Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will not be tried as enemy combatant

Tsarnaev will be tried in federal court for conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction

By Natasha Lennard

Published April 22, 2013 5:45PM (EDT)

Dzhokar Tsarnaev                                  (FBI)
Dzhokar Tsarnaev (FBI)

According to White House spokesman Jay Carney Monday, Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will not be tried as an enemy combatant, but will face trial in a federal court. Via the Boston Globe:

Pointing to other terrorists who have been tried and convicted in federal court, [Carney] said, “The system has repeatedly proven that it can successfully handle the threater that we continue to face.”

He also said that US citizens cannot be tried before military commissions. Tsarnaev is a naturalized US citizen. He was sworn in as a citizen in September.

According to the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's Office, the 19-year-old is with charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against persons and property in U.S. resulting in death:

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A small cadre of Republican Congressmen, including Rep. Peter King, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, had called for the suspect to be detained under enemy combatant status. Applying such a designation to Tsarnaev would, however, abrogate current legal standards. As pointed out, "last year’s Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)  says that in order to be legally defined as a combatant, an individual must have either participated in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks or be someone 'who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaida, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States.'"

As civil liberties advocates currently battling problematic aspects of the NDAA have noted, the remit of the law is worryingly unclear in delineating what "substantial support" for these terror groups might mean. It is some relief, then, that Tsarnaev has not been designated as an enemy combatant, since the only known connection he appears to have to al-Qaida, the Taliban or associated forces are videos uploaded by his brother on YouTube, descirbed in the media the week as containing "Islamic extremist" content.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Al-qaida Boston Bombings Boston Marathon Bombing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Enemy Combatant Ndaa Terrorism