A recent report reveals a disturbing fact about the treatment of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: his multiple requests for a lawyer during his interrogation were ignored.
While reports indicating that Tsarnaev’s Miranda rights were being withheld were disturbing enough, this new aspect pointed out today by Glenn Greenwald is far worse.
Apparently, Tsarnaev was Mirandized only because a federal magistrate decided to hold an in-hospital hearing for the suspect during which he was advised of his right to remain silent and be appointed a lawyer.
This hearing interrupted an interrogation that had lasted some 16 hours up to that point. The Mirandizing of Tsarnaev upset former Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani who called it “mind-boggling” and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers who called the decision to intervene a “God-awful policy.”
Yet even more insane is that the Los Angeles Times reported, “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 points out that if this report is indeed accurate, it would be a much more serious violation of essential rights than delaying Miranda warnings under the “public safety exception,” even the expanded version pushed by the Obama Justice Department.
Denying the right to a lawyer during interrogation after repeated requests is “as fundamental a violation of crucial guaranteed rights as can be imagined,” according to Greenwald.
“The bottom line is this: not telling a suspect about his rights in order to try obtain brief, immediate and emergency public safety information is one thing,” writes the lawyer writing under the name “bmaz” for Empty Wheel. “Straight out denying and refusing a defendant constitutional rights he is legally entitled to, and has tried to invoke, is quite another. The government has issues on both fronts as to Tsarnaev.”
Invoking the public safety exemption to deny the right to a lawyer has only been accepted in cases where “the intrusion into the constitutional right to counsel […] was so fleeting – in both it was no more than a question or two about a weapon on the premises of a search while the search warrant was actively being executed,” according to bmaz.
“Nothing whatsoever like the 16 hours of interrogation applied to Tsarnaev, across at least two sessions, over a period of at least two days,” bmaz adds.
Even the use of the public safety exception was dubious, according to law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky.
The public safety exception “does not apply here because there was no emergency threat facing law enforcement,” according to Chemereinsky’s article in the Los Angeles Times.
That issue aside, the possibility that Tsarnaev’s requests for a lawyer were actively blocked by the government is far more problematic.
“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,” according to Greenwald.
Even more troubling, Greenwald highlights the fact that the Los Angeles Times report indicates that if the federal magistrate did not force herself into the situation, the interrogation could have continued for even longer.
That interrogation apparently would have continued along with the Miranda delay and the denial of Tsarnaev’s right to a lawyer. Meanwhile, lawmakers are actually saying that the judge actually should not have stepped in.
As of now, it appears that the only confirmation of the government ignoring Tsarnaev’s requests for a lawyer come from an anonymous congressional aide cited by the Los Angeles Times.
As such, it should be treated with a healthy degree of skepticism, yet the Los Angeles Times clearly believed the source to be credible and reliable enough to print the statement.
Glenn Greenwald sums up the importance of this issue quite nicely. This is not something we can brush aside simply because it’s a suspected terrorist, a Muslim, etc.
“If you cheer when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s right to counsel is denied, then you’re enabling the institutionalization of that violation, and thus ensuring that you have no basis or ability to object when that right is denied to others whom you find more sympathetic (including yourself),” Greenwald writes.
Indeed, how this simple fact is overlooked is beyond me at this point. The promotion of the erosion of civil liberties for one person or group just guarantees that it can and will be expanded to cover others eventually. There is no reason to believe that the exceptions to our most essential rights can’t be expanded to cover you as well.
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