deadly havoc.
Boston Commissioner Ed Davis told CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday that authorities found an arsenal of homemade explosives after a gun battle between police and the suspects in the Boston suburb of Watertown early Friday, the AP reports.
"We have reason to believe, based upon the evidence that was found at that scene – the explosions, the explosive ordnance that was unexploded and the firepower that they had – that they were going to attack other individuals," Mr. Davis said. "That's my belief at this point."
Federal prosecutors hope to charge Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as early as Sunday, a Department of Justice official told CNN.