Recovering from the Boston Marathon terrorist attack

Where we are now — in Boston, as a city, and in the nation as a whole — serves to silence the debate over whether America still has the fortitude and resiliency to recover from a terrorism incident. As it turns out, recovery from a terrorist attack can be orderly and efficient. Step by step, we are following an emerging pattern.

• Recover: The reopening of the Marathon site is not simply a social statement. It is a statement that recovery is advancing. Before allowing Boylston Street to be reclaimed by pedestrians, authorities had to ensure that the infrastructure was sound, the evidence of the bombing was secure, and the experience of visiting the site wouldn’t be unduly traumatic for people. This is part of a gradual return to normal.

As businesses reopen, and victims prepare to resume their lives, questions will surround the distribution of aid by claims manager Kenneth Feinberg, who will oversee the One Fund Boston. Those questions will be sorted out over time, as the losses of individual victims are given a pricetag. Debates about who should or shouldn’t be covered are common to any claims distribution scheme. The goal should be to compensate victims in a way that is commensurate with their damages, while steering them away from lawsuits that can be destructive and inconclusive and can sometimes pit victims against each other. Putting a pricetag on heartbreak is a difficult job, but Feinberg and his team — who have performed this task for victims of 9/11, Bernard Madoff’s scams and the BP oil spill — have promised a process that will be speedy and transparent.

This, after all, has been done before.

• Reclaim: The quick slapdown by the Obama administration of the silly, and somewhat destructive, claim that the prosecution of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be given to the military, with Tsarnaev declared an“enemy combatant,” was an embrace of normalcy, if nothing else.

The notion that our justice system was either ill-equipped or too weak to handle the case was a political ploy by hawks who want to continue the“war on terror.” What better way to treat would-be martyrs for any cause (martyrs, in this case, who forgot to martyr themselves during the attack) than to treat them as mere criminals? That is what they are. Any desire to label them something else treats our criminal justice system as powerless, a view that only those with little confidence in America hold. Indeed, the decision to prosecute Tsarnaev for using“weapons of mass destruction” does not require prosecutors to scour his inner mind for intent — all that’s needed is evidence of the bombing. It is quick and simple justice.

Reasserting the rule of law over this case is an important step toward moving beyond a warlike mentality. The criminal justice system will do just fine. Hundreds of terrorism-related cases have been tried and won in the criminal courts.

This, after all, has been done before.

• Revisit: The Monday-morning quarterbacking about the decisions made in the midst of the manhunt, including complaints about the massive “lockdown,” are nothing short of, well, expected. In a democracy, criticism is healthy. The decision to lock down the city was based on what the police knew at the time — that the Marathon had been attacked, the culprits were still in the area, a police officer was dead, and that large amounts of weaponry was used. Worse, the authorities didn’t know whether there were other suspects and why the brothers chose to remain in Boston. Did they have a safehouse somewhere? More bombs? The lockdown was a good move.

Nonetheless, every aspect of the week’s events from the security precautions taken at the finish line of the Marathon to the way the manhunt was conducted will provide new standards for public safety entities who learn from each other. Giving the task of performing such an evaluation to an independent assessor without past ties to Massachusetts law enforcement is essential.

Public confidence will benefit because, before we know it, there will be another Marathon next year. A formal process of determining lessons learned, while memories are fresh, is part of an effective feedback loop.

This, after all, has been done before.

© 2013 The New York Times

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