Sunday, April 21, 2013

Back to reality

What with one thing and another, this blog has been neglected. (Stop cheering at the back.) Time to get back to reality. There is little more I can say at the moment about the developments in Boston except to be somewhat surprised at the national identity of the suspect. I am not one of those who thinks that Moslem means by definition a terrorist and the problems of North Caucasus are very different from the problems of the Middle East. There is a strong suspicion at the back of my mind that this story will have hitherto unknown ramifications.

Furthermore, I wonder how Americans, who are more sensitive to liberty and natural rights as well as the need to oppose overweening government action will feel when the initial celebration is over, at the thought that one of their cities (and not just any one but Boston) was put under curfew by what looked like an occupying force but was, in fact, their own police, SWAT and so on, in heavy armour, riding heavy armoured cars. Is this really what America has come to? Not even our over-reacting police have done that. And in Israel, a country that is more used to terrorism than Britain, let alone the US, attitudes tend to be very different as this article explains.

In the end, as we know, the younger Tsarnayev was caught after the forces of law and order had almost given up, lifted the curfew and one home owner decided to inspect her boat that was under a tarpaulin in the back garden. Or so it seems at the moment. All too many of the stories through that night and day have turned out to be untrue, either accidentally or deliberately misleading. Incidentally, I was amused by this, a salutary warning to all of us who think that the internet, blogosphere, social media and twitterdom are superior to old-fashioned methods of communication and enquiry. Internet detectives got it very wrong, misled the investigators and caused trouble to innocent people. Almost like real journalists, in fact.

As soon as I raised the subject with some American friends I was told that there is a growing discussion about that shut-down or lock-down or, as I prefer to call it, curfew. Here, for instance. it's not so much Megan McArdle's discussion that is of interest but the comments, many of whom show real unhappiness with what had happened.

This is priceless. First it puts what happened into some perspective, then it points out who actually found the hiding fugitive while the police managed to miss fairly obvious clues, and, finally, there is the interesting piece of information that not all of Boston or, even, Watertown was locked down.
But the Boston police didn't shut down an entire city. They shut down an entire city except for the donut shops.
Here is the story on
On block after block of the Boston’s Financial District and Downtown Crossing, Starbucks shops went dark as the city locked down, spurred by a manhunt for the second marathon bombing suspect. Dunkin’ Donuts stayed open. Law enforcement asked the chain to keep some restaurants open in locked-down communities to provide hot coffee and food to police and other emergency workers, including in Watertown, the focus of the search for the bombing suspect. Dunkin’ is providing its products to them for free.
One would not want the police and others to go without hot coffee and their favourite sugary snack but does this mean that the danger was not quite as bad as they made out or that the lives of the Dunkin Donut shops were expendable?

The comments and debate that follow Clark's posting on Popehat are of great interest.

That having not been solved (discussions will go on for a while, especially when the cost of the whole operation, including lost business will be published) we can move on to another problem. It seems that Dzhokhar Tsanayev will not be given the usual Miranda warning (analogous to the warning the police are supposed to give here when arresting a suspect) before being questioned by the FBI, whenever that may happen as we do not know what state he is in. This is in line with changes that were made a couple of years ago in the investigation of terror suspects, as analyzed in this article at the time.

A good many people are unhappy. Miranda warnings, they think, are essential if the US is to preserve its own legal and constitutional system. Otherwise, the terrorists might be said to have won at least up to a point. Emily Bazelon's piece on sums up the problems.
There is one specific circumstance in which it makes sense to hold off on Miranda. It’s exactly what the name of the exception suggests. The police can interrogate a suspect without offering him the benefit of Miranda if he could have information that’s of urgent concern for public safety. That may or may not be the case with Tsarnaev. The problem is that Attorney General Eric Holder has stretched the law beyond that scenario. And that should trouble anyone who worries about the police railroading suspects, which can end in false confessions. No matter how unsympathetic accused terrorists are, the precedents the government sets for them matter outside the easy context of questioning them. When the law gets bent out of shape for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, it’s easier to bend out of shape for the rest of us.
Again, the discussion is of some interest. Astonishingly so, for someone who is used to the inanities of people who comment on newspaper columns.

Errm, I was going to write about the latest adventure of the EU Foreign Policy Supremo but seem to have spent too much time on the aftermath of the Boston affair. Tomorrow then.

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