Many commentators have criticized the Obama administration for prosecuting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev criminally, which entailed giving him Miranda rights and providing him with a lawyer. But apart from the wisdom, in principle, of promptly commencing a criminal prosecution in this case, the sequence of events raises obvious questions about what the administration is up to.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured last Friday evening. At that time, his condition was described as critical. He had been shot multiple times, had lost a great deal of blood, and doubt was expressed as to whether he would live. Nevertheless, by Monday morning, the administration had decided to proceed immediately with a criminal prosecution, and a brief preliminary hearing was held at the terrorist’s hospital bedside. The hearing was attended by two federal prosecutors, three public defenders, a federal magistrate judge, a court reporter and a doctor. I wrote about the hearing, which I described as “bizarre,” here, and linked to the transcript of the hearing. The magistrate judge explained Tsarnaev’s rights to him; Tsarnaev’s lawyer said that he had met with his client “very briefly.” Tsarnaev himself said exactly one word, which was necessary to get his lawyer officially on board. Further proceedings were adjourned until the end of May.
At about the same time that this hearing was announced, an unnamed “law enforcement official” told reporters that law enforcement personnel had already interviewed Tsarnaev on Sunday evening:
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bombing suspect, has told investigators that the deadly plot was self-contained, involving only he [sic] and his brother and did not enlist the aid of terrorists or groups overseas, according a law enforcement official.
Tsarnaev, who was arraigned in his hospital bed Monday on charges of using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death, has responded to some questions by interrogators. …
Dzhokhar, who has injuries in his throat and tongue, has responded to questions about the attack by writing down some answers or simply nodding. His condition was upgraded from critical to fair on Tuesday, according to a statement by the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts.
In his limited responses, Tsarnaev said that the two brothers acted alone, said the official, who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak publicly about the case.
So, via an anonymous leak, we are being told that, at a time when Tsarnaev was still in critical condition and unable to speak, investigators interrogated him–just long enough, apparently, to get his assurance that no one else was involved in the plot. Having gotten that non-verbal representation, as we are now told by the anonymous spokesman, the administration promptly got Tsarvaev a lawyer and, in effect, told him to shut up. As was, of course, inevitable, news reports tell us that Tsarnaev fell silent once he was read his Miranda rights.
Now, it may well be true that the Tsarnaev brothers acted alone; my own guess is that it is likely. Further, as I have said before, I think the significance of a foreign connection is overrated. But there is no question that it would be convenient for the Obama administration if no ties to foreign groups, or to other extremists here in the United States, came to light. This is especially true in view of the fact that the elder Tsarnaev was known to both the FBI and the CIA and had been entered into the terrorist suspect database.
It is possible that Tsarvaev may someday provide a fuller explanation of the events that led up to the marathon bombing, perhaps as a condition of a plea bargain. But for the foreseeable future, at least, the Obama administration’s decision to go the route of criminal prosecution guarantees Tsarnaev’s silence. Which means that, at least for now, all we have to go on is the administration’s assurance–based, apparently, on a shake of the head–that the brothers acted alone. This assurance, which seems laughably tenuous, has nevertheless been reported by every news outlet in the United States.
We trust that there will be a transparent investigation into the marathon bombing and that the facts will be fully and openly disclosed, without undue delay. But if the Obama administration wants to obstruct the investigation and prevent all of the facts from being known soon, if ever, it is off to an excellent start.
UPDATE: Tonight’s big news story is that the Tsarnaev brothers were on their way to New York–Times Square, specifically–when police caught up with them. New York officials played the story up. The New York Post headlines, “Boston Marathon ‘bombers’ planned to set off remaining explosives in NYC”:
The suspected Boston Marathon bombers wanted to attack New York — and specifically planned to blow up Times Square before they were captured, authorities said today. …
Had the bombers escaped from Boston late Thursday night and arrived in New York for a middle-of-the-night attack, the carnage could have still been horrific, officials said.
“There’s a significant number of people in Times Square at that hour. There are clubs, bars that are operating,” Kelly said.
“Clearly you saw the power of the bombs in Boston. You take that and you can just use your [imagination], you can give a guesstimate of what the damage would be in New York City,”
This is based on what Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told FBI interrogators Sunday evening. It now appears that Tsarnaev was interrogated twice, Saturday as well as Sunday:
In an earlier interview with FBI agents, late Saturday night, Dzhokhar said the pair planned to come to New York and have a good time, officials said..
Then in a second interrogation of late Sunday night, the wounded alleged terrorist spilled bears on the planned New York assault, according to Kelly.
“He was a lot more lucid and much more detailed [in giving] information in the second questioning period,” Kelly said.
It could all be true, who knows? I wonder about two things: 1) Will we ever be given a complete summary of what Tsarnaev ostensibly told the FBI before the Obama administration had him lawyer up, or will various politicians continue to dribble out bits and pieces? and 2) Dzhokhar’s seemingly lurid account of the bombers’ intentions was given at a time when he was still in critical condition and unable to speak. How much more might the FBI have learned if they had been able to question him when he could actually talk?