Tsarnaev should be executed

By Steven Gillard


On Jan. 30, federal prosecutors announced that they would seek the death penalty for the alleged Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Federal prosecutors cited his “betrayal of the United States” and his targeting of an event as “iconic” as the Boston Marathon to carry out an act of terrorism as reasons for their pursuit of capital punishment.

A Boston Globe poll from September revealed that 57 percent of Massachusetts residents polled wanted Tsarnaev to receive a life sentence, while 33 percent supported his execution.

Arguments against the death penalty vary in this case. Some say that capital punishment is morally wrong, and that it constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment.” Others claim that death is “too easy”—better the bomber rot in prison for years to come than be granted a quick and painless end. Given Tsarnaev’s extremist views, many believe that by giving him death, we are giving him what he wants—martyrdom. In his eyes and in the eyes of his fellow radicals, his death would be a victory for the militant Islamist cause, and a promotion of its ideology.

But this is not a matter of morality, or of maximizing suffering or of inadvertently furthering an extremist agenda. It is a matter of justice.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev deserves to die for his alleged crimes.

To start, there is nothing cruel or unusual about lethal injection. Even if the method of execution were something far less civilized, it would not matter. A lethal injection seems quite tame compared to the pressure cooker bombs filled with ball bearings that were used to maim and kill a crowd of innocent civilians.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan, who was killed during a subsequent police shootout, allegedly placed the bombs at the finish line to amass the largest number of casualties. The bombings injured 264 people—16 of whom were left as amputees—and killed three, including an eight-year-old boy. The Tsarnaev brothers also allegedly shot and killed MIT police officer Sean Collier, and led police on a manhunt that paralyzed the city for days.

Tsarnaev forfeited his rights as a human being the moment he chose to commit an act of terror.

He deprived four people of their lives, and irrevocably altered the lives of hundreds of others, yet he should be allowed to live? He should be allowed to walk and stretch and exercise while those he ruthlessly marred struggle to adapt to life without their limbs? He should be allowed to eat and sleep and think and breathe while those he killed cannot?

There is nothing more precious than life, and Tsarnaev took it upon himself to take that away from innocent people attending the Boston Marathon to cheer for their friends and family, as well as those participating. A life spent in prison, however miserable, is still better than no life at all—it is still more of a life than eight-year-old Martin Richard ever got to live.

Life in prison will show him nothing. It will not teach him a lesson. It will not force him to brood on the atrocities he committed until they eat him alive.

He does not care. He is a terrorist. He has demonstrated no remorse. His view of the world is so radicalized and warped that he believed bombing a marathon was a necessary measure in the fight against the United States, an act of “collateral damage” for U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. What is the purpose of keeping such a person alive? What is accomplished?

He wants to die a martyr, some argue. He wants to die a hero. Death is what he wants.

His actions in the aftermath of the bombing beg to differ. Tsarnaev did not strap a bomb to his chest and blow himself into oblivion; he dropped a backpack in a crowd and ran away. He did not die in a shootout with the police; he ran over his brother with a car in an attempt to save his own skin. He did not die fighting the enemy; he hid in a boat and surrendered when he was found. Despite his professed beliefs, Tsarnaev fears death, and is a coward. He wants to live. He would not have led the police on a massive manhunt if he welcomed death that came with it.

Some have pointed out that putting Tsarnaev to death would be perceived as a victory by Islamists, a completion of jihad. Tsarnaev died fighting the enemy—he died a martyr—and thus furthered the fundamentalist cause.

If militant Islamists want to think that Tsarnaev achieved a great victory in bombing the Boston Marathon, let them. If they want to find inspiration in his actions, let them. Not putting Tsarnaev to death in order to deny extremists the satisfaction and propaganda value of his execution would be detrimental to U.S. policy, as doing so would lend credence to their distorted beliefs and demonstrate fear of their futile cause. The United States must demonstrate tenacity and zero tolerance: If you carry out a terrorist attack on the United States, you will die and you will accomplish nothing.

So long as Tsarnaev eats our food, drinks our water and breathes our air, he is doing too much. He murdered in cold blood, and should be executed for it. Deprive him of his life as he deprived others, and let us move on with our own.

Steven Gillard is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]