Boston: Where things stand

No motive is known as interrogation and criminal charges await Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

By Alex Halperin

Published April 21, 2013 3:29PM (EDT)

Dzhokar Tsarnaev                                  (FBI)
Dzhokar Tsarnaev (FBI)

Two days after a manhunt froze Boston, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, is in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in “serious but stable” condition awaiting interrogation by an elite counter-terrorism team and criminal charges. His older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who had spoken to the FBI in 2011 was killed in a firefight after a police chase Friday night.

The brothers are ethnic Chechens who immigrated to America with their family and lived in the Boston area. Dzhokhar became an American citizen on September 11, 2012. Tamerlan’s efforts to become a citizen had not yet been successful. In 2012 he spent an extended period in Chechnya and Dagestan in Russia’s northern Caucus region, according to the New York Times.

The Boston Globe reported on how Tamerlan came to the FBI’s attention:

Russian authorities warned the FBI in early 2011 that suspected bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev may have been a follower of “radical Islam,” a revelation that raised new questions in Congress on Saturday about whether the Boston Marathon attacks that killed three and wounded more than 170 could have been prevented.

A senior congressional aide privy to the Boston Marathon terror investigation confirmed Saturday that the FBI received the warning after Tsarnaev’s apparently suspicious activities caught the attention of Russian authorities keeping close surveillance on militant Islamist groups in the Caucasus region of the former Soviet Union.

The FBI acknowledged Friday that it had investigated Tsarnaev in 2011, even interviewing him and his family, but “did not find any terrorism activity,” either domestic or foreign.

“The FBI had this guy on the radar and somehow he fell off,” said the congressional aide, who said oversight committees on Capitol Hill are seeking answers from counterterrorism officials. “We heard for several days leading up to this there was no intelligence. Now we know there could have been intelligence.”
…The bureau declined to answer questions Saturday about whether it revisited its 2011 investigation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev after the Marathon attack, or why the bureau was unable to identify the suspects in race day security footage two years after interviewing him and his family.

The legal questions surrounding Dzhokhar include the charges he will face. NBC has reported that federal prosecutors are preparing charges against him which they hope to file today. This is significant because federal cases can carry the death penalty while state charges in Massachusetts cannot.


A senior law enforcement official confirmed Sunday that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is suffering from a wound to his throat that has left him unable to talk.

This has delayed efforts by the special high value detainee interrogation team to talk to him without advising him of his Miranda rights, the source said. Gov. Deval Patrick told reporters Saturday that Tsarnaev was "unable to communicate."

In a separate article about the initial legal issues, the New York Times says that Attorney General Eric Holder will have to make the decision to pursue the death penalty. “Most experts expected the case to be handled by the federal authorities, who were preparing a criminal complaint, including the use of weapons of mass destruction, which can carry the death penalty because deaths resulted from the blasts.”

The other primary legal focus has been on the decision not to read the suspect his Miranda rights. According to the Times:

The administration has said it planned to begin questioning the younger Mr. Tsarnaev for a period without delivering the Miranda warning that he had a right to remain silent and to have a lawyer present.

Normally such a warning is necessary if prosecutors want to introduce statements made by a suspect in custody as evidence in court, but the administration said it was invoking an exception for questions about immediate threats to public safety. The Justice Department has pressed the view that in terrorism cases the length of time and type of questioning that fall under that exception is broader than what would be permissible in ordinary criminal cases, a view upheld by a federal judge in the case of the man convicted of trying to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner in 2009.

Civil libertarians have objected to the more aggressive interpretation of the exception to the Miranda rule, which protects the Constitutional right against involuntary self-incrimination.

Meanwhile, Boston began to resume normal activity, The Globe reports:

Members of law enforcement who pursued the alleged bombers were honored on the Fenway infield before the game. Fans cheered Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis as if he had just shut out the Yankees.

Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, in the lineup for the first time this season after an injury, took the microphone and shouted: “This is our [expletive] city, and nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”

Alex Halperin

Alex Halperin is news editor at Salon. You can follow him on Twitter @alexhalperin.

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