Lawmakers here eye the impact of Boston attack
BY KAREN SHUEY, Staff Writer
Boston's nightmare is over, but questions remain.
Why did young men who lived and studied here resort to such violence?
Did the Tsarnaev brothers have ties to radical foreign groups?
How was their path to terror missed, considering the FBI tracked and interviewed the older brother two years ago?
Should the surviving bomber be tried in the civilian criminal justice system, or should he be treated as an enemy combatant?
Debate surrounding those questions -- and a broader discussion about securing America's borders -- is just beginning to take shape in Washington.
And Lancaster County's congressmen are joining the conversation.
U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts wants to know what the FBI learned when it interviewed Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev after his six-month stay last year in Russia.
The FBI had been tipped off a year earlier by Russian officials that the 26-year-old Tsarnaev, who was killed last week in a shootout with police, was worth investigating for possible extremist ties.
"It looks like the FBI failed in the way they handled things, and now we need to know what they learned and why they didn't do more," the Republican lawmaker said from his Washington office earlier this week.
U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan said he isn't sure if mistakes were made but that Congress is looking into the matter.
"After any event like this, it's prudent and responsible to examine the FBI's investigative actions and assess whether there are weaknesses in our intelligence-sharing apparatus," the Republican, who represents seven municipalities in the eastern part of the county, said in a prepared statement.
The investigation into the FBI's handling of the case is likely to take a backseat while federal investigators continue to question the surviving suspect.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a 19-year-old college student, might be the key to unlocking answers law-enforcement officers still seek.
But how to handle his case sparked another debate this week.
Under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev cannot be tried as an enemy combatant in a military tribunal because he is an American citizen.
Some lawmakers say they understand he must be tried in civilian court, but they want to start questioning him as an enemy combatant under the rules of war.
"When someone is a potential treason suspect working against our government and killing innocent civilians, we need to do everything we can to ensure public safety," Pitts said, adding that when the teen put the bomb on the ground, he forfeited his rights as an American.
Meehan avoided the question as to how Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be tried, and instead said he's confident the federal court system will be successful.
"The administration has decided that he will be tried as a civilian, and I think he will spend the rest of his life in prison and/or get the death penalty," he said in the statement.
Concerns about why and how the Tsarnaev brothers came to the United States also have been the center of some controversy.
Some legislators and immigration-reform critics argue the bombings should cause Congress to delay reform.
The Tsarnaev brothers legally emigrated with their family to the U.S. a decade ago, according to security authorities. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev -- the younger brother who is hospitalized in fair condition -- is a naturalized U.S. citizen; Tamerlan had a green card.
Others, however, say the attacks should serve as an example of how the immigration system is broken and in need of fixing.
"We're going to take the information we learn from this and proceed with the process," Pitts said.
"I think the attacks last week were a sobering reminder that terrorists across the world continue to plot attacks against our citizens, and it reaffirms the importance of getting our borders under control," he said.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey refused to answer questions relating to the Boston bombings.
His spokeswoman said, "To my knowledge, Sen. Toomey has not been briefed on the FBI tactics nor the legal ramifications of the suspect being charged one way or the other."
Requests to interview U.S. Sen. Bob Casey were unsuccessful.