But it is critically important to understand what, if any, connection these suspects have both to overseas terrorist groups and to domestic folks not yet tied to the bombing, and that project will be far easier if the surviving Mr. Tsarnaev is not killed. The question is important both for obvious reasons—if some group is attacking the United States, we need to understand with maximum precision who that is and who is involved—and for less obvious legal reasons: Is this a home-grown terrorist problem that's purely a matter of criminal law? Is this a feature of the US's existing armed conflict with Al Qaeda and its associated forces? Or is this some new overseas terrorist threat—an extra-AUMF threat—against the United States playing out in the streets of Cambridge and Watertown? Or is this an example of a blurry line between categories? The chance to interrogate a Mr. Tsarnaev who can still talk is the quickest and easiest way to answer these questions.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks have also shaped the way the media are covering the Boston bombings and subsequent manhunt, with many eager to draw conclusions before there is much concrete information. Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic said the media doesn't do anyone any favors with premature speculations:
What is it like to be a Muslim, or a person frequently mistaken for a Muslim, in the aftermath of an apparent terrorist attack? Americans who don't fit that description can't really know for sure, but three news items from the last few days show that knee-jerk prejudice is inexcusably common. If your ethnic group were treated this way, you'd be walking around paranoid and anxious.
[A] significant minority has shown itself willing to make knee-jerk accusations that do significant harm to perfectly innocent people. Amidst it all, responsible journalists don't disappear the problem. Americans ought to be made aware of all the times innocent Muslims have been victimized in hopes that it makes their would be tormenters less sure of themselves. That is so whether the Boston perpetrators turn out to be Islamists, left-wing, right-wing, or anything else.
The value of speculating about their identity before it is known?
Joe Coscarelli of the Daily Intelligencer highlights the experience of one of those mistaken to be a suspect:
Salah Barhoum, the 17-year-old Massachusetts running enthusiast recklessly splashed on the New York Post cover this morning, is doing okay, all things considered. Despite the tabloid's implications that he and his suspiciously not-white friend were suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, Barhoum hasn't even lost his somewhat naïve faith in the goodness of journalists, "gladly posing for photos and taking media questions outside his home in Revere, Mass.," according to the New York Daily News.
"A lot of people have bags, not just me. I thought, 'Why me?'" he added. "The only thing they look at is my skin color and since I'm Moroccan I'm kind of dark." While he was cleared of any involvement, Barhoum knows there could be lasting damage: "People are definitely going to be looking for me just to hurt me. It's too much," he said. "It's such a disaster. To be blamed for all that injury and death. It's the worst." On top of everything, police recommended he delete his Facebook. If only he could delete the Post.