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Now, a #BostonStrong search for answers

Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev at the Boston Marathon

Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev at the Boston Marathon before two bombs were detonated (April 15, 2013). Credit: AP

With the capture Friday night of the second man alleged to have bombed the Boston Marathon, we moved past the frenzied, fearful phase of this tragedy. Now comes investigation, reflection and the path forward.

Looking back, there is much to admire in the way the police and the residents of Boston responded to the explosion at the iconic race and the search for the culprits. The remarkable investigation by a coordinated law-enforcement task force was quick, exhaustive and effective, thoroughly modern and crowdsourced.

We now live in a world where bombs like those that rocked Boylston Street are immediately assumed to be acts of terrorism. We live in a post-9/11 world of omnipresent cameras, mounted on the streets, held in the hands of citizens. Twitter and Instagram are used by the public and the police to spread information and to seek it. We are primed for terrorism, and ready to respond to it. To some extent, we accept the fact that if we want to keep our behavior private, it had better happen in private. In public, no one moves unseen.

Now there is the search for answers.

Rather than ending with the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and the death of his brother, Tamerlan, 26, it has begun. Why would they do it, and how? Will the investigation show whether these immigrant brothers of Chechen descent acted alone, or were loosely connected to a jihadist movement or a sleeper cell directly tied to our enemies? Were they stirred by ideological goals, or simply angry and disenfranchised? Was this the first salvo in a coming wave of terrorism, or an isolated event?

We need answers, both to deal with our fears and to define our response. The inquiry must be thorough and intense, yet it also must be unmarred by the emotions of the moment.

The attacks will force us to look hard at ways we can do more to keep ourselves safe. The fact that, at the request of the Russian government, the FBI interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev, is very worrisome. The FBI apparently found no links to terror. But were the inquiries of the Russian intelligence agency -- which national security experts say conducts extraordinarily detailed surveillance of extremists, particularly Chechens -- properly heeded? Should Tamerlan have been considered a "priority target" and more closely watched? After his trip to Russia in 2012, did that nation tell us which places he visited during his six months of travel?


Murky facts, which come amid a torrent of often-ambiguous and conflicting information, always become clearer in hindsight. Nuance and context are everything in an inquest like this. Still, we must ask whether Tamerlan's inflammatory Web postings, the nature of his travel abroad, and information from Russian intelligence should have sounded louder alarms.

And if the brothers did this all alone -- if our country's privileges and opportunities, which the brothers' uncle praised on Friday, did not induce them into assimilation -- that is a very chilling and challenging message for law enforcement. And it will recast our definition of vigilance.

Meanwhile, the younger brother now in custody, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was not immediately warned that U.S. law gives him the right to remain silent and obtain a lawyer for his defense. The Obama administration is right to deal with these special circumstances by stretching the "public safety" exception to the requirement to give the suspect his Miranda warnings. Tsarnaev has no legal or moral right to silence if he knows of imminent plots or hidden bombs that could cost more lives. Such rights exist to help us run a safe and just society, not to impede that effort.

Yet, Dzhokhar is a naturalized American -- eerily, he took his oath on Sept. 11, 2012 -- and he should have a jury trial in our federal court system. And preferably in the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse, with its riverside view of downtown Boston. There is no reason, and probably not legal ground, to spirit him off to Guantánamo Bay or designate him an enemy combatant. And let's be realistic; if he doesn't want to talk, no label or venue will make a difference. The choice we make as a society, however, will let the world know that terrorism will not undermine our constitutional values.

Will we come, when the facts are known, to see aspects of our terrorism threat or our geopolitical relations differently? Possibly, but to make such judgments before the facts are known would be foolish.


There was an attack, as there has been before and will be again. The response was swift and apt. The search for answers should be deliberate, but just as aggressive and complete. And when we have those facts in hand, we should move forward, a free nation dedicated to safeguarding life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as wisely as possible.