Did the Boston Bombers Really Use WMD?

Don't panic: anthrax and nukes are WMDs. But under the law, so is a pressure-cooker bomb

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Dan Lampariello / REUTERS

Runners continue to run toward the finish line of the Boston Marathon as an explosion erupts near the finish line of the race on April 15, 2013

The Justice Department charged the accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in federal court Monday, making him a criminal defendant and not an enemy combatant. Among the charges contained in the Justice Department’s affidavit: use of a weapon of mass destruction.

Did the Boston bombers really use WMD? Legally, yes. That might sound surprising — but don’t be alarmed. The Tsarnaev brothers didn’t release anthrax in the Boston subway or tuck a dirty bomb outside Fenway Park. It turns out that federal law defines “weapon of mass destruction” in extremely broad terms. The relevant statutes define almost any significant explosive device as a WMD. That specifically includes bombs, grenades, mines, and small rockets and missiles. The pressure-cooker bombs planted at the Boston marathon and the explosives hurled at police on Thursday night would almost certainly qualify.

Needless to say, the law also covers weapons more commonly considered to be WMD, including “any weapon involving a biological agent, toxin, or vector” and any weapon “designed to release radiation or radioactivity at a level dangerous to human life.” (More here on what qualifies as an agent, toxin or vector.) But there is no indication that the Tsarnaevs had access to such materials.

As it happens, the feds applied this narrow WMD definition just last month, when they charged a former U.S. soldier with fighting alongside a terrorist group aiding the Syrian rebellion. A federal affidavit accused Eric Harroun of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction for firing rocket-propelled grenades in the ranks of Syria’s radical al-Nusra Front. That stirred up a long-running academic and policy debate about the term’s usage.

Another twist here is that killing someone with a weapon of mass destruction is a capital offense only under certain circumstances, though Bobby Chesney of the blog Lawfare argues they would likely apply in Boston. Chesney also suggests two other potential capital charges against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. One would be an act of terrorism “transcending national boundaries,” a charge that could apply if prosecutors establish a connection between the bombings and the trip of his brother Tamerlan to Russia last year. Another would be bombing a public place — a capital crime if done “to compel another state or the United States to do or abstain from doing any act.” Even if prosecutors can’t establish that intent, the law also brings the death penalty if such a bombing kills a foreign national, as this one did.

The federal government has executed just three people since 2001. Among them was Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who was also charged with use of a weapon of mass destruction and who was put to death by lethal injection on June 11, 2001, at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

Until last week, McVeigh was probably America’s most notorious domestic terrorist. Now Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may hold that title — and may now be destined for a similar fate.

This item has been updated to reflect breaking news.

PHOTOS: Joy and Relief in Boston After Bombing Suspect’s Arrest

115 comments
aryma
aryma

I want to know how it is that a pressure cooker loaded with gunpowder and metal junk can be called a WMD while an assault rifle, which could have killed dozens of people in the same time frame under identical circumstances, is not. Don't expect people to buy into such nonsense - calling this homemade bomb a WMD just makes it easier to prosecute this guy outside the boundaries of American justice, that's all. When we're enraged and furious at the viciousness of a crime, it helps if the perpetrator can be linked to a foreign country of some kind; in today's world, we can throw the American way of justice right out the window, and string 'em up. Let's start with waterboarding - oh, yes, let's.  

WKSloane
WKSloane

Acts of Treason against the United States including 4 counts of first degree murder, 180 counts of attempted murder on civilians and law enforcement personnel, kidnapping, armed robbery, resisting arrest ... why weren't those the charges? What's up with using a weapon of mass destruction? I agree -- if the charge holds, then Iraq War was justified. If the charge doesn't hold, then this guy gets away with murder.

WKSloane
WKSloane

Weird Federal charges! Is he being set up for a  sympathy sentence? Start with TREASON, then 4-counts of murder, 180+ counts of attempted murder on civilians and law enforcement, kidnapping, armed robbery, resisting arrest ...  The defense argument will be pressure cookers do not add up to WMDs, and losing that charge, he is guilty only of mayhem. 

TheScarecrow
TheScarecrow

So when a SWAT team throws a flash bang during a no-knock, the police are using weapons of mass destruction?

MasschaosnewwEki
MasschaosnewwEki

So I guess Bush was right about WMD's in Iraq too, huh? WMD my ass. The Federal Government makes up their own definitions for terms. The Federal Government is the reason of all these attacks. It's always the innocent who die.

ChuckDonald
ChuckDonald

I guess the fact that a bomb is a WMD sort of puts the question to rest about whether Bush lied about WMD's in Iraq. ?? Huh ??

hulagu
hulagu

so, there you are.... trying to divert the topic!

Why drag IRA when we are discussing Muslim terrorism? Stick to the topic which is muslim terrorism. How it needs to be stomped out.... if you are really want to.

MatthewValHall
MatthewValHall

Soooooo....America is guilty of using WMD in every single military engagement. A GRENADE is WMD? This definition utterly negates the common understanding of what WMD is...

SteveJohnson
SteveJohnson

If the Boston bombers used WMD, then Iraq and Afghanistan had WMD as well.

You only get one definition. 

anti-government
anti-government

We live in a police state where the government can suspend all our rights simply by calling an act "terrorism".

The Founding Fathers would be ashamed of what we have done with their creation. They had more rights under King George III than we have now in the so-called "land of the free". We have lost our liberties in a search for an elusive "security" based on the false premise the the USA is somehow "special" and need not follow the same rules as other countries. In truth, we're no better than any other country and need to stop trying to run the world because we cannot do it or afford to continue to try.

ts
ts

boston was most likey staged, just like sandy hook and aurora. enjoy your police state. 

drudown
drudown

Reduced to its essence, if a suspect displays the requisite scienter to injure, kill and/or maim people with such innovative means (i.e., in furtherance of harming the State, its officials and/or citizens), he/she implicitly waives any objection that the State's retribution is too severe. 

cf
cf

Bush is vindicated, IRAQ did have pressure cookers and gunpowder. 

TrajanSaldana
TrajanSaldana

Well no WONDER we didn't find any WMDs in Iraq...we weren't looking for pressure cookers

micwein
micwein

I'm curious about the term "weapons of mass destruction" in this case. It doesn't seem to be based on the possible outcome, but something else. In case, IEDs like the ones used in Boston, are, and two of them killed  is one. In Boston, two of them killed three people and horrifically injured 176. But in the case of Aurora (12 killed and 58 wounded) and Newtown (26 killed and 2 wounded) semi-automatic rifles with large capacity magazines, or, in the case of Virginia Tech (32 killed, 17 wounded) semi-automic pistols with relatively large capacity magazines are not "weapons of mass destruction." Or not even illegal.

sarahdshort
sarahdshort

Remember there were 6 children.  We deport many hardworking peaceful aliens who are married to Americans and have children while here illegally why would we not deport family members of those who seek to harm US citizens?  Let them reapply or give to their own countries.  They may not be bad people but it certainly raises doubts for me.  


JuanViche
JuanViche

@MasschaosnewwEki instead of the FBI/CIA going and getting their mind-controlled robots (whom they called up and told them they knew they did it) an extra police officer had to die and tons of bullets needed to be fired against the 1 semi-automatic pistol recovered wielding, pressure cooking FBI/CIA asset terroritstas. Yippie skippy.

Diecash1
Diecash1

@ChuckDonald The only question it puts to rest is whether or not you're smarter than the average pet rock.  You're not.

GeoLevier
GeoLevier

Intelligent people have always known that Iraq & Afghanistan had WMDs.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@JuanViche Go away with you Alex Jones trash. The only conspiracy going is his conspiracy to rip off blithering idiot like you.

EdLake
EdLake

@JuanViche

Dzhokhar was NOT carrying his backpack when he was photographed running from the scene of the crime.  Earlier, he was photographed carrying a white or light gray backpack.  He was carrying NOTHING in the shot of him running from the scene.  Proof:  http://www.anthraxinvestigation.com/Dzhokhar.jpg 

drudown
drudown

@anti-government 

Tell me, how many continents have you been to? I've been to all six habitable ones and don't think your sentiments reflect the fact the rest of the world (enter Maximus voice) "is cold and dark."

drudown
drudown

@anti-government 

Nonsense.

It is beyond disingenuous for any person to invoke the protections of the State that they conspire to disrupt and overthrow. 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ts Good to see the Alex Jones morons are here. Any more idiotic conspiracy theories that you'd care to share with us?

anti-government
anti-government

"Terrorism" is an excuse to take away the constitutional rights of suspects. "Terrorists" who are American citizens have the same rights as all of us. Taking those rights way means the death of American liberties.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@TrajanSaldana 

WMD definitions are frustrating as heck.  In general, you ask someone what a WMD is, they'll talk about nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.  Problem is, these weapons have insanely different properties.  There are several versions that classify chemical weapons as completely different from nuclear and biological weapons as the latter two can actually destroy the planet.  There's also all sorts of weird other concepts such as nano-technology and insanely high-yield explosives (fuel air bombs and MOABs come to mind) that can in many cases be as destructive and dangerous as chemical weapons.  And then as soon as you start including general explosives, the entire idea of where is the line falls apart quickly - when really, people are just terrified of non-traditional warfare weapons that provide secondary, non-destructive but still deadly effects such as chemical burns, contagious diseases or radioactive poisoning.

*sighs*

HollieHowdoyoulikemenow
HollieHowdoyoulikemenow

One day after the shooting, officials disarmed an explosive device wired to the James Eagan Holmes's apartment's front entrance, allowing a remotely controlled robot to enter and disable other explosives.

HollieHowdoyoulikemenow
HollieHowdoyoulikemenow

@micwein Mass distruction applies to, massive destruction. Property damage, injuries, deaths, etc. Now, had the bomber blown himself up, do you think he would be charged with WMD? Tell me, what WERE the perpetrators charges in Aurora and Virginia Tech.?

eifg
eifg

@sarahdshort 

I don't think it would be wise to start punishing people for their relatives' criminal actions. If they were involved that is one thing otherwise they should be treated just like an other person in America.

TanmayLololAnaisPradhan
TanmayLololAnaisPradhan

@sarahdshort Innocent till proven guilty ? If they have terror ties, Homeland security will revoke their residence and send them packing.

If they have been naturalized, they will go to prison.

But, there is no proof yet, you stupid broad.

anti-government
anti-government

I guess that's true if "intelligent" is defined as "credible fools who swallow anything the government says".

WE AMERICANS ARE THE WORLD'S LEADING MANUFACTURER, STOCKPILER AND USER OF WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION!

MasschaosnewwEki
MasschaosnewwEki

@drudown @anti-government When did our founding fathers declare such ridiculous assertions? They didn't. In fact, overthrow-al of a corrupt federal government was stated to be absolutely necessary to maintain a free country such as the America our founders had crafted. Read the Bill of Rights and our founders quotes and letters to each-other.


Federal Government was always supposed to be small, as a big federal government would oppress and dictate the people like they are doing today. I can't even buy a lawn dart as the Federal Government has banned them. Therefor it is illegal to own, sell or buy a freaking lawn dart.


We the people are constantly tricked, lied to, and deceived into voting in the same cronies as the one's we hated so much before. Before 2008 everyone hated Bush for a few things: The Patriot Act, Gitmo, and the Iraq War. Well, Obama signed back into law the Patriot Act, still has prisoners in Gitmo, and instead focuses on an evil terrorist-like Drone War, killing thousands of innocents and simply declaring their deaths a mere collateral damage. Now add on the fact that Obama has passed such oppressive unconstitutional bills like the NDAA, and assassinated Americans. All the while covering up the Fast and Furious drug cartel scandal via executive orders, and proposing gun control bills that infringe on our second amendment liberty to arm ourselves. I don't even want to know who Americans will naively vote into power in 2016. 


The USA has become an oppressive empire much like the one the founders fought to get away from. In Watertown Military equipped police ordered people out of their houses whilst pointing loaded rifles at them. Yesterday the same thing happened in Oakland. The news calls it a Police Raid, however if we bring in technical definitions according to the dictionary, (not the federal government) then that was a Military raid. A military raid is a military occupation, and a military occupation is War. It's as simple as that.

Our federal government is at war with its own people's. That is oppression. That is tyranny. 

drudown
drudown

@anti-government 

I'm sorry, you are mistaken. 

By your strained logic, someone that yells "fire! fire!" in a crowded theater has the same 1st Amendment rights as a citizen with an injury-in-fact has in Federal court. Your logic makes a mockery of the Bill of Rights.

USMC_Rōnin
USMC_Rōnin

Agreed! NBC - Nuclear, biological, chemical. That is what our doctrine defined and we were taught when referring to Mass kill yield weapons as alleged were in Iraq. And then the Bush administration changed the term from NBC to a more scary panic inducing word - WMD. And Now the Media & government throw that word around like juju bees. I obviously believe people who harm & kill innocents with random violence should be justly punished. But if Americans continue to act like scared sheep and allow the government to redefine our constitution and laws and continue to take away our rights i.e

CliveMandingo
CliveMandingo

I think in this case "mass" refers to the specific definition:

Adj - pertaining to, involving, or affecting a large number of people: mass unemployment; mass migrations; mass murder.

MarvSammons
MarvSammons

and that fact undermines his point exactly how?

drudown
drudown

@MasschaosnewwEki @drudown @anti-government 

If you are so oppressed here, why don't you leave and domicile somewhere else?

I don't think the present federal government can accurately be described as "tyrannical" because you are denied a lawn dart. Have you ever been to Africa? I have. I remember meeting a Kenyan kid who had his arm hacked off by a Somali pirate. 

Your drivel reminds me of an old adage: "there was a boy with no shoes that cried and cried until he met a boy with no feet."

As an aside, for you to compare the US' use of drones to kill terrorists (see, e.g., Yemen) to the underlying terrorist activities is as disingenuous as claiming al-Awlaki deserves the same Due Process rights in Yemen after leading a jihad against the US. Sorry, you want it both ways.

drudown
drudown

@USMC_Rōnin 

Listen to you. 

What's a matter, Colonel Sanders? You can dish it out but too chicken to match wits on the merits? Spare me the internet speech.

USMC_Rōnin
USMC_Rōnin

Why don't you read what I wrote collectively in my posts instead of taking a few words out of context. Or we're you just looking for a virtual argument like some others? If that's the case you can get your rocks off with others, I'm not into that. 1st & last day of posting. What a sissified age when people hide behind the Internet with your condescension. But at Least get all the info first. If you were really trying ad a point of view instead of attacking a few words from the collective handful of post I wrote together, your entire statement you'd see is mute, an inaccurate assement on my words. You do your inaccurate superiority attack thing though. I'll leave you to it. I've got real world scenarios to attend to.

drudown
drudown

@USMC_Rōnin

Eroding our freedoms? Humor me with specifics.

Please do not conflate commercially reasonable regulation (e.g., background checks) with infringing on the 2nd Amendment. 

USMC_Rōnin
USMC_Rōnin

I.e the Patriot Act, Obama's FAA Domestic Drone bill and taking away our right to bear arms, what you will have is a Police State. Disproportionate power of state. You sheep will be sorry when that happens. Look at Libya & all the other dictatorships where citizens can't protect themselves. And since when could criminals not illegally obtain weapons? So during crisis, I.e Katrina, martial law, the criminals will be armed but lawful citizens will no longer have the legal right to bear arms. Not a condition, place that I'd like to live. Stop eroding our freedoms by exploiting the fears of the few to oppress the masses!

drudown
drudown

@TanmayLololAnaisPradhan @drudown @sarahdshort 

I see.

Given that their family publicly contends their sons' complicity is a "US conspiracy", perhaps someone should send them the charred remains of a child's limb that was blown off? 

As for the notion their family should be dealt with in some delicate manner (lest we offend their civil rights!), well, you indulge whatever fiction you like. Let me guess? The 20,000,000 foreign nationals here illegally have equal rights?

TanmayLololAnaisPradhan
TanmayLololAnaisPradhan

@drudown @TanmayLololAnaisPradhan @sarahdshort No you f***ard. What about your crazy  uncle  ? Should your entire family be sent to prison for his antics ?

If the family members are found to be aiding the crime, then sentence and deport them. But stop talking out of your ass for once, mouthbreather.