As the lone surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing lay in hospital under heavy guard, the American Civil Liberties Union and a federal public defender raised concerns about investigators’ plan to question Dzhokhar Tsarnaev without reading him his rights.
What Tsarnaev will say and when are unclear – he remained in serious condition and apparently in no condition to be interrogated after being pulled bloody and wounded from a tarpaulin-covered boat in a Watertown backyard. The capture came at the end of a tense Friday that began with his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan, dying in a gun battle with police.
US officials said an elite interrogation team would question the Massachusetts college student without reading him his Miranda rights, something that is allowed on a limited basis when the public may be in immediate danger, such as instances in which bombs are planted and ready to go off.
ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said the legal exception applies only when there is a continued threat to public safety and is “not an open-ended exception” to the Miranda rule, which guarantees the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.
The federal public defender’s office in Massachusetts said it has agreed to represent Tsarnaev once he is charged. Miriam Conrad, public defender for Massachusetts, said he should have a lawyer appointed as soon as possible because there are “serious issues regarding possible interrogation”.
There was no immediate word on when Tsarnaev might be charged and what those charges would be. The twin bombings killed three people and wounded more than 180.
The most serious charge available to federal prosecutors would be the use of a weapon of mass destruction to kill people, which carries a possible death sentence. Massachusetts does not have the death penalty.
President Barack Obama said there are many unanswered questions about the bombing, including whether the Tsarnaev brothers – ethnic Chechens from southern Russia who had been in the US for about a decade and lived in the Boston area - had help from others. The president urged people not to rush to judgment about their motivations.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said Tsarnaev was in serious but stable condition and was probably unable to communicate. Tsarnaev was at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, where 11 victims of the bombing were still being treated.
“I, and I think all of the law enforcement officials, are hoping for a host of reasons the suspect survives,” the governor said after a ceremony at Fenway Park to honour the victims and survivors of the attack. “We have a million questions, and those questions need to be answered.”
Investigators have not offered a motive for the Boston attack. But in interviews with officials and those who knew the Tsarnaevs, a picture has emerged of the older one as someone embittered toward the US, increasingly vehement in his Muslim faith and influential over his younger brother.
The Russian FSB intelligence service told the FBI in 2011 about information that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a follower of radical Islam, two law enforcement officials said yesterday.
According to an FBI news release, a foreign government said that Tamerlan Tsarnaev appeared to be strong believer and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the US for travel to the Russian region to join unspecified underground groups.
The FBI said that in response, it interviewed Tamerlan and relatives, and did not find any domestic or foreign terrorism activity. The bureau said it looked into such things as his telephone and online activity, his travels and his associations with others.
An uncle of the Tsarnaev brothers said he had a falling-out with Tamerlan over the man’s increased commitment to Islam.
Ruslan Tsarni from Maryland said Tamerlan told him in a 2009 phone conversation that he had chosen “God’s business” over work or school. Tsarni said he then contacted a family friend who told him Tamerlan had been influenced by a recent convert to Islam.
Tsarni said his relationship with his nephew basically ended after that call.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev studied accounting as a part-time student at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston from 2006 to 2008, the school said. He was married with a young daughter. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.