The Briefing 03-05-15

The Briefing 03-05-15

The Briefing


March 05, 2015

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Thursday, March 5, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Boston Marathon Bomber defense confesses client’s action, denies his responsibility

“It was him.”

Those three words resounded through a Boston federal courtroom yesterday as Judith Clarke, the defense attorney for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the accused Boston Marathon bomber, spoke of her own client and said, “It was him.”

Indicating that the young man had been directly involved in the bombings that killed three people and injured 264 back on April 15, 2013. But this is where the story gets really interesting. Because even as those words – surprising as they were – resounded through the courtroom, the attorney did not change Dzhokhar Tsarnaev plea from ‘not guilty’ to ‘guilty.’

One of the things Christians have to keep in mind is that there are few arenas of life that are more directly revealing of our own moral code and societal understanding of justice than a criminal trial. That’s why there are so many dramas on film and television and elsewhere that direct our attention to the crucible of human experience that takes place in a criminal trial. The American understanding of justice reflected in what takes place in the courtroom sets up what is known as an adversarial situation. There are two sides to the argument. One is the side of the prosecution (representing the people), and the other is the side of the defendant (represented by legal counsel). Thus you have legal arguments being made back and forth and you have a jury – usually in a criminal trial, one has a jury – that is seated in order to represent the people in order to make the judgment as to whether or not the state or the authorizing prosecutorial agency makes its case.

That’s something that’s very fundamental to the American understanding of law. That’s why we speak of someone being innocent until proven guilty. It’s because it is the responsibility of the prosecutor on behalf of the people, to make the case that the defendant is guilty of the crimes that are alleged. And in this case, that’s what set up such a surprising event in that Boston courtroom yesterday. Because it is the defense attorney who spoke of her own client and said, “It was him.”

How then, we may ask, can there be a plea of not guilty? Well, there are several reasons for this. And a Christian worldview understanding requires us to look pretty closely at this situation. Does it mean that in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that even as the defense attorney said, “it was him,” – meaning, ‘oh, yes he did it’ – that therefore he would plea guilty to the crimes? The answer to that is no. That’s because the plea of ‘not guilty’ doesn’t necessarily mean even in terms of any plausible argument that the defendant is innocent of the crimes. It does mean that the defendant is going to make some kind of charge that there isn’t adequate evidence that the specific charges brought against him or her will be met, in terms of argument and evidence by the prosecutors. That’s a very interesting thing that too few Americans understand, including too few among American Christians.

We don’t understand that we throw around some language that actually doesn’t fit the situation. For instance, we speak of the word ‘innocence.’ We say that someone was found to be innocent of a crime. That’s not exactly, precisely what takes place in a criminal courtroom. The defendant, under almost all circumstances, is not found ‘innocent’ but rather ‘not guilty.’

Then you ask, what’s the distinction? Not guilty means that in the eyes of the jury, the prosecutor failed to make the case that the defendant was guilty – and here are crucial words; beyond all reasonable doubt.

There is no necessity of a defense attorney proving that a defendant is actually innocent. All they have to prove is that the prosecutor doesn’t have enough evidence to meet the standard of reasonable doubt.

So what we’re watching here in terms of the Boston Marathon bombing trial is the fact that the defense attorney is not going to argue that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did not do the crime. But rather, that there are some mitigating circumstances in terms of his responsibility. As Scott Malone and Elizabeth Barber reported for Reuters yesterday,

“The defense strategy, which did not include a move to change Tsarnaev’s not-guilty plea, appeared aimed at sparing Tsarnaev from the death penalty. If he is convicted, the jury will decide whether he is executed or gets life in prison without possibility of parole.”

So what we’re watching here is a defense strategy. A defense strategy that is basically admitting that they are going to fail to poke enough holes in the prosecutor’s case that the jury is likely to find Dzhokhar Tsarnaev not guilty of the crimes. So what they’re actually aiming at is not a ‘not guilty’ verdict, but rather a judgment that will lead to a sentencing that will not include the death penalty.

Also revealed in terms of the defense strategy yesterday is the fact that the attorneys for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are going to be arguing that he was effectively under the control of his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. You’ll recall that he was killed by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev accidentally as Dzhokhar ran over them as they were fleeing from police.

In that Boston courtroom yesterday, both side made their opening arguments. Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb representing the prosecution told the jurors that the two Tsarnaev brothers,

“both ethnic Chechens, carefully selected the places where they left the bombs in an effort to punish the United States [says Reuters] for military actions in Muslim-dominated countries.”

Weinreb went on to say that the defense’s strategy of casting blame on the now-dead Tamerlan Tsarnaev was not going to work.

“The focus is going to be on the defendant [he said]…That’s because it’s his day in court. He’s the one the government has to prove guilty, not his brother.”

But Defense Attorney Clarke said that though Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had set off a pressure cooker bomb at the marathon’s crowded finish line, and even as she admitted that three days later he participated in the fatal shooting of a police officer, the defense attorney said, ‘That’s not the whole story.’

In her words,

“If the only question was whether that was Dzhokhar Tsarnaev … it would be very easy for you.”

That’s a rather amazing sentence, when you think about it. But she went on to argue that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had played what she described as a ‘secondary role’ in a scheme that had been – in the words of Reuters – “ hatched and driven by his elder brother.”

She said,

“It was Tamerlan Tsarnaev who self-radicalized. It was Dzhokhar who followed him…The evidence [she said] will show that Tamerlan planned and orchestrated and enlisted his brother into this series of horrific acts.”

Now, again, from a Christian worldview perspective we’re not only looking at the fact that the adversarial system of American law is a way of attempting to get at the truth, and to get to the truth in a very public way; it is also very interesting that there is a denial in this case of personal responsibility on the part of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s defense attorney.

She’s saying – remember her words – “It was him.” In other words, saying ‘he did it,’ but he wasn’t responsible for his actions. Or at least she’s going to argue, he wasn’t fully responsible. It was really interesting that she said if the only question that the jurors had to consider is whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed the crimes, well as she said , that would be easy. The evidence is simply insurmountable. But in terms of his personal responsibility – well, that evidently is where at least the defense hopes the case will now turn.

Christians who must watch a case like this with tremendous interest given the stakes that are involved must understand that even as we understand the necessity of the give-and-take of the adversarial system – of the entire system of checks and balances that marks the American system of criminal justice – we also recognize that that’s very pale reflection of the judgment that is to come at the throne of God. Because at that judgment there will be no plea arrangement. There will be no plea bargaining.

And the Bible is very specific about one other very fundamental matter. Without Jesus Christ, we will have no advocate. For those who do not know Christ there will be no plea bargain and there will be no escape. Because every single sinner will just have to bear the full weight of the just wrath of God upon his or her sin. But for those who are in Christ there is no fear. Because even as we know ourselves to be guilty, we understand  the substitionary atonement achieved by the Lord Jesus Christ to mean that he stands in our place – not only when it comes to the crucifixion he endured but to the judgment for which he will also be our substitute on that great day of judgment that is yet coming.

As we think about this, be reminded of what the apostle Paul wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in 2 Corinthians 5:21;

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

2) Former CIA head’s plea bargain points to active danger of sin’s hubris

Another massive issue of importance when it comes to the criminal law – this one involving a plea bargain – also arrived yesterday on the front page of America’s newspapers. As reporters Kevin Johnson and Tom Vandenbrook of USA Today reported,

“Former CIA director David Petraeus reached a plea agreement with the Justice Department, concluding a years-long investigation that shows he gave his mistress secret information, including names of covert officers and war strategy, according to court documents.”

They go on to write,

“Petraeus, a retired four-star general, lied to FBI agents, divulged a massive amount of sensitive data to Paula Broadwell, his mistress and biographer, and fretted about how she handled them in an interview she recorded.”

This is a news story, but it seems to have been lifted right out of some kind of spy novel that came from the pen of someone like John le Carré or for that matter, Tom Clancy. But as Michael Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo reported yesterday,

“The plea deal completes a spectacular fall for Mr. Petraeus, a retired four-star general who was once discussed as a possible candidate for vice president or even president. He led the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and was the architect of a counterinsurgency strategy that at one time seemed a model for future warfare.”

The story of the fall of David Petraeus brings to mind another form of literature, and that is the ancient Greek tragedy. It’s hard to imagine someone who had risen so high and so fast as David Petraeus. With a PhD from Princeton University he was considered the wunderkind of the United States Army. He rose to become a four-star general. He was considered the wise man when it came to policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was considered to be a man of epic personal self-discipline, and fast-growing influence. He wrote what was considered the leading work on how to fight an insurgency; he led United States and allied military efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and he had the interests of both the Republican and Democratic parties – both parties looking to the question as to whether David Petraeus was the next Dwight David Eisenhower.

Even as Eisenhower had won the war in Europe and then was courted by both parties to run for President of the United States (eventually in 1952 being elected as a Republican), both parties were looking to David Petraeus. And then, even as he had risen to the very top of the military ranks; as a four-star general, having headed the epic Central Command, he went on to be named by President Obama as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. And then everything fell apart.

During the time that he was a general in the theater of operations he granted access to a woman to write his biography. The woman, Paula Broadwell, obviously had a great interest in David Petraeus, and eventually that interest became mutual and she became not only his biographer – she also became his mistress.

His fall as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency came after it became known that he had a mistress with whom he had been involved as he was operating in theater. That violates the code of military conduct. It also violates the principles that David Petraeus had prosecuted as he had removed even those under his command for a similar adulterous transgression.

So when the time came that his adultery was exposed, it was exposed in such a way that he eventually had to resign as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Then came the revelations, startling and indeed shocking, that not only did David Petraeus have an affair with this woman who was his biographer, he had also at her request given her some of the most sensitive military information at the top levels of secrecy. She was not only his biographer, she was also involved in military operations herself. And as we now know, this was a recipe for total disaster.

As the New York Times reported, during one of the interviews for the biography, Ms Broadwell asked about his so-called black books. That is, the notebooks that contain handwritten classified notes about official meetings, war strategy, intelligence capabilities, and even the names of covert officers.

Mr Petraeus said,

“They are highly classified, some of them.”

And yet, three weeks later, he emailed the woman and agreed to share the black books. According to the New York Times, he gave them to her the very next day. Then, as Schmidt and Apuzzo report,

“When questioned by the F.B.I., Mr. Petraeus denied providing Ms. Broadwell with classified information. “These statements were false,” federal prosecutors wrote. “Defendant David Howell Petraeus then and there knew that he previously shared the black books with his biographer.””

Now again, just to review the situation, we have a man who had been the head of Central Command. Who had headed the allied military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The man who was credited as being the genius behind the American ‘new doctrine’ of counter-insurgency. We also had a man who rose to become the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who was later revealed to have had an affair. And in the midst of that adulterous affair, to have given the woman with whom he had the affair some of the most sensitive, classified secret information – some of the most important military information imaginable just because she asked for it. The infamous black books.

In making the plea agreement, General Petraeus has admitted to a misdemeanor charge. That’s a relatively minor charge considering the circumstances, and most people in terms of legal observers believe that he’s unlikely to go to jail, but rather to be given a probation and something like a $40, 000 fine. That doesn’t appear to be a very steep – indeed, that doesn’t even appear to be an adequate – penalty for the kind of transgression we’re talking about. But as I said, the story of the fall of David Petraeus, perhaps we should better say the story of his rise and fall, reminds us of an ancient Greek tragedy. In which the very point which appears to be a man’s strength becomes his greatest weakness. And yet as we think about it, this isn’t just something that brings to mind an ancient Greek tragedy – as relevant as that might be. There’s something far more relevant. And we find it in the Old Testament in the book of Judges, in chapter 16. There we read about Samson and Delilah, when we read in chapter 16 verse 4.

“After this he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.  And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to dhumble him. And we will each give you 1,100 pieces of silver.” So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound, that one could subdue you.””

And as you know how this story unfolds in the book of Judges 16, Samson did give Delilah the secret after Delilah has seduced him.

So Delilah said to Samson, “Give me the secret of your strength.” And the mistress said to David Petraeus, ‘Give me your black books.’ And in both cases, the men gave their mistresses what they demanded. And in both cases it led to horrifying tragedy.

Christians dare not miss the moral lesson in these headlines. In particular, in the headline about the plea bargain of David Petraeus. Because therein is a huge story. A story that points not only the great evil and sin of adultery, but to the active human pride and hubris that leads a man to believe that he can get away with it. So remember when you look to the headlines and you see the moral lessons in the headlines of today, the lessons here are really not new. This is a story that goes all the way back to Judges 16, that goes all the way back to Genesis 3.

3) Teens use digital media to feel good about themselves, like all humans

Finally, yesterday’s Los Angeles Times had a very interesting article by Saba Hamedy entitled, Why Teens Favor Digital Content. As she writes,

“There’s no question teens love digital stars: They flock to annual conventions such as VidCon, subscribe in mass numbers to YouTube and Vine accounts and even start their own video blogs.

“But Defy Media, a digital content company geared toward millennials, wanted to find out why such platforms resonate more” with younger adults and teenagers, than with older generations.

As she reports,

“In its third annual report, released on Tuesday, Defy found a majority (62%) of 13-to-24-year-olds flock to online video platforms such as YouTube because digital content makes them feel good about themselves.”

Andy Tu, who is executive vice-president of marketing at Defy Media said,

“We have a belief that digital is winning with younger people and we wanted to validate that. Based on what we saw, there’s so much evidence that the big reason digital wins isn’t just because of technology. It’s because the content that’s on these platforms is inherently more relatable.”

In this case, he means relatable to millennials and to today’s teenagers. There’s something very revealing in this of course. And that’s the fact that these young people are looking for video content that “makes them feel good about themselves.” Now,  one of the first things we can do is immediately say, these younger Americans are evidently betraying the fact that their sinful bent means that they want to see the kind of content that makes them feel better about themselves.

And yet, the more you come to understand this story, the story isn’t throwing younger Americans effectively under the bus. It’s saying, ‘Look! When it comes to content that makes younger Americans feel better about themselves, or feel good about themselves, they’re more likely to find it in terms of digital media platforms.’ But this doesn’t mean that older Americans aren’t also looking for content that makes them feel good about themselves. It just means that older Americans are less likely to be finding that kind of content that makes them feel better about themselves in terms of digital media content. Now when we look at this, it’s simply a mirror reflection of our basic fallen humanity. Left to ourselves, we’re looking for messages that make us feel good about ourselves. We want to listen to music that makes us feel good about ourselves. We want to develop friendships and relationships, and work with people who make us feel better about ourselves, and yes, whatever our age, we’re looking for entertainment content that makes us feel better about ourselves.

Now our final thought about that has to be fairly humbling. That’s because when we look at the media content that virtually all generations are consuming and consuming hour by hour every single day, when we look at what that content says about us and what we think will make us feel better about ourselves – well to put the matter bluntly, by that manner of evaluation, every single generation of the living now has plenty of reason not to feel better about ourselves.

Thanks for listening to the Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information about the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

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Tonight I’ll be giving a plenary address at the Inerrancy Summit as part of the Shepherd’s Conference at Grace Community Church here in Sun Valley, CA. I’ll be speaking in terms of biblical inerrancy and hermeneutics, and I’ll be speaking at 7:30 PST. You should be able to watch, if you want, by going to Again, that’s live at 7:30 PST.

I’m speaking to you from Los Angeles, California, and I’ll meet you tomorrow for the Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Boston Marathon Bomber defense confesses client’s action, denies his responsibility

‘It was him’ Boston bomber’s lawyers admit guilt, focus on brother, Reuters (Scott Malone and Elizabeth Barber)

2) Former CIA head’s plea bargain points to active danger of sin’s hubris

Petraeus reaches plea deal with Justice Dept., USA Today (Kevin Johnson and Tom Vanden Brook)

Petraeus Reaches Plea Deal Over Giving Classified Data to His Lover, New York Times (Michael S. Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo)

3) Teens use digital media to feel good about themselves, like all humans

Digital content makes teens feel good about themselves, Los Angeles Times (Saba Hamedy)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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