Yes, that’s right. This man won an electoral majority somewhere

I gather from my Twitter feed that there were some pretty obnoxious things said in the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombing and subsequent manhunt for the suspects.  Picking the Most Jaw-Droppingly Awful C0mments winner requires a more comprehensive knowledge of the Internet than I possess (though Donald Trump is always a strong contender).  Feel free to submit your own nominees below.

Narrowing it down to elected officials makes the task a wee bit more manageable.  John McCain (who abdicated any claim to statesmanship with the Palin nomination and has never looked back) joined his fellow Republican Senator Lindsay Graham in taking an early lead for their brazen willingness to shred the Constitution.

From the New York Times:

… some Republican senators, including John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, argued that using the criminal-justice system was a mistake and that Mr. Tsarnaev should instead be held indefinitely by the military as an “enemy combatant,” under the laws of war, and questioned without any Miranda warning or legal representation, in order to gain intelligence.

The indefinite detention without trial of human beings (to say nothing of American citizens) is, in my opinion, a blot on America’s standing in history on par with the Trail of Tears and the Japanese internment camps during World War II, if not in scale certainly in terms of its unmitigated befouling of our country’s founding ideals.  I know that “terrorist” is the new “communist” is the new “witch,” and I’m not arguing that the surviving perpetrator of the ghastly attack on Boston doesn’t deserve the full weight of the United States justice system pressing down upon him. But if our faith in said system is so weak and if our desire for security so vastly outweighs our respect for the rights protected by our Constitution, then we are a poor excuse for a nation and have no claim to moral authority in the theater of international affairs.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev  is an American citizen deserving of the full complement of rights that pertain to that status.  Not only does calling him an “enemy combatant” beggar credulity, doing so makes not a whit of difference with regard to what protections he should be given.  Mr.  McCain and Mr. Graham, you are in violation of your oath of office.  Please recant or resign.

However, as quick out of the gate as those two clowns were, I fear they may have been overtaken by a dark horse, admittedly one with much less exposure on the national stage.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you one Greg Ball, state Senator from New York:


But it goes on:

Ball again addressed the comment in a statement Saturday, however this time he emphasized seeking the death penalty:

“As New Yorkers we must remember, that on most days, New York State is terror target number one, and we need our Governor to make the death penalty for cop killers and terrorists a top priority,” he said, according to the Journal News. “The death penalty is a fitting deterrent that will act as protection for those men and women who leave their loving families daily and put their lives at risk everyday to protect the rest us.”

The death penalty?  *slaps self vigorously on forehead with palm*  Why didn’t I think of that?  Fear of death would be the perfect deterrent for terrorism!  I’ll bet Mohamed Atta would never have flown that plane into the World Trade Center if he’d feared being executed afterward!

Seriously, I can’t fathom the unbelievable stupidity of that man’s statement.  During that tense but tedious period between the bombing and the manhunt, I remember lots of airtime being filled with breathless speculation, with more than one “expert” talking head musing that the bombers were less likely to be terrorists because they hadn’t killed themselves along with their victims.  In any case, the news is tragically regular in its reporting of some suicide bomber in one place or another.  I suspect the death penalty wasn’t really a concern for the bombers.  Or should I just conclude that Sen. Ball doesn’t watch the news, and simply plays reruns of “24” over and over again?

In the past week, I have heard so many wonderful stories of people bringing out the best in themselves in response to the horrible events in Boston.  (I was never prouder of New York than in the aftermath of 9/11, and I’ve never been prouder of my new city than in the past few days.)  It’s amazing how overwhelming tragedy can bring out the heroism and generosity in people.  Sadly, it can also bring out their basest instincts and their baldest attempts at leveraging public fear.  How especially sad when the people who behave in this manner are the ones who have been chosen to serve in leadership capacities.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. “But if our faith in said system is so weak and if our desire for security so vastly outweighs our respect for the rights protected by our Constitution, then we are a poor excuse for a nation and have no claim to moral authority in the theater of international affairs.”

    It’s still really early, but this will be the best sentence written anywhere, all day. Possibly all week.

    • *Shrug*

      It strikes me that the debate over security vs. liberty/rights has been decided in favor of security for quite some time now. Once we started eliminating one right, why would the others hold fast?

      To phrase it another way: So do you think that we will have more or fewer security cameras monitoring us in the wake of the bombing? If so, why would you think that people might not start looking at other ways to heighten security or the perception thereof?

  2. + a gajillion.

    Why didn’t they say this about, say, Jared Loughner?

      • Lock-ner? Lawf-ner? Loe-ner? Low-ner?

        No, that’s not it.

        • Loughner’s funky silent consonants and weird pronunciation had the decency to be familiar to all true Americans. Putting a “z” after a “d” and following it with an “h” is frankly treasonous on its face.

    • That different things were said about Jared Loughner shouldn’t lead one to the conclusion that nothing particularly weird was said about Jared Loughner.

      He was a tea partier, he was representative of Sarah Palin’s hate speech inciting violence against democratic politicians, he was representative of an ideology that should be treated as an enemy of decent society…

      Which is not to say that these things are on the same level of “holy crap, you’ve got to be kidding me!” as state senators calling for torture. They aren’t. Different creepy things were said, though.

      • I was wondering also if bombs as opposed to guns make someone more likely to be called a terrorist. It turns out the John Allen Muhammad was. Although again, there you have a name issue.

        • Was John Allen called one before we knew his name?

          From what I recall, “the beltway sniper” was called a terrorist back when we were still discussing profiles of the types of people who would be snipers.

          (My theory, at the time, was that it was someone who wanted to kill person X… and the best way to kill person X without getting caught was to shoot unrelated people via sniping them and then, a few days later, shoot person X, then shoot a few more unrelated people, then disappear into the woodwork having used “terrorism” as a cover.)

          • I don’t know, but I think he was called a terrorist. He’s an outlier, I think; maybe just we were all more terrorism-minded after 9/11. The Boston marathon bombers were called terrorists before they were found out. Not so for Loughner and Holmes.

            No one called for Terry Nichols to now be held as enemy combatant (McVeigh was executed 9/11). Both are called terrorists, though.

      • Fair enough.

        However, for me the salient difference is that I recall no discussion of calling him an “enemy combatant” despite his having tried to assassinate a member of Congress. Further, I don’t remember anyone saying that James Holmes should have had his Miranda rights waived (perhaps they were, I don’t know) even though I could see a very strong argument for doing so given that his apartment was booby-trapped.

        • I don’t know why we tend to treat “mass shootings” as different birds than “terrorism”.

          Most mass shootings are done by “lone wolf” types who aren’t exactly mentally stable and who, if they are trying to remake society, aren’t doing it in a particularly intelligible way.

          The shootings that strike me as being “terrorism” are the shootings like George Tiller’s. There’s a political goal, it’s in service to an ideology, and both of these things are vaguely coherent (not intended to come across as an endorsement, merely to differentiate from something like Loughner’s word salad). We can’t say that about James Holmes or Adam Lanza (can we?).

          • I think the political agenda should separate it if anything is going to. I heard someone on the radio suggest that calling it something other than murder legitimizes it, and I think there’s something to that.

            Loughner was arguably political, as political as Muhammad at any rate.

          • I agree with you about George Tiller’s killer, but he was not charged with terrorism, nor do I recall him being referred generally as a terrorist.

          • I called him one, back in the day (we were so young!).

            I don’t know why certain acts catch on in the mainstream as being “terrorism” and others are just “mass murder”. If I had to guess, “terrorism” would have to include mass deaths or mass injury, some vague political/religious/ideological goal, and novelty.

            So shooting Tiller? Just shooting one guy. Not terrorism.
            Shooting a theater? You’re just shooting at close range? Not particularly novel.
            Beltway Sniper? It’s more than merely shooting. It’s *SNIPING*.
            Boston Marathon Bomber? Bombs are novel.

            That’s my best guess as to how the distinctions are made out there.

          • The bombing of clinics, killing of doctors, threats to kill other doctors — there has always been a terrorist subset of the anti-abortion movement.

          • Would flying a plane into a building to protest the institution that building represents in accordance with an explicitly articulated ideology count?

            Because that Stack guy who wrote an anti-government manifesto and then flew a plane into an IRS building rarely makes it on the list of recent terrorists.

          • Stack was a terrorist, by any reasonable definition of the word. Stack is a little less unsettling than an Islamist or militia terrorist, though, because both the 9/11 crew and McVeigh left us worried that we were dealing with the spearhead of a movement. Never had that impression with Stack.

          • I agree with you that the threat of a larger movement, or lack thereof, should inform our response in terms of the actions we take. Stack appears to have acted in isolation. However, if you look at the narrative constructed around it, the focus on “terrorism” was very different. If you Google “Joseph Stack terrorist”, the entire first page of hits are pieces about whether or not he should be considered a terrorist or other such conversations (with some of them deciding in the affirmative, mind you). Which is a really, really fascinating phenomenon when you consider that he, ya know, flew a plane into a building.

        • “for me the salient difference is that I recall no discussion of calling [Loughner] an “enemy combatant” despite his having tried to assassinate a member of Congress.”

          Loughner was indeed seen as representative of and motivated by an extremist ideology. It’s just that the ideology was homegrown American rather than international. Presumably things would have been different if Loughner had been the subject of an international investigation, and recently travelled to a region with a large number of violent Muslim extremists and returned with a strong interest in Muslim extremism, and been posting YouTube videos celebrating Muslim extremism.

          • I’m not talking about how he was broadly described. I’m talking about whether there was discussion by powerful member of the US Senate regarding reclassifying him as some kind of sub-citizen for the purposes of stripping him of the rights of citizenship.

            The Muslim extremism is 100% canard, as far as I am concerned. Nowhere in the United States Constitution are there carve-outs and codicils regarding which citizens count and which we are allowed to designate as no longer worthy of civil liberties. They count for Tsarnaev or they don’t count for any of us.

          • “I’m not talking about how he was broadly described. ”


            You are aware that we have declared white male American citizens “enemy combatants”, right? (While that particular descriptor didn’t exist at the time, the things that were done to Lindh were the kinds of things that happen to “enemy combatants” now.)

            There are valid differences between the Tsarnaev attacks and Loughner, and those differences are the reason the Tsarnaevs might be declared enemy combatants but nobody ever suggested that for Loughner. There is no weird racist/religious bigotry at work here.

          • 1) Declaring them thus was wrong then, and would remain wrong now

            2) John Walked Lindh was a Muslim convert. Says so right there in your very link.

            3) You may consider the differences valid. I think you beg the question when you put it in those terms, and I do not agree with you.

          • “John Walked Lindh was a Muslim convert. Says so right there in your very link.”

            Considering that my point was “they’re talking about enemy combatant for the Tsarnaevs because their terrorism had international implications, and they didn’t talk about it for Loughner because his terrorism was purely American”, I’m going to consider this your declaration that you agree with me. Thank you for your cooperation.

          • Then you misread me.

            I find the unifying theme that each of these men is Muslim troublesome, if not dispositive. You may not find this consistent theme troubling. Fine. But we do not agree.

            The “international” aspect of the Boston bombing has yet to be established, though there certainly are pieces of evidence of offer some credence to that view. I think it is wholly irrelevant to the question of what rights the surviving suspect enjoys. You do not seem to have taken up this aspect of my argument. Fine. But I suspect we do not agree.

          • ” I think it is wholly irrelevant to the question of what rights the surviving suspect enjoys.”

            First post in this thread:
            “Why didn’t they say this about, say, Jared Loughner?”

            That’s the question I’m discussing.

          • I think the reason Loughner wouldn’t be classified as an enemy combatant is because he did not belong to an enemy state. I think it would be hard to argue he should have been unless we are ready to declare war on the United States.

          • JM,

            What does it mean to “belong” to an enemy state? Because, as I understand it, one of the criteria for terrorism is that it is a non-state actor (which calls into question the very notion of “state-sponsored terrorism” but that’s another convo for another day).

          • I have no disagreements with Tsarnaev being a citizen. I also don’t think that he should be classified as an enemy combatant.

            It was thought that Loughner had a beef with Giffords. It wasn’t that he had a beef with the United States of America. He seemed to be doing it for some personal reason of his own. People think that Tsarnaev and his brother bombed random people out of some disagreement with the United States of America as a whole. They think that the elder went overseas to get training in how to “fight” against America.

            Kazzy, I think belonging too is supposed to be more for real states (countries), they are the ones who have enemy combatants. I think that Al Qaeda and such have followers who are actually unlawful combatants. That is because they are not a state. Not sure though, since I believe that President Obama got rid of the enemy combatant designation anyway.

            If you are interested I think this explains where the whole belonging to came from.

          • I’ve been batting around an idea for a post about what matters most when defining terrorism: the who, the what, or the why.

            Increasingly, I think the who matters least. Focusing on their affiliation with a recognized state seems too myopic. I easily see the potential for a virtuous group that is a marginalized power in their native state and therefore must engage as non-state actors. It isn’t a fully formed theory, but with lines increasingly blurred and many disputed governments, I think it has some legs. Gotta see if I can flesh it out.

  3. Hmmm. Almost like these public officials are still in the grips of panic themselves. Sounds like a theme expounded recently somewhere nearby.

    • I know. I hadn’t read your post when I wrote this, and now I feel like I could just have written “What Burt Said.” Though in the case of McCain and Graham, I’m not so such I’d call their reaction “panic,” which is a human reaction I could understand, if not entirely excuse. I fear it’s something more insidious and coldly rational than that, and has something to do with their own political ends.

      I’m still wending my way through your voluminous and lengthy comments, and trying to see if there’s anything I can say that’s worth adding.

    • No, panic and demagoguery are different things entirely.

  4. Torture, in modern America, has two roots:

    One is deep, deep inside the American psyche — the is punishment. We’ve always had that one with us — the bit that insists that we are all sinners, and deserve punishment. The bit that makes jokes about prison rape, the bit that calls a jail a ‘country club’ if it’s anything but a windowless, un-heated, un-airconditioned box.

    The guilty must suffer. Only through pain can we learn. It’s not enough to lose years of freedom — and rehabilitation isn’t even on the menu (if it works, great, if not, no big).

    And we do love our suffering. Jail isn’t enough, so we make it worse (Pro tip: Avoid state jails when possible. Avoid State Jails in the south at all costs. If it’s a choice between jail in Georgia, USA and Georgia the country, you might be better off in the latter).

    So torture fufills that particular aspect of our mentality: He wants these guys tortured not for information, but as punishment. Information is the thin excuse — causing agony is the point.

    The second is, of course, the whole Jack Bauer myth — crossed with our view of ourselves (as American) as rugged individuals. Torture in that respect is doing the hard thing. Doing the ugly job. Doing what must be done. It’s ego that demands it (rationality would demand we use the interrogation methods that work). Ego says “This is a dirty, gritty thing that takes a real man to do”.

    It’s the “medicine must taste bad” thing all askew. We must torture for information, because torture is disturbing and morally bad, and that proves it’s worth. Only the most rugged, honorable men would have the guts, the moral fiber, to do “what must be done” to save lives.

    The act of torture becomes proof of morality and goodness. Because we are the good guys — that is a given. So for us to torture, well — we’re staining our hands for the sake of society. We’re sacrificing by waterboarding that man.

    That’s how effed up we are, as a country. Torture is there to punish, while affirming how noble we are at the same time.

    • Torture in that respect is doing the hard thing. Doing the ugly job. Doing what must be done. It’s ego that demands it (rationality would demand we use the interrogation methods that work). Ego says “This is a dirty, gritty thing that takes a real man to do”.

      Very well put.

      • Actually, after I got done, I realized there’s a simpler way to explain the other half (the non-punishment) part of torture — the bit where we glorify it because it proves how awesome we are:

        From a few good men, Jessup’s courtroom speech:
        “You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives! You don’t want the truth, because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall! You need me on that wall! ”

        That’s the other half of why we let torture slide. Because embedded in our belief we are the good guys is our belief that we, as Americans (unlike those Ivory Tower Pansy Whatevers) will get down and dirty and do the hard stuff.

        That is the American justification, and why repeating “But it doesn’t work” always gets ignored. Because it HAS to work, because we’re the GOOD guys and we DID it therefore it must be an ugly necessity that we can, conversely, actually be proud of.

        (Of course that just reminds me of some of the idiot pro-war stuff going on in 2001 and 2002, including the “Punch a pacifest until he hits back, and then he’ll understand how invading Iraq is a good idea” line. )

        • You know, that movie presented Jessup as the delusional bad guy. And yet people keep quoting his rant and pretending like it says something about baseline American attitudes.

          It’s like how everyone quotes “First thing we do is, we kill all the lawyers” and act like it’s something the hero said as a rallying cry.

          • Whats-his-face — (totally blanking on the name) — remarked that he was flabbergasted at how many people thought Gordon Gekko was someone to be emulated.

            Of course, that was taken to it’s logical extreme by Barney on “How I Met Your Mother” who, as it turns out, thinks the bad guys from all movies are the good guys. His case for the Kobra Kai dojo from Karate Kid was quite amusing.

          • Oh, and Vic Mackey, too. I think everyone connected with The Shield was surprised and dismayed how many people considered him the hero.

          • Jim,

            You’re right that the movie presents Jessup as a delusional bad guy, but I also think it presents his “you can’t handle the truth” declaration as a worthy thing to keep in mind. The movie does not present it as a dispositive argument against holding Jessup responsible for violating his orders, but it does suggest a certain notion of “we ask these people to endure horrible things and yet we still exact high standards from them.” Cf. Demi Moore’s character’s statement that she likes the Guantanamo soldiers “because they sit on a wall and say nothing’s going to happen to you today” (paraphrase, probably, but I have seen the movie too many times).

    • Re torture as punishment: I agree that torture is often (usually?) endorsed for its own sake and not necessarily in the instrumentalist, Jack Bauer version. And I think that’s unacceptable. I also think that prison conditions as I understand them (I get my knowledge from watching reruns of “Shawshank Redemption”) are unacceptable and if they don’t technically qualify as torture (because they’re not necessarily attempts to break the will, but your definition may vary), are close enough. (It’s for this reason that I am often wary of suggesting extended prison sentences for non-violent offenders, especially when such sentences are longer than, say, a few months. I think, as an aside, that we often use the “they oughtta go to jail” trope too much when we discuss malfeasance in our society.)

      However, I do think one of the aims of criminal justice is to *punish* the guilty. I’d prefer that punishment to extend only to fines or to losses of freedom (that is, when it’s a crime severe enough to merit prison), but I think punishment is a legitimate, even humane way to address crime. I’m not against rehabilitation or efforts to help the imprisoned population to get back on their feet when they get out. But I think the principal aim ought to be to punish because “punishment” is straightforward and based (one hopes…if it isn’t, it’s not legitimate punishment) on desert and not on doing something for the criminal’s own good or “to send a message.”

  5. Despite being led through the Pledge of Allegiance, every day, as children, when the proverbial Doo-Doo hits the Whirling Blades of Fate, you may rely on many Americans to forget how that pledge ends — “With freedom and justice for all.”

    America done lost its tiny little mind. The very idea, that we don’t trust our own justice system to deal with crimes, it’s long since stopped disgusting me. My stores of outrage ran out years ago. Gitmo is still in business — folks, I am telling you plainly, future generations will look at Gitmo as a turning point. They will curse our generation for allowing to arise and curse those elected to close it.

    • you may rely on many Americans to forget how that pledge ends — “With freedom and justice for all.”

      I’d certainly forgotten that.

    • IIRC, it’s “…with liberty and justice for all.” So we might split hairs about the distinction between “liberty” and “freedom” if you like. Or rather, someone else might, because I’m not sure that for purposes of this discussion, there is any profit to be gained from digging in to the semantics.

      I had grave doubts about Barack Obama in 2008 for other reasons, but he did promise to close Guantanamo Bay and reconcile us to our own Constitution, which gave me hope. He has been an abject failure in that respect despite whatever other successes and achievements are properly creditable to him. After more than four years of running the show, Guantanamo is his baby now.

      • Except that it just plain ISN’T! The Senate voted to keep it open. I’m not sure what he could do through Executive Orders (perhaps move one or two trials or sentences into the civilian arena), but I doubt he can just say “it’s gone”.

        We could talk about how he mishandled the vote (and my MANY complaints against Obama are how he mishandled votes like this — also drones), but I doubt one can say that “Guantanamo is his baby now”.

        • I believe he could dismantle the place, by executive order. Not sure what he could do with the prisoners, though…

          I’m blaming Webb, and other folks who campaigned on closing the damn thing

  6. I know I was disappointed in hearing some of our elected officials declare that a citizen of the United States of America should be declared an enemy combatant and that he should be tortured and held indefinitely. My let’s go get the bad guys and beat them into submission side does not win out over my we are American citizens who are afforded certain constitutional protections side. I don’t care what side of the isle you are from, if you stomp on those freedoms you can take me off your campaign list because I will actively work for you to never have another term in office. Well, as much as one person who has no influence in politics can.

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