On April 29 2013, former Texas Representative Ron Paul compared the federal and Boston police department manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to a paramilitary-style undeclared martial takeover of American civil liberties and an American city by the United States government in an op-ed titled "Liberty Was Also Attacked In Boston" on LewRockwell.com. The 2012 presidential candidate went on to accuse the government of opportunistically turning what he believes should have been handled as a police investigation into a military-style occupation of an American city. However, I would retort by pointing out that in times of crisis, there is often an unavoidable tradeoff of certain civil liberties in exchange for security.
Representative Paul’s central argument is that given the size of the attack, the governmental response was unreasonable:
"The suspect was not discovered by the paramilitary troops terrorizing the public. He was discovered by a private citizen, who then placed a call to the police. And he was identified not by government surveillance cameras, but by private citizens who willingly shared their photographs with the police. Three people were killed in Boston and that is tragic. But what of the fact that over 40 persons are killed in the United States each day, and sometimes ten persons can be killed in one city on any given weekend? These cities are not locked-down by paramilitary police riding in tanks and pointing automatic weapons at innocent citizens."
Certainly, there is validity to the former representative's reaction to a small scale attack eliciting city-wide lock down measures. And given the relentless nature of news coverage in 2013, it is likely that the response was intentionally excessive to demonstrate the relative speed and effectiveness of the current-day safety measures to the public, as compared to September 11, 2001. However, I would argue that it is a bit precipitous to describe the response as unnecessary or opportunistic.
It is unfair to claim that people do not derive mental catharsis from fear in times of crisis by seeing their government react to terrorism effectively. Plenty of people in Boston would agree that they did not feel that their liberties were being violated. In addition, one week after the Boston bombings, suspects Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser, were arrested in Quebec and Ontario in connection with Al-Qaeda. The men were accused of plotting to attack a VIA passenger train between Canada and New York. The investigation was part of a yearlong cross-border operation involving the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the CSIS, the FBI, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Though it has been confirmed that the Boston bombing was unrelated to the Canadian terror plot, I would point out that there were suspicions that the bombing was related to the attack at the time. Certainly the possibility is not extraneous. That is the point: it is difficult to distinguish an appropriate reaction to an act of terror. Consider it this way, during a hypothetical terrorist attack, there are two ways a government can respond.
In the first scenario, the governmental response is excessive and suspended certain civil liberties inappropriately in retrospect, but the danger of an excessive safety procedure increases security. In the alternative scenario, the government reacts non-aggressively as information presents itself, which risks more lives but preserves civil liberties. I respect the former representatives opinion, but I believe they simply chose the option that endangered fewer people.