Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Guilty -- But of What?

Three suspects have been arrested and charged with obstructing justice and covering up their friend's involvement in the Boston bombing. According to NBC news, the three of them went to his dorm room after some mysterious comments made by him. When they arrived they took the time to watch a movie before looking into his backpack where they found fireworks containers which had been emptied of gunpowder. They then took the backpack and Tsarnaev's computer out of the room. To quote the NBC report, -- After leaving the dorm, the three friends "started to freak out" because they realized Tsarnaev was wanted in the bombing, Phillipos said, according to the feds.
They then "collectively decided to throw the backpack and fireworks into the trash because they did not want Tsarnaev to get in trouble," Kadyrbayev told agents, according to the complaint. --

It's clear enough that the three young men behaved foolishly and self-destructively. Obviously, they should have turned the evidence over to the authorities. That is not an issue. What does concern me is the rush to judgment I have heard both from the left and from the right.

It seems that everyone, at least everyone I have heard so far, is condemning these three young men as being guilty of helping to cover up the bombing out of concern for Tsarnaev's safety. It is important to note that no one is accusing them of having known about the bombing before they actually entered the dorm room and found the evidence. Nevertheless, if they were covering up for their friend they were indeed obstructing injustice and were indeed materially assisting a terrorist who might continue to commit terrorist acts to escape capture.

What I haven't heard in this discussion however, is an alternative scenario. It might be true it might not be true. I don't know. My point is that I don't think anyone really knows what their motives were at this stage. Condemnation should come slowly and cautiously. However disturbed we are, and we are all deeply disturbed, we should not rush to judgment.

Once again, let me make sure that I am not misinterpreted. No matter what the motivation of these three young man, their actions were foolish and self-destructive. Clearly they cannot be ignored. But the question of motivation is terribly important. Everyone is assuming that they did this for the single and sole purpose of helping a friend to escape justice. That is certainly one valid and entirely possible reason for their actions. But it is not the only one.

I suggest an alternative scenario. I do not suggest that this is what happened. I did not suggest that this is likely what happened. I suggest only that this might be what happened and, if it is what happened, then the young men's actions were foolish and self-destructive, but not intended to cause harm to anyone else, or even to protect their friend from justice.

I suggest that what might have happened is that these three young men, shocked at the strange attitude their friend had adopted upon their pointing out his resemblance to the bomber, went over to his dorm to investigate. If they actually believed he was guilty, it seems unlikely would've sat around watching a movie before taking other actions. But they did watch that movie, which makes me think that they just thought their friend was acting strangely and that they did not suspect at that time that he had, in fact, committed this vile act.

When they did discover the evidence, I think it is at least possible that their reaction was not how can we protect our friend but rather how can we keep them being blamed for what are crazy friend has done?

Again I repeat, I am not suggesting that this is what actually happened, only that it is an alternative possibility. Tsarnaev's buddies may have acted not out of a despicable concern for protecting their friend from the consequences of his actions but rather out of a more understandable fear that they would be falsely regarded as his accessories. If so, it does not eliminate the criminal nature of their actions. However, if they were acting out of a fear that they themselves would be falsely accused of being his accomplices then at least their actions become more explicable, even understandable.

I am posting this on my blog because I'm concerned by the universal assumption that I have heard repeated today that these three men acted entirely out of the desire to protect their friend, that they displayed nothing but contempt for those who were harmed in the bombing, and that in general their behavior was so extreme that it cannot be comprehended and that the rage and even hatred directed at them is justified. All of these statements I have heard repeatedly on a variety of news channels today. They may be correct. All I'm saying is that it's a bit early to be condemning these young man as willful accomplices in the attempted escape of this terrorist. It seems to me entirely possible that three young men in college may simply have overreacted as young men in college often do, and that they were attempting not to protect their friend from justice, but to protect themselves from being unjustly accused.

And I will say once again, even if this was their motive, it would still not eliminate the criminal nature of their actions. However, it would put their actions in a very different light. Far from being willing accomplices after the fact, they suddenly morph into young men so frightened that they behaved foolishly and irresponsibly in a misguided attempt protect themselves. In other words, they freaked out.

We will have a better idea of which scenario is correct in about a week. I suggest we withhold our condemnation until we have that more accurate picture of what actually took place.

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