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Boston Marathon Bomber Charged With Using 'Weapon of Mass Destruction' 533

Posted by Soulskill
from the 30-counts-ought-to-do-it dept.
New submitter bunkymag writes "Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has now been indicted on over 30 charges relating to his part in the Boston Marathon bombing. Of particular note however is a charge of using a 'Weapon of Mass Destruction.' It's a bit out of line with the commonly-held perception of the term, most notably used in justifying the invasion of Iraq. However, U.S. criminal law defines a 'weapon of mass destruction' much more broadly, including virtually any explosive device: bombs, grenades, rockets, missiles, mines, etc. The question arises: is it wise for Tsarnaev to face such a politically-loaded charge? From an outsider perspective, it would seem easy enough to leverage any number of domestic anti-terror laws to achieve anything up to and including the death penalty if required. Why, then, muddy the waters with this new WMD claim, when the price could be giving further ammunition to groups outside of America that already clearly feel the rules are set up to indict them on false pretenses, and explicitly use this sense of outrage to attract new terrorist recruits?"
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Boston Marathon Bomber Charged With Using 'Weapon of Mass Destruction'

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:38AM (#44132813)

    They could charge him with a felony parking violation. What difference does it make? Not that I'm sympathetic to the bomber. Just sayin'.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:58AM (#44133131)

      It really feels as if the government is getting desparate to find boogymens for everything. Now they have a guy they could have potentially stopped from using WMDs if they had been allowed to use more intrusive surveillance (never mind that they already did the surveillance).

      Notice how in the case of manning and snowden the complaints aren't about what they revealed, they are about that they revealed it. This is all pointing directly into scare and diversion tactics. And we can only hope that it ends with a revolution.
      The arabic springs are the start, not the end, the opression is everywhere.

      • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Friday June 28, 2013 @12:35PM (#44133719)

        "It really feels as if the government is getting desparate to find boogymens for everything."

        Not to play conspiracy theorist or anything, but history says this is (really) TYPICAL tyrannical-government strategy.

        * Label things as far worse than they actually are, as long as it's only citizens being labeled.

        * Label things far better than they actually are, when it's government behavior, not citizens.

        * Make everything illegal. When everybody is a criminal, then you can enforce the laws arbitrarily and only against those you don't like.

        (Think that is a joke? YOU are probably a felon already, many times over, and didn't even know it. [threefeloniesaday.com])

        ---

        • by lgw (121541) on Friday June 28, 2013 @01:58PM (#44135059) Journal

          The term "weapon of mass destruction" has meant things like grenades, flamethrowers, and improvised explosives for at least a century in law. The term is defined in every state's gun laws, and has nothing to do with NBC weapons. Bush's use of it to describe chemical weapons, which is the first time many people heard the term, was non-standard. (Basically, it's been clear for as long as there have been gun laws that they don't include the right to make arbitrary improvised weapons, and during the "bomb throwing anarchist" years ~100 years ago these laws were given real teeth.)

          • by Creepy (93888)

            According to wikipedia [wikipedia.org], the term wasn't even coined until the late 1930s in regards to the Nationalist bombing of Guernica with help from the German Luftwaffe and Italian Aviazione Legionaria, likely in fear that the Spanish civil war would spill over into another World War (and it pretty much did). If I remember correctly this was the first major case of "terror bombing" where civilian populations were intentionally targeted to break resistance rather than strategic bombing where resources and manufacturin

          • by DarkTempes (822722) on Friday June 28, 2013 @03:01PM (#44135865)
            Bullshit. It was objectively standard for chemical weapons to be considered weapons of mass destruction way before Bush ever used the term.
            For example:
            1972 UN Treaty http://disarmament.un.org/treaties/t/sea_bed/text
            1998 CNN article http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/stories/1998/12/16/transcripts/clinton.html
            Or a billion other examples that are easy to find if you search any news or legislative archive.

            And I used the government code web search for California, Louisiana, and Massachusetts to look up your state law claim. Only Louisiana had any law with a reference to "mass destruction" and that was most definitely not about simple explosives.
            So for a typical West Coast, East Coast, and Southern State there is no mention of Weapon of Mass Destruction and certainly not in the ridiculous manner of the federal law that says that a potato gun is a WMD ("any destructive device as defined in section 921 of this title"->"expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant, and which has any barrel with a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter").

            It's so broad that they had to specifically mention that shotguns are not WMDs! Absurd.
          • The term "weapon of mass destruction" has meant things like grenades, flamethrowers, and improvised explosives for at least a century in law. The term is defined in every state's gun laws, and has nothing to do with NBC weapons. Bush's use of it to describe chemical weapons, which is the first time many people heard the term, was non-standard.

            Um, no. You've got it precisely all fucked up and backwards.

            The term WMD has been applied to nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons since the end of WWII -

        • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Friday June 28, 2013 @02:18PM (#44135325)
          I kind of suspect this is just a PR move by local politicians, the prosecutors, the district attorney or whoever (not familiar with goverment structure).

          "We at the Boston city government are going to charge this guy with SO MANY laws that his head will explode. Yeah, we have a shit-ton of laws to use on him. So you, the citizen, taxpayer, and voter are WICKED safe: we put the bad guys away in terrorist jails for a billion years. You don't need to vote for someone else promising to keep you safe from random violence that you for some reason think is plaguing the country. "

          Escalating crimes seems dangerous (dangerous as in real danger, not like the "danger" of terrorism). Today it's these idiots charged with WMD, the next national tragedy involving guns, someone is going to get the bright idea to declare guns WMD, and then every gang member found with a gun on his person is going away for life at supermax prison, at an exorbitant cost to the taxpayer.

          I guess the thing to do would be to ask the FBI how it is that they let "terrorists" who knew how to make "weapons of mass destruction" into the country after Russia warned us about the two.
      • by MasaMuneCyrus (779918) on Friday June 28, 2013 @04:57PM (#44137315)

        And we can only hope that it ends with a revolution.

        Something that most Americans fail to realize is that 99% of the time, revolution is a very, very bad thing. The American Revolution is an extreme anomaly. It is one of only a very small handful of revolutions that didn't end with decades living under the iron fist of a tyrannical government. Most revolutions create power vacuums, and power vacuums are almost always filled by a great strongman. Another US revolution would not only be catastrophically bloody, but, like all other revolutions, it would almost invariably be followed by decades of dictatorship. Revolution is not required for even great change. See: Taiwan, or even Great Britain.

    • by gmuslera (3436) on Friday June 28, 2013 @12:00PM (#44133161) Homepage Journal

      The problem is if they ever charge you with terrorism because the firecrackers you throw hit the wrong spot. Would you like a death penalty for an accident? Setting precedents is dangerous, including the one of making this all up part.

      • by NFN_NLN (633283) on Friday June 28, 2013 @12:39PM (#44133781)

        I often wondered how people from eastern block countries have a "don't give a fuck attitude" about everything compared to the west. But it's all making sense.
        I suppose after generations of the government trying to get you riled up and feeding you shit... you just become desensitized.

        At one point a sexual offender was something to get worried about. Now with "pissing in public" being treated the same who really knows.
        Now a guy can do 10 years in prison... for smoking pot.
        Writing anti-bank slogans in chalk on a public sidewalk outside a bank... terrorist.

        The day will come when people just stop caring...

    • by durrr (1316311) on Friday June 28, 2013 @12:12PM (#44133313)

      They want the WMD charges to stick, because then they can retroactively justify the Iraq war as there totally were WMDs all over the place there.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 28, 2013 @12:17PM (#44133405)

      He should just be charged with what he did:

      Killing x people, Wounding y people,
      Exploding a bomb with intent to endanger life,
      Conspiracy to commit a terrorist act.

      Sll the rest is bollocks, MFG, omb

    • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Friday June 28, 2013 @12:43PM (#44133831) Journal

      Just shows that in the US we prefer that you do all your mass attacks with guns.

      • by presidenteloco (659168) on Friday June 28, 2013 @12:54PM (#44134055)

        Yes. Why is a small explosive a WMD but an assault rifle with multiple large magazines, which is much more deadly, is perfectly legal?

        The US already has zero credibility worldwide on the question of identifying weapons of mass destruction anyway
        (a small war based on a total lie had something to do with that),
        so this indictment just puts it into the negative credibility zone.

        • by operagost (62405)

          Yes. Why is a small explosive a WMD but an assault rifle with multiple large magazines, which is much more deadly, is perfectly legal?

          Only if you put it in the hands of a robot that keeps pulling the trigger (because full-auto weapons are essentially illegal in the USA) and is somehow able to empty and reload two or three 30 rounds mags in under a second.

    • What difference does it make?

      Hillary? Is that you? I didn't realize you read Slashdot!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:38AM (#44132817)

    Should it not be weapons of Mass. destruction?

    Or perhaps just weapons of MA destruction?

  • However (Score:5, Funny)

    by Sparticus789 (2625955) on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:40AM (#44132851) Journal

    By this new definition of "Weapons of Mass Destruction", Saddam did have WMD's and they were in Iraq.

    • by luis_a_espinal (1810296) on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:44AM (#44132897) Homepage

      By this new definition of "Weapons of Mass Destruction", Saddam did have WMD's and they were in Iraq.

      I didn't though of that. Maybe the government is pulling a "Romney" in trying to find a casus belli for that war fiasco retroactively :P

      • I didn't though of that. Maybe the government is pulling an "Obama" in trying to find a casus belli for that war fiasco retroactively :P

        FTFY

    • by zlives (2009072)

      as does every other country... so maybe its time to buy defense contractor company shares... o wait its always time to buy defense contractor shares

  • Oh the irony (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ACluk90 (2618091) on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:40AM (#44132853)

    So according to the government's own definition the U.S. military not only owns, but uses weapons of mass destruction, probably on a daily basis? I thought they raided Iraq, because the just owned such weapons. This definition is ridiculous!

    • Re:Oh the irony (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:55AM (#44133085)

      No no, you misunderstand. WMDs are owned and used by bad guys, never by good guys. This Boston fellow is a bad guy, therefore what he uses must be WMDs. The US military are good guys, because they don't use WMDs. We know they don't use WMDs because they are good guys and good guys don't do that. It's all perfectly simple when you think about it.

    • by WillgasM (1646719)
      Not OUR bombs. They're defined as "Fiery Freedom Hugs". It's a very subtle distinction based mostly on the color of paint used.
  • by thepike (1781582) on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:41AM (#44132855)
    If this bomb was a weapon of mass destruction then it turns out Bush was right! Iraq totally had WMDs. See, the whole war on terror is justified.
  • WMDs in Iraq (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JDG1980 (2438906) on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:41AM (#44132863)

    So there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after all!

    • So there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after all!

      I'm starting to wonder if they're trying to confuse the terms on purpose to make the history books read a bit better. Hmm.

  • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:42AM (#44132869) Journal

    If you're going to just make up definitions to make things sound worse, why not call him a pedo as well and charge him for that too?

    Seriously, the guy's a murderer plain and simple and deserves to be locked up for the rest of his life. But a conventional bomb simply is not a weapon of mass destruction unless you want the term to have no meaning.

    Nukes are WMDs. Chemical weapons fit the bill, as do biological ones. Possibly a really huge conventional bomb could reach that (e.g. a daisycutter in a populate d area), but a bomb set off in a crowd which kills 5 people? That's not even remotely a WMD.

    The stupidity of this burns, frankly.

    • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:47AM (#44132935) Journal

      More:

      It's even stupider than that. From skimming the law, it appears that any destructive device can count as a WMD, which mean's it's apparently legal to own one, given that one can own destructive devices.

      In fact the Bofors 40mm AA autocannon (the largest machinegun in civillian hands) fits the bill, and there's videos of someone (legally) setting off his WMD at a number of entertaining targets.

      Stupid definitions are just stupid.

  • Well, that means the US and the UK were correct - Iraq *did* have weapons of mass destruction, it had millions of such weapons. Infact, pretty much every country has them.

    In sane-land, this is ridiculous. If it wasn't, how about the US stop blocking the extradition for all the IRA terrorists and money men the UK have been seeking for the past 40 years?

  • As an online discussion of different legal definitions of illicit human behavior grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, and the definition of "sex" approaches 1. When such an event occurs, the person guilty of invoking Clinton's Law has effectively forfieted the argument.

    • by Minwee (522556)

      As an online discussion of different legal definitions of illicit human behavior grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, and the definition of "sex" approaches 1. When such an event occurs, the person guilty of invoking Clinton's Law has effectively forfieted the argument.

      And thus, by your own argument, your argument is invalid. This is an example of "Captain Kirk's Law of Computer Systems Management", and it typically involves a lot of smoke and the use of phrases like "Does not compute!" and "Prime directive!"

  • I wouldn't worry about that. We could give ponies to crippled children and that would somehow be used to recruit terrorists.

  • Everyone should read it. At least the commentary about how information can be misused to stir up the masses and move society in one direction or another.

    [Begin Rant]Unfortunately, that's were "we" have gone with terrorism. It isn't enough to call someone a terrorist. No they used "weapons of mass destruction" because it sounds more terrifying. It isn't enough to call a robber a robber any more either. No, we've starting calling them terrorist now. Anything to arouse the masses and get them worked up.

  • Domestic audience (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SirGarlon (845873) on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:49AM (#44132981)

    I suspect this is another instance where the Federal prosecutors are thinking of primarily domestic considerations. If they bring the biggest and most impressive-sounding charges they can, then all the surveillance powers and generally noxious government behavior seem more justified. It pays to keep the public scared: it keeps the "homeland security" budget super-sized and it makes the Federal prosecutors look and feel bigger than they are. Both of those outcomes are good for their careers.

  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:54AM (#44133073)

    Try the guy on 3 counts of murder, a bazillion of attempted murder, and throw in a few parking tickets and douchbag haircut crimes as well. The legal system already accounts for people like this, no need to layer on another helping of hysteria and chest-beating.

  • by luis_a_espinal (1810296) on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:57AM (#44133117) Homepage

    "Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has now been indicted on over 30 charges relating to his part in the Boston Marathon bombing. Of particular note however is a charge of using a 'Weapon of Mass Destruction.' It's a bit out of line with the commonly-held perception of the term, most notably used in justifying the invasion of Iraq. However, U.S. criminal law defines a 'weapon of mass destruction' much more broadly, including virtually any explosive device: bombs, grenades, rockets, missiles, mines, etc. The question arises: is it wise for Tsarnaev to face such a politically-loaded charge? From an outsider perspective, it would seem easy enough to leverage any number of domestic anti-terror laws to achieve anything up to and including the death penalty if required. Why, then, muddy the waters with this new WMD claim, when the price could be giving further ammunition to groups outside of America that already clearly feel the rules are set up to indict them on false pretenses, and explicitly use this sense of outrage to attract new terrorist recruits?"

    Absolutely not. Tsarnaev is a terrorist and a murderer. As such, he should be indicted logically, using the law logically, and with all the abundance of evidence arrayed against him.

    By trumpeting the charges and re-defining the semantics behind the term WMD, we turn a legitimate case into a political circus. Moreover, when we cheapen a word or term (WMD in this case), when we redefined in an ad hoc manner away from the commonly accepted semantics of it, we setup a terrible precedent, one than can be legitimacy challenged by Tsarnaev's attorney.

    There is no sane way in which we can interpret a pipebomb or a pressure cooker bomb as a weapon of mass destruction. No common person exercising common sense and common knowledge can accept such a definition. Any such redefinition is no longer objective. It is biased and subjective, one that can run into trouble with a judge in a court of law (or a jury).

    So why risk it? I mean, there are many reasons, political and circus-like reasons, yes, but no valid, legal or ethical reasons.

    Tsarnaev is guilty of terrorism. It is guilty of murder. It is guilty of harming other people and property. It is guilty of robbery. It is guilty of kidnapping. It is guilty of manufacturing and deploying destructive devises (of which WMDs are just a very small subset.) One could argue that he is guilty of organized crime (with the objective of committing acts of terrorism.)

    There is plenty of objective evidence with which to finding him guilty of all of that in state and federal courts.

    He is not guilty of using a WMD. This is a slippery slope for something that is completely unnecessary. If we use that logic, does a mass shooting turns a rifle into a WMD? Does crashing a car to run into a store turns it into a WMD? As horrible as these things might be, there are laws of sufficient strength and logical soundness to prosecute such acts.

    This move does not make us safer. In fact, it might have the opposite effect since it trivializes the meaning behind "WMD", which could make it more difficult to prosecute an actual WMD charge.

    Authorities, please: Let us not make one more mockery out of legal institutions and charge this criminal appropriately. Do not turn our courts for such an important case into a political circus, please.

    • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Friday June 28, 2013 @12:24PM (#44133503) Homepage

      Tsarnaev is guilty of terrorism. It is guilty of murder. It is guilty of harming other people and property. It is guilty of robbery. It is guilty of kidnapping. It is guilty of manufacturing and deploying destructive devises (of which WMDs are just a very small subset.) One could argue that he is guilty of organized crime (with the objective of committing acts of terrorism.)

      While I agree with most of what you say, calling him "it" doesn't seem helpful. He's still human and I'm not sure what you hope to achieve by excluding him from the species. Sounds like the kind of language that would get a prosecutor a reproach for turning the court into the kind of circus you've advocated avoiding.

      He's also not guilty of anything yet.

      Authorities, please: Let us not make one more mockery out of legal institutions and charge this criminal appropriately.

      Don't make a mockery of legal institutions by assuming a suspect's guilt before his trial.

      • by fnj (64210)

        He's also not guilty of anything yet.

        He is guilty as HELL. That's an assumption based on evidence I have seen reported; an assumption I am perfectly free to make and one which is entirely warranted. He just hasn't been found guilty in a court of law yet.

        The consequence of my assumption is nil. The consequence of false procedure in a court of law, including presumption of guilt, would be very serious.

  • by RetiredMidn (441788) on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:58AM (#44133119) Homepage
    The Times Square (attempted) bomb [wikipedia.org] was termed a "weapon of mass destruction" in the charges that were filed. I do think "WMD" is over-kill for those cases.
  • The use of the term "WMD" simply lays bare government's attitude toward the people under their rule:" they are objects, having some value for the state, which can be damaged or destroyed. They are not people, they are not citizens, they are property. And they don't care that we know that to be the case.
  • by TheCarp (96830) <`ten.tenaprac' `ta' `cjs'> on Friday June 28, 2013 @12:14PM (#44133343) Homepage

    The simple fact is, and there were people who brought this up during the Bush administration, which is why this is no surprize at all to me now, the law defines just about any explosive intended to harm people as a weapon of mass destruction. This is not new at all. Even while Bush was raving about WMDs in Iraq, the whole time, even a hand grenade was classified as a WMD.

    The shocking thing, to my mind is that Bush never used this to his advantage. This dedinition could have easily been used to manufacture some news stories which would lose the details int he shuffle. "We found WMDs!"

    What bothers me is that, this happened in MA, and MA specifically doesn't have the death penalty. The AG here should be bending over backwards to make sure he is charged HERE and fight federal attempts on general princible. Banning the death penalty here was done for good reason and he should be working to respect that as an agent of state law not using the federal loophole to allow him to, without any fight, end up in a court that would kill him.

    In any case, this is no politically charged charge, its exactly the defined crime under federal law. Its just not clear to me why the federal government should get involved when this seems like one the state can handle.

  • by somarilnos (2532726) on Friday June 28, 2013 @03:40PM (#44136309)
    There are only a handful of things that will get you sentenced to death under federal law. Yes, he could be charged with first degree murder, but that wasn't done on the federal level, so the jurisdiction of the commonwealth of Massachusetts would take precedence over federal law there (and there is no death penalty in MA). He can be charged FEDERALLY with nothing else that would be able to get him the death penalty. He wasn't smuggling aliens, did not destroy aircraft, did not perpetrate a drug-related drive-by shooting, didn't kill law enforcement officials, etc. Thus this is the only charge that the federal government can bring against him that could result in the death penalty. It's not about being politically charged - it's about them desiring to be able to kill him, and not having another way to go about it.
  • by mendax (114116) on Friday June 28, 2013 @04:05PM (#44136679)

    Prosecutors always overcharge the accused because 1) they can do it, and 2) it gives them leverage to get a plea bargain approved and avoid going to court and having to pay for an expensive trial. Because of the federal budget woes right now which has caused courts, the U.S. attorneys' offices (the prosecutors), and the federal public defenders' offices to lay off clerks and lawyers (but not judges) they undoubtedly would not want to go to trial given how hugely expensive it would be. But regardless of whether this guy is charged by the feds or the commonwealth of Massachusetts he at a minimum is going to spend his life in prison, probably a supermax. He could be the Unibomber's cellmate whenever the Supreme Court finally abolishes solitary confinement. Perhaps they could compare notes.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Friday June 28, 2013 @04:20PM (#44136885) Homepage Journal

    Just like the RICO laws resulted in an ever-widening definition of "conspiracy", or corporations becoming more and more "people" over time.

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