Treatment of Boston suspect exposes ‘Muslim exception’ to Constitution

Dzokhar
Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the suspect in the Boston bombings  (Photo: Voice of America/Wikimedia Commons)

In the wake of the Boston bombings, some commentators are congratulating the U.S. for being free of Muslim-bashing ideology. “Where is this Islamophobic mob? Where are these marauding Muslim-haters undergoing a post-Boston freakout?” asked Brendan O’Neill, a writer for The Telegraph, in the latest iteration of someone denying the existence of Islamophobia. “They are a figment of liberal observers’ imagination.”

No, thankfully, there hasn’t been a major uptick in anti-Muslim hate crimes, thought a handful of such actions have taken place following Boston. But that doesn’t mean American Islamophobia is nowhere to be found. Consider American attitudes. I’m not talking about the most blatant, right-wing manifestations of anti-Muslim animus, but the freakout about the Muslim enemy in the press and he tolerance of routine abuse of Muslims’ civil rights.

The treatment of Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the main suspect in the bombings, demonstrates this. As the American Civil Liberties Union’s Nancy Murray has said, there is a “Muslim exception” to the U.S. Constitution–and you can see this clearly in how Tsarnaev was treated by law enforcement authorities.

Tsarnaev’s Constitutional rights have been treated like luxuries to be granted by the U.S. government. That’s not how rights are supposed to work. In the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, Tsarnaev was not read his Miranda rights. While there is a public safety exception to the reading of Miranda rights, the Obama Justice Department had unilaterally expanded this exception for terrorism cases like Tsarnaev’s. And the authorities took advantage of the Justice Department’s interpretation of the “public safety” exception: they questioned him for 16 hours before reading him his rights.

It gets worse, though. The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald notes that the Los Angeles Times reported that “a senior congressional aide said Tsarnaev had asked several times for a lawyer, but that request was ignored.” As Greenwald writes, if this report is true, it is “as fundamental a violation of crucial guaranteed rights as can be imagined.” The right to counsel is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, yet Tsarnaev, an American citizen, was denied this right.

So it is very likely that Tsarnaev’s Constitutional rights were thrown to the wayside. This is unique to cases involving terrorism–specifically, terrorism thought to be influenced by Islam. We can see this clearly if we look at other instances of terrorism that don’t involve a Muslim.

Take Scott Roeder: the white, right-wing Christian who murdered the abortion doctor George Tiller in 2009. If the word has any meaning, Roeder’s act was one of terrorism. Terrorism is defined by the U.S. government as “the use of force intended to influence or instigate a course of action that furthers a political or social goal,” as Ali Abunimah pointed out after the Boston attacks. This is what Roeder’s act was all about. 

But how was Roeder treated? Better than Tsarnaev. Scott Lemieux noted in The American Prospect that “Roeder was read his Miranda rights in a timely manner.” It’s highly doubtful that Roeder would have been denied the right to see a lawyer in a timely manner. And there was no nationwide debate on whether to deny Roeder rights that are normally given to other suspects, as was the case after Boston. There were also no calls from Senators (from the right) to label him an “enemy combatant,” as there were when it came to Tsarnaev. 

The contrast between Roeder and Tsarnaev is a clear as day example of the “Muslim exception” to the Constitution that the ACLU’s Murray talked about. The acts carried out by Roeder and Tsarnaev were done with the same intent: to terrorize. Yet they’re treated disparately.  A key reason why Tsarnaev is being treated differently is because of his religion. 

The New York Police Department’s massive surveillance program targeting Muslims is another blatant example of this “Muslim exception.” Muslim citizens’ Constitutional rights–the free exercise of religion and the right to equal protection with no regards to race, religion or origin–have been systematically infringed upon by a government agency only because they are Muslim. And calls for more surveillance of Muslims have only grown after the Boston attacks.

The surveillance program and Tsarnaev’s treatment are striking examples of how there is “a separate justice system for Muslims,” as the New York Times’ Andrew Rosenthal astutely noted in March 2012.

This will have consequences for everyone, though–not just Muslims. As Greenwald writes: “If you cheer when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s right to counsel is denied, then you’re enabling the institutionalization of that violation, and thus ensuring that you have no basis or ability to object when that right is denied to others whom you find more sympathetic (including yourself).”

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is an assistant editor for Mondoweiss and the World editor for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.
Posted in US Politics, War on Terror | Tagged

{ 24 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. MRW says:

    The surveillance program and Tsarnaev’s treatment are striking examples of how there is “a separate justice system for Muslims,” as the New York Times’ Andrew Rosenthal astutely noted in March 2012.

    Has Andrew Rosenthal ever astutely noted that it’s been Pamela Geller, Daniel Pipes, David Horowitz, Robert Spencer and Richard Perle who created this Islamophobia in the first place?

  2. Citizen says:

    Seems in America, in terms of being given full due process under our Constitution, the label “terrorist” applies only to Muslims. So, should the “war on terrorism” be called the “war on Muslim terrorists”? It’s already been conflated buy the US mainstream media and the US government, and this is the first article I’ve read that clearly says so. It’s a slippery slope, these misguided well intentions (or bribed ones). “First they came for the Muslims….”

    • RoHa says:

      And yet there are a number of non-Muslim terrorist groups around right now.

      As I have said before, being older and grumpier than most, I can recall half of the twentieth century, so when I hear or see the word “terrorist”, the first thing I think of is the Mau Mau. Then I think of EOKA, the Viet Cong, the FNL, the MNLA and the IRA. All these were (justifiably) branded terrorists at one time or another.
      Then I get historical (i.e., before I was old enough to read the newspapers) and think of the Stern Gang and Palmach.

      These form my basic concept of terrorism, and of these only the FNL has an Islamic connection.

  3. marc b. says:

    the final word given to greenwald is the whole point of the ‘evolution’ of constitutional rights post-9/11. islamophobia is the pretext. law enforcement (who, it must be noted, managed to cock up every stage of the investigation, pre- and post- bomb blast) had a million-plus people under martial law while pursuing a teenaged suspect, on foot, apparently unarmed. no offense to analysts, but that’s the real story.

  4. Cliff says:

    I think there’s certainly a degree of Islamophobia. It reminds me of Mark Twain. He hated Indians but sympathized with African Americans.

    I think we look at the colonized ‘Other’ differently than other groups of oppressed. We hold them in such contempt because our national existence DEPENDS on it.

    We cannot sympathize with them (not lip service, not realpolitk statements, etc.) while stealing from them at the same time.

    We have to hate them.

    Slaves on the other hand are immediate and in front of us and with us in day to day life. They are also slaves. Different power dynamic.

    We should factor the wars in the ME into the bigger picture here and the fact that Islamic terrorism outnumbers anti-abortion terrorism.

    There’s a reason for that: religious fanaticism, imperialism and colonialism, nationalism (both sides), economics, etc.

    Its not as though Islamic terrorism is competing with some other terrorist threat here in the US and given unfair spotlight.

    Anti-abortionists have used terror but they aren’t as frequent as Islamic terrorists.

  5. giladg says:

    What questioning? Did you not hear that he was shot in the throat? Is political correctness turning you into a zombie Alex?

  6. mondonut says:

    Extraordinary claims should require extraordinary proof – and not two measly pieces that establish nothing at all.

    1. Questioned for 16 hours before Miranda? First of all, you left out where this has anything to do with his religion (other than imagination). Secondly, there is nothing illegal in this at all, the problem only arises if statements are offered in court. So no constitutional issue.

    2. Greenwald says that the Los Angeles Times says that an unnamed senior congressional aide says… Really? Again no link to religion, and actually no link to anything that should actually be reportable.

  7. American says:

    gawd!gawd! gawd!

    You know what I think has addicted me to this following of zionist?…besides the problems and destruction they are causing? It is a fascination with their mind blowing, unconscious stupidity and hypocrisy.
    In every paragraph of that Foxman interview while he talks about the bigotry of others, his own bigotry toward non Jews comes thru in such obvious and sloppy statements.
    Every time you see this zionist reasoning you are mesmerized by it because you can’t understand or figure out how they are so stupid as to not even see ‘what they saying.’
    And I say stupid because even though they believe in their own crap, they are evidently too dumb to cover up their own bigotry or express their beliefs in a way that doesn’t expose them as total hypocrites by their own words.
    This mental defect or whatever it is is probably why all the Israeli PR efforts and campaigns are such failures.

  8. AlGhorear says:

    Good article, Alex, but I flinch every time you or anyone else uses the word “terrorist”. It’s such a loaded word, and once something or someone is labeled with the “T” word, all notions of justice and law fly out the window. Why not just call it the crime that it is?

  9. Mayhem says:

    This always happens: every time there is a jihad terror attack or foiled plot, we hear this rubbish about Islamophobia, about Muslims worrying about a “backlash”. The “backlash” never really materializes, rather there is a completely justifiable increased concern and greater vigilance because these incidents keep on happening.
    We start hearing these ludicrous suggestions that America is to blame for having incited militants (can’t call them terrorists) with its supposedly imperialist, tendentious global policies. This myopic thinking overlooks the fact that Muslims carry out terrorist attacks with daily regularity all over the world – America is nothing special in this regard. In fact terrorist attacks are far more rife in Muslim countries.
    In reality, the stream of stories about fears of “backlash” are designed to deflect attention away from the jihad attack and onto Muslims as victims, who as victims ought to be exempt from scrutiny and accountability (even though no U.S. mosque or Islamic school has any program designed to oppose the al-Qaeda version of Islam that they ostensibly reject). In reality, as David J. Rusin noted in an article in the National Review at link to nationalreview.com last January:
    “a detailed analysis of FBI statistics covering ten full calendar years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks reveals that, on a per capita basis, American Muslims, contrary to spin, have been subjected to hate crimes less often than other prominent minorities. From 2002 to 2011, Muslims are estimated to have suffered hate crimes at a frequency of 6.0 incidents per 100,000 per year – 10 percent lower than blacks (6.7), 48 percent lower than homosexuals and bisexuals (11.5), and 59 percent lower than Jews (14.8). Americans should keep these numbers in mind whenever Islamists attempt to silence critics by invoking Muslim victimhood.”
    And Mr.Rich you try to fob this all off with your witless reference to ‘holocauze’.

    • Citizen says:

      Hate crimes against those perceived as Muslim continue to remain reasonably high, and I’d imagine, given the heavy police and HomeLand Security agencies heavy surveillance of Muslims, including in their mosques, many Muslims do not report hate crimes against them. link to splcenter.org

      OTOH, every imaginable threat directed against any Jew is reported ASAP as a hate crime.

      • Mayhem says:

        @Citizen, your link states anti-Muslim hate crimes reported to the FBI were 157, while those against Jews were 771.
        It is purely your imagination that supposes many Muslims don’t report hate crimes against them – you have provided absolutely nothing to substantiate that opinion.
        Furthermore you have nothing to support your other opinion that ” every imaginable threat directed against any Jew is reported ASAP as a hate crime.”
        To my knowledge the recommendation from Jewish community leaders often is to discourage Jews to report minor attacks, because that often tends to provoke the haters into upping the ante and escalating their racism in retaliation.

        • To my knowledge the recommendation from Jewish community leaders often is to discourage Jews to report minor attack

          can you verify that in any way? because it doesn’t match the info recorded inside the adl office in the movie defamation. one example was a person getting a parking ticket, or something of that nature. and the students at UC might have another angle on that too.

        • Citizen says:

          @ Mayhem
          Did you read the other hot links I gave? If you knew US secret service and/or Homeland Security, or, e.g., NYPD plain clothe cops (indoctrinated by profiling classes) were sitting in your synagogue and tapping your phones, and monitoring your email, would you be reporting to the government authorities what you think have been hate crimes directed at your people?

          Did you forget the US federal government has a taxpayer funded agency devoted exclusively to monitoring anti-semitism outside the USA? Do you think inside the USA it’s less diligent? Nothing like this exists for Arabs and Muslim Americans or their overseas counterparts. Rather, it is the reverse.
          Also, see blue299′s comment below. And consider that 99% of HMS funds to protect US communities from terrorists–goes to America’s jewish communities, when Jews are 2% of US population.

    • American says:

      In reality, as David J. Rusin noted in an article in the National Review at link to nationalreview.com last January:
      “a detailed analysis of FBI statistics covering ten full calendar years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks reveals that, on a per capita basis, American Muslims, contrary to spin, have been subjected to hate crimes less often than other prominent minorities. From 2002 to 2011, Muslims are estimated to have suffered hate crimes at a frequency of 6.0 incidents per 100,000 per year – 10 percent lower than blacks (6.7), 48 percent lower than homosexuals and bisexuals (11.5), and 59 percent lower than Jews (14.8). Americans should keep these numbers in mind whenever Islamists attempt to silence critics by invoking Muslim victimhood.”
      “….Mayhem

      Well that’s bullshit…either Ruskin is a liar or he can’t do basic math.
      The 2010 FBI report on hate crimes which has been linked and cited on here many times showed 902 hates crimes against Jews and 2,549 against Blacks so his 2002 to 2011 %’s for that at least are way off because the % ‘trends’ reported in 2010 did not show any dramatic change in hate crime targets.

  10. mijj says:

    > The acts carried out by Roeder and Tsarnaev were done ..

    ahem .. the acts have been *attributed to* Tsarnaev .. even though an authorized narrative has been cast in concrete.

  11. dbroncos says:

    @ marc b.

    “managed to cock up every stage of the investigation, pre- and post- bomb blast) had a million-plus people under martial law while pursuing a teenaged suspect, on foot, apparently unarmed. no offense to analysts, but that’s the real story.”

    I agree and we shouldn’t leave out Obama’s stern assurances: “We Will Not Be Intimidated!” I laughed out loud when I watched him say this even while the split screen was showing clips of SWAT teams, soldiers, police dogs, helicopters, etc.. swarming over Boston in hot persuit of a (yikes!) fugitive teenager. Bostonians certainly were intimidated, more so by martial law than by Tsarnaev.

  12. piotr says:

    The bottom line is that Miranda rights are somewhat symbolic, and violating them is also symbolic. It does not achieve anything except appeasing the segment of the public that is aghast at the notion that human and citizen right apply also to “very bad people”. It is essentially a fascistic impulse, and Obama appeases it in somewhat moderate manner. Due to overwhelming popular demand we will suspend Constitution of 16 hours!

    From the point of view of law enforcement, with the info at hand the state has only to decide if the prisoner will get death penalty or multiple live sentences (even if some people doubt the evidence, you can sentence a wooden peg in this situation). Then it will sail through any court and any jury. Preventatively, interrogators extracted info that the brothers allegedly started to plan an attack on NYC after the success in Boston, as disclosed by a person who just got multiple bullet wounds including one in the neck that was preventing him from speaking. Either he was writhing in pain or was in the la-la land from morphine.

    In any case, the putative second plot could perhaps increase the number of life sentences of the prisoner, or not, but otherwise of no real interest.

  13. Greg Burton says:

    Not to worry, the so-called “war on terror” pretexted by the 9/11 terrorists attacks; kept continuously and fearfully alive in the minds of Americans and the world through repeated concocted FBI/DOJ agent provocateur-led Muslim boogieman terror attacks, will soon evolve to included patriots and sovereign citizens, those who still cling to the idea of the US being a sovereign entity, a constitutional republic, a nation run by the rule of law.

    In the end, this eternal war against the manufacture enemy “al Qaeda”, Kitson’s “counter-gang” was intended as a tool to subordinate all nations, especially the US, as its democratic institutions were the strongest, and needed to be destroyed, into a global governance, not of laws and universal suffrage, but a fascist nightmare controlled by corporations who own the food and water, privatized police and armies, drones and space-based weapons ever-watching overhead, answering ultimately to a occult drug and banking cartel centered in the City of London.

  14. Elliot says:

    Terrorism is defined by the U.S. government as “the use of force intended to influence or instigate a course of action that furthers a political or social goal,”

    The acts carried out by Roeder and Tsarnaev were done with the same intent: to terrorize.

    We don’t know what the goal of the Boston bombings was. Assuming it was Tsarnaev, he may have carried out the bombings to be like his big brother or for some other reason. Could be that he is insane.

    Unlike Roeder’s attack, the Boston bombings have not been shown to be an act of terrorism.

  15. kalithea says:

    Is killing scores of civilians in drawn-out nation-building wars an act of terrorism? Is blow-back terrorism?

    Islamophobia and revenge now taint the law. I’m not sure if such egregious errors in judgment are reversible. The blindfold has been pulled away from the eyes of Justice.

    If Americans don’t start practicing what they preach they will no doubt suffer the consequences of the injustice they’ve created.

  16. blue299 says:

    America is Israel. 19 hijackers with box cutters and now EVERY muslim in the WORLD is guilty by name association. This ZIONISTS mentality has infiltrated every sector of our government and media. If you just visit the fbi.gov website you will see clear as day how america is run by the zionist mob. There are two lists on the fbi.gov website, one most wanted, the other is a terrorist list which 99% of them are muslim.

    When we have numerous abortion clinic bombings for the last 20 years i never once saw the word “terrorist” associated with them.

    The war on “terror”itory is a lie from the very day of 911.

  17. Theo says:

    Big Abe is just doing his job, that is why he gets paid, however he is not right.

    In my opinion there is very little anti-semitism in the USA, a bit more in the south than in the better educated north.
    However, compared to the hate of muslims, blacks and latinos, it is negligible, as humans always found other humans not to their liking.
    All those jewish organisations working to protect and further jewish interests must create a “need” for their survices, and that is what Abe Foxman doing.