A few years ago, I saw the movie Catch Me If You Can. It was a very entertaining film. And also it was thought provoking. The mind of the criminal. How valuable is it?
First things first. In no way were the Boston Marathon bombers crafty and intelligent like the character that Leonardo DiCaprio played in the movie. They are just your garden variety losers. Their uncle so much as said so, and he knows them. They are just loser punks who took the wrong road. Because of that, one is dead, the other is lucky not to be dead and will never see the light of day for the rest of his life, however long that is. At 19, his life is virtually over. As their Uncle stated, "They are just losers." But even losers have some value. If they can in any way help us stop the next attack before it happens, then they are valuable. One is dead. He likely can't. The other can. And he will. If they have to beat it out of him, or torture it out of him, he is going to give it up.
It is very tempting to want to see a punk like Suspect #2 shot dead and finished off. It gives us closure. They commit this terrible crime, we find them, kill them in a glamorous way (not 10 years later after endless appeals and money wasted) and we are done with it. Everyone feels better about the whole thing. They hurt us, we kill them. Case closed. We win. They lose. Yay Us.
Except for one thing. These punks, as hideous as they are, can give us information we need. Not so much about what they did, but why they did it and what made them act in the deliberate way they did. That is the information we can use. If we study their lives within the context of what they did and when they did it and the progression of seemingly normal lives to the life of a terrorist radical, we might be able to catch the next one who is right this second contemplating a similar action---before they take those actions.
So, taking Suspect #2 alive was vital. A comprehensive study of his type is what we need. We can't really do much about the organized extremists like Bin Laden and his type, because we already know they exist and they know we know they exist and where they are. So, they are careful and crafty enough to find a way. And they will. And in any event, we stop almost everything they try. Because we know who they are and we are watching them. They are a known quantity and as much as we already can, we are on that case. Much like the mafia, we know where they are and what they do.
Radicals like the Boston bombers fly under the radar. They don't have a name. They don't have money. They don't protest in rallies. They make unsophisticated bombs from cheap materials in their basements and garages and strike with no warning. But, as with all criminals, they have a pattern. A pattern which can help us find the likely next set of crazy radicals before they strike.
I say likely, because we wont catch them all and there is no certainty. A few will still slip through the cracks. But we can catch more of them, and most of them, if we study them and begin to understand what drives them, how they acted, the clues they left beforehand that we missed and where they are likely to be and who they are likely to be. It gives us a starting point to discover them before they get to the point where they act.
The problem with policing and politics of law enforcement is that it is reactive, not proactive. After 9/11, the first thing we did was instill airport checks. But we didn't do that before the incident. The problem is that the damage had already been done. A creative thinker might have figured it out ahead of time. Now, after the Boston bombings, all sorts of police are beefing up their security measures at major sporting and cultural events to stop the chance of it happening again.
Here is the problem with that. The next incident will likely be something else. Something new. A new way to achieve the same goal. A study of Suspect #2 and his kind will give us better insight and information as to how they come up with the targets they do. Further, a creative thinking task force can figure out what that likely will be. As a rule, police forces are not creative thinkers. They are crime solvers and enforcers. That is what they are good at. And that is great. But it doesn't help us in the way we need. We want to, as best as possible, stop the next crime before it happens.
We lack creative thinkers in law enforcement. Because law enforcement is not law prevention. They try to be, but they can't. They aren't trained to be that and they aren't good at it. They are somewhat good at lawbreaker apprehension and they are pretty good at law enforcement. However, that does us little good for the real service we want: Lawbreaker detection before they commit crimes. That is what we want. We want to figure out who is going to strike next and when and where they are going to strike. So we can stop them. That should be the goal. And the only way you can do that is to figure them out and have the best people out there to do that specific task.
We can always punish Suspect #2 later. And we will. Killing him would not have served our goals. His only remaining value is helping us stop the next set of terrorists from killing others. In that way, we are trading his one life for the countless other lives we can save. That is a good trade. At least in my mind it is. And you could argue that once we are done gleaning whatever we can from him, leaving him in prison to deal with a very angry prison population is a much better punishment. Let him suffer 40 or 50 years of torture by them. Why spare him from that just for our personal gratification of eliminating him quickly?
We need to change our mindset with respect to terrorism. We are too reactive and not nearly proactive enough. It all starts with taking these terrorist punks and mining any remaining value out of them. They are no good to us dead. As much as we would love to have our pound of flesh.