Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageOp-Ed: The Boston Bombings — Just Why Motives Matter

By Karen Edwards     Apr 18, 2013 in Science
The immediate designation of the bombings at the Boston marathon as an act of terrorism is readily quantifiable. But the long term implication, if any, of departing from the prevailing legal and scientific definition of terrorism remains to be seen.
Once President Obama went on record to officially classify the gut wrenching, heartbreaking, mind reeling, life and limb taking bombings at the Boston marathon as an act of terrorism; it could safely be assumed that our Chief Law Enforcement Officer along with a cadre of experts in a variety of disciplines reached a working consensus regarding the organizing gestalt for this very public criminal investigation.
Among other civilians; some newscasters and the public actually labeled the event as act of terror even predating the President's pronouncement. This rather intuitive, instantaneous and some might argue impulsive designation seemed to evolve almost organically.
Nonetheless, such persons' linguistic preferences as civilians is not necessarily indicative of some inherent sensitivity or perceptiveness even now that the use of the term terror proves quite apropos on a variety of levels.
Civilians' linguistic preferences -- even those of folks who are indeed sensitive and perceptive -- are simply not held to a similar standard of accountability as are the utterances of the country's Commander in Chief.
The term terror was readily and justifiably used as a descriptor by many such civilians to initially characterize the horrifying explosions at the Boston marathon.
Without any equivocation whatsoever and in no particular order of importance; the use of (1) bombs, (2) the very public venue, (3) the intent to hurt, maim and even kill as well as the (4) very illegality of the explosions all are consistent with an objective description of a life threatening, catastrophic and potentially terrorizing event. 
Nonetheless, it should be remembered that the term terror when used exclusively by civilians including even impassioned journalists to characterize intense fear is still only just a descriptor of sorts.
Despite the implied emotional sequelae; the term terror when used exclusively by civilians has no authenticated or validated psychological needless to say legal meaning even when employed by such public and private wordsmiths as a legitimate descriptor.
In clinical psychology, the term terror is considered so confounding and scientifically imprecise even as a descriptor it is relegated primarily to the public domain. 
Instead clinicians refer to and characterize such significant occurrences as (a) objectively life threatening and/or (b) perceived life threatening events. 
The bombings at the Boston marathon clearly qualifies as an objectively life threatening event.
Once categorized accordingly, persons directly experiencing, witnessing or confronted by such an event may be diagnosed as being psychologically traumatized depending on the experience or observance of a host of quantifiable symptomatology.
In clinical psychology, the bombings at the Boston marathon are scientifically labelled as a traumatic event even for those persons who successfully emerge untraumatized.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM ); those who are diagnosed with a traumatic anxiety disorder may experience depending on the time of onset and specific symptomatology (a) Acute Stress Disorder and/or (b) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Still others who are not necessarily deemed as traumatized per se may be diagnosed with various symptoms clustering in some other form(s) of anxiety, depression, phobias so forth and so on.
While "trauma" is a clinical option; there is no sanctioned clinical classification of "terror" for use by such practicing or research scientists.  
Trauma is seemingly more readily diagnosable than terror. The observable and subjective impact of trauma on the survivor(s) is clinically delineated and measurable.
Conversely, terror is seemingly less readily diagnosable than trauma. Scientifically, the social and political motives of the perpetrator(s) -- not just the venue, type of weapon, intent and effectiveness to inflict bodily harm or criminality of the behavior -- must by definition be assessed.
Unlike with a perpetrator of terror or even designating a venue as a terrorist site; no such psychological qualification pertaining to an assessment of motivational intent exists when diagnosing some type of trauma or even in labeling an occurrence as an objective or perceived traumatic event. 
In psychology, the study of terror, terrorism and terrorists is often under the specialized province of a subfield known as forensic psychology.  
In forensic psychology, the difficulty in defining the term terror and its related sequelae like terrorism or terrorist is legendary in the scholarly literature. 
Nowadays, scientific researchers rely on the FBI's definition of terrorism in order to standardize the variables under investigation.
The FBI defines terrorism as the "unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives".
The FBI further "classifies terrorism as either domestic or international, depending on the origin, base and objectives of the terrorist organization".
Unlike civilians who can clearly use the term terror as a descriptor only or even more loosely to allude to unsubstantiated psychological sequelae in a thinly veiled attempt to provoke certain legal actions; it behooves those in leadership positions to exercise reasonable caution before bandying such terms about willy nilly even when referring to a catastrophic and clinically traumatic event such as occurred at the Boston marathon.
The the term terror as defined by law enforcement agencies like the FBI and even by science has very specific qualifiers that must be systematically addressed. 
For such persons when in an official capacity; the term terror is no longer a mere descriptor to be used at will.
Furthermore, the term terror just like an event of terror conquers up many alarming images for the public including images of those perceived to qualify as a potential terrorist.
When not properly weighted by objective data including variables such as the type of terrorism domestic or foreign so forth and so on; these uninformed perceptions couple with untoward fear may become dangerous.
As such, the term terror is to be applied judiciously and precisely by those under the authority of the law or science. 
Furthermore; it is the civic duty of such professionals not to interject unmanageable panic into an already clearly catastrophic and objectively traumatic situation by rendering unsubstantiated legal or scientific classifications even if based on seemingly reasonable hunches or even more sophisticated hypotheses.
With time; news agencies like the Associated Press may come to rethink the use of the descriptor terror and its related linguistic sequelae like terrorism and terrorist.
If so, journalists and other associated commentators may find it advisable to place restrictions on the use of the term terror and its related linguistic sequelae given the range of legal and scientific implications.
Alas, the FBI qualifiers or independent variables used to designate a catastrophic event as an act of terrorism are still not objectively met when assessing the bombings at the Boston marathon.
Conspicuously absent and inconsistent with the FBI's definition of terrorism; the social or political motives of the perpetrator(s) remain unidentified despite the observance of other significant qualifiers.  
These missing qualifiers clearly help to distinguish a terrorist act from some other even deliberately induced catastrophic event.  While all acts of terrorism are presumed to be catastrophic; not all catastrophic events even those deliberately induced stem from terrorism.
Unable to identify the perpetrators yet; we are also not really sure if the bombings at the Boston marathon represent a form of coercion or intimidation even though arguably both forms of prohibition can be legitimately implied.
Given the absence of these qualifiers; the President's initial decision not to characterize the bombings as an act of terrorism seemed quite understandable if momentarily awaiting or perhaps even anticipating further clarifying data.
So why can the President as the Chief Law Enforcement Officer now without impudence label the bombings at the Boston marathon as an act of terror? 
The perpetrators are still unknown. The social and political motives are still quite unfathomable. 
In a recent press conference; President Obama seemed to address this very subject when he referred to the choice of weapon in designating the Boston marathon bombings as an act of terrorism.
But clearly the choice of weapon even a bombing although critical is not the sole determinant to justifiably designate an event legally or scientifically as an act of terror. 
If bombs qualified the event as an act of terror -- domestic or foreign -- shouldn't the President have designated the event as such the very first day? 
Bombs and other specific forms of weaponry clearly are not synonymous with an act of terrorism.  Otherwise, weaponry would be specified and highlighted in the FBI's definition of terrorism.
This is not to say or even to imply that use of weaponry did not play a critical role in the President's assessment in reaching his determination to label the bombings at the Boston marathon as an act of terrorism.
This is just to say independent of how it may have come across in the press conference; the use of weaponry alone did not and legally could not qualify the bombings at the Boston marathon as an act of terror. 
Unlike the press and other civilians; the President as the Chief Law Enforcement Officer must always be concerned with the legalities of identifying and labeling an event as an act of terror.
This concern is especially justifiable when all of the qualifiers to designate an event as an act of terrorism are not objectively met as is the case still with the Boston marathon.
I suspect that once it became clear to the President and his team that the social and political motives of the perpetrator(s) would not be ascertained immediately to solidify the prevailing legal definition of terrorism the weaponry used by the perp(s) gained ascendancy in an implied albeit hypothetical weighted equation of independent variables assessed to determine if the bombings should or should not be designated as an act of terrorism. 
As the Chief Law Enforcement Officer; the President is charged with making such a judgement call especially since a determination then needed to be reached, rationalized and legitimized not just merely dictated on how to best proceed with the criminal investigation.
In no particular order; the independent weighted variables under investigation in determining the designation of an act of terrorism (or dependent variable) by the President and his team might include but are not necessarily limited to factors like: (i) the potential lethality of weapons used at the Boston marathon, (ii) the context of a public, social and international venue, (iii) the intent to do bodily harm, (iv) the inferred intent of coercion and intimidation, (v) the illegality of the actions as well as more seemingly perhaps even random variables like the (vi) the political implications of the date - Tax Day, Patriot's Day so forth and so on.
In rather swift order; the President and his team dispatched a definitive diagnosis and plan of action. He chose to investigate the bombings at the Boston marathon with the full resources of the government at hand. 
In a proprietary Presidential judgement call; the designation of the Boston marathon bombings as an act of terrorism legally justifies the use of such resources.
All the scientific qualifiers like the social and political motives of the perpetrator(s) may not always be readily discernible.
Such qualifiers may not always be essential to justify a working or provisional classification of an act as terrorism. The potential aftermath of which, if any, is yet to be determined.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about boston marathon, Terrorism, Trauma
More news from
Latest News
Top News