Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's requests for lawyer were ignored

Focus on Miranda rights may miss key constitutional abrogation, plus discoveries about Tamerlan's Russia visit

Published April 30, 2013 1:08PM (EDT)

Updated, 11:42 a.m. EST: In attempts to further flesh out a picture of the Tsarnaevs, investigators have reportedly discovered that the elder brother, Tamerlan, killed in a police shootout, may have had links to two now-dead militants in Russia. Via New York Magazine:

According to the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Tsarnaev may have been linked to William Plotnikov, a Canadian "boxer-turned-jihadist" (sounds familiar) who died at the hands of Russian forces in the republic of Dagestan last year, while Tsarnaev was visiting...Tsarnaev may have also known, or chatted online, with Makhmud Mansur Nidal, an 18-year-old militant who was reportedly "under surveillance for six months as a suspected recruiter for Islamist insurgents fighting Moscow's rule in the region." Nidal was also killed in Russia, in May 2012 during Tamerlan's six-month visit


Original post: According to reports from the Los Angeles Times, highlighted by Glenn Greenwald this week, the delay in reading Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his Miranda rights may be the least in possible abrogations in constitutional legal procedure in the FBI's interrogations. Tsarnaev reportedly requested an attorney repeatedly but was ignored. There has been some debate as to whether the "public safety exception" was appropriately invoked to delay Mirandizing the 19-year-old suspect, but, as Greenwald writes on denying requests for a lawyer, "this is much more serious":

If the LA Times report is true, then it means that the DOJ did not merely fail to advise him of his right to a lawyer but actively blocked him from exercising that right. This is a US citizen arrested for an alleged crime on US soil: there is no justification whatsoever for denying him his repeatedly exercised right to counsel.

The Los Angeles Times reported in passing last week that "a senior congressional aide said Tsarnaev had asked several times for a lawyer, but that request was ignored since he was being questioned under the public safety exemption to the Miranda rule." Greenwald commented that "Delaying Miranda warnings under the "public safety exception" - including under the Obama DOJ's radically expanded version of it - is one thing... To ignore the repeated requests of someone in police custody for a lawyer, for hours and hours, is just inexcusable and legally baseless.'

As EmptyWheel blogger and lawyer "Bmaz" (praised by Greenwald for this post) explained, the government has issue in regards to the Boston suspect when it comes to temporarily withholding Miranda rights. The blogger notes, however, the government's denial of legal counsel -- while the suspect will likely be convicted anyway -- sets a more troubling precedent:

There is, by all accounts, more than enough evidence to convict the man without anything he communicated being admitted in a trial (if indeed there ever is a trial). Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will not be walking free in society again no matter how it sorts out. Big and emotionally fraught cases of national interest rarely make for good, and sound, creation of law and the Tsarnaev case is no exception.

How the Tsarnaev facts and case is discussed, sorted out in court, and what foundation it lays for future cases – and there will be future cases – does, however, speak loudly as to who we are as a nation. Are we the cowering nation of supposed leaders such as Mike Rogers and Peter King, or are we the strong and resolute one envisioned by our Founding Fathers and protected by the constitutional rights they bequeathed us with? Recent polls have shown that Americans are increasingly “skeptical about sacrificing personal freedoms for security.” The people have that right, we should listen to them.

Meanwhile, in order to piece together a clearer picture of the suspects' motivations, investigators are seeking information from the widow of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Katherine Russell Tsarnaev. According to her lawyer, the 24-year-old had "no inkling" of the bombings. She is cooperating with investigators, reported Bloomberg:

Investigators found female DNA on a fragment from one of the bombs, another U.S. official briefed on the probe said yesterday. The genetic material may have come from a number of sources and its discovery doesn’t necessarily mean that additional people were involved, said the official, who asked not to be identified in discussing an open case. DeLuca said in an e-mail yesterday that “Katie continues to assist in the investigation in any way that she can,” without elaborating.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation took DNA samples from Tsarnaev yesterday, according to one of the U.S. officials briefed on the probe. Jason Pack, an FBI spokesman, declined to say whether the agency may seek a subpoena to interview Katherine or whether she’s cooperating voluntarily.



By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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