A new Post poll finds that a large majority of Americans, 70 percent, support the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnev, which set off a bit of a buzz among conservatives today.
But the Post poll also finds that the Lindsey Graham-John McCain crusade to have Tsarnaev tried in a military court doesn’t appear to have exactly caught on with the public:
As you may know, a suspect has been charged with the bombings at the Boston Marathon last week, and his brother was killed in a shootout with the police. Do you support or oppose the decision to put the bombing suspect on trial in the federal court system as opposed to a military tribunal?
Seventy-two percent of Republicans, and 71 percent of conservatives, support trying the suspect in the civilian court system, too. And that’s not all! A separate Time/CNN poll finds:
When given a choice, 61 percent of Americans say they are more concerned about the government enacting new anti-terrorism policies that restrict civil liberties, compared to 31 percent who say they are more concerned about the government failing to enact strong new anti-terrorism policies.
Generally, it’s hard to know what such polling that asks general questions about civil liberties tells us. It could mean people don’t want their own civil liberties encroached upon — which doesn’t tell us what people think about preserving the civil liberties of people suspected of terrorism that killed Americans. And yet, today’s Post poll finds broad support for trying Tsarnaev in civilian court. That’s encouraging.
It seems majority support for civil liberties may be rooted in increasing resignation about terrorism. The Time/CNN poll finds that only 32 percent of Americans believe the US can prevent all major attacks — which is down from 2011. Meanwhile, only 27 percent say they won’t attend a major event because of the bombings. Yet concern over civil liberties has grown. A plurality of 49 percent — a new high — say they wouldn’t trade civil liberties for security. The effort by Graham and McCain to recreate those glorious post-9/11 anti-civil liberties atmospherics in the wake of the Boston bombings seems to have flopped.
And that’s why it’s time for some new polling on Guantanamo. Yesterday Obama vowed to renew his push to close Gitmo. That will run into implacable Congressional opposition, but there are plenty of things he could do right now to begin solving the problem, such as begin transferring individual detainees to home countries by waiver, appoint an official to oversee Guantanamo policy, and begin parole style hearings.
What’s more, the Obama administration continues to support transfering Guantanamo detainees, but holding them indefinitely, only elsewhere. And Obama himself seemed to underscore the folly of that yesterday when he said: “The idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried — that is contrary to who we are, contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.”
So let’s see some polling on Guantanamo-related issues. Where is the public on keeping Guantanamo open versus closing it? On indefinite detention for detainees versus due process? Public opinion tends to tilt against civil libertarians on these matters — and at any rate public opinion is not relevant when it comes to defending people’s basic rights — but the answers might surprise us. Perhaps moving forward on Guantanamo wouldn’t be as politically dicey as members of Congress make it seem.