Yesterday evening I chatted with a friend about the latest news. I was about to mention Elizabeth Warren’s success in leading every Democratic senator but one to vote against President Obama on the Pacific Rim free trade bill. Then my friend asked if I had heard about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s sentence. Since we live in greater Boston, the trial has been hard to avoid.
I said, a little dismissively, “That was a show trial.” That opened a long conversation, where my friend asked me to justify a judgment like that. I did my best, but came away thinking that what’s obvious to me isn’t so obvious to other people. Correlatively, what ought to be obvious to the mainstream media, is actually not something you’ll see in the mainstream media at all. Mainstream media in Boston have stayed far away from any controversy related to the marathon bombing. It’s remarkable what you can ignore when you put your mind to it.
My friend made a good case that for several controversial or murky issues – I list some of them below – you would need a good reason to raise them in a courtroom trial. Counsel for Tsarnaev would have to show in each case how an issue, ambiguity, or piece of evidence pertains to Tsarnaev’s defense. I agree the defense needs a sympathetic judge – and sympathetic public opinion – to bring out all the context surrounding the crime. If the judge gives prosecutors benefit of doubt, the defense has difficulty raising issues and evidence that do not bear directly on Tsarnaev’s guilt or innocence.
The press, however, do not operate under any such contraints. Mainstream media can raise any issue they like in connection with the crime and the trial that follows. Yet the same media that so confidently report the authorities’ line have nothing at all to say about questions that make the whole trial fishy. Take Ibragim Todashev’s murder by the FBI. The FBI has never given a satisfactory account of Todashev’s death. Of course they have not explained why they silenced him. Yet the Boston press has nothing to say about the FBI’s crime, even though Todashev’s knowledge of the Tsarnaev brothers clearly bears on Dzhokhar’s prosecution.
Here’s an example of the propaganda we received instead of a real trial. Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said after the jury handed down its death sentence: “I think we sent a strong message that we’re not going to tolerate terrorism. They’re not going to blow up our Marathon, they’re not going to blow up our city, we’re not going to tolerate terrorism in our country, and that’s the strong message we sent here today.” Thank you, Boston Police Commissioner. Another strong message is that the feds can meddle with and invade any city they choose, do what they like, then conceal what they have done.
We are not going to find out why Todashev died. We are not going to find out why the Tsarnaev brothers did what they did, or even exactly what they did. We are not going to find out whether or precisely how Dzhokhar Tsarnaev ran over his own brother, exactly how security officer Sean Collier died, why Craft International people were at the marathon in the first place, why the loudspeaker at the finish line repeatedly announced an upcoming mass casualty drill, or any of the other questions associated with this crime. The feds have had their show. They have delivered their strong, thoroughly dishonest message that they will protect us from terrorists.
A few more thoughts
A few more thoughts on this case are relevant. They are based a general sense of matters, not thorough digestion of evidence – evidence we will never see in any case. The feds have done it again, as they did during Boston’s Day of Occupation on April 19, 2013. They came into the seat of liberty, a city known over the entire world as the birthplace of modern liberty, and they obtained a death sentence in a trial that revealed virtually nothing about the crime they claimed to prosecute.
Execution is the most tyrannical of all the state’s powers, partly because it is so individually focused. It is the state’s supreme instrument for keeping people quiet, for suppressing truth and resistance, for removing troublemakers, and for exacting revenge. It appears barbaric and unjust when the Indonesians do it, when the Saudis do it, when the Iranians do it, when Islamic militants do it, and when the Chinese do it. It appears just as barbaric and unjust when the United States does it. No so-called humane method can clean it up. Lethal drugs are just as barbaric as strangulation, gas, bullets, or electrocution. They all amount to the same thing: the state murders you after what it calls due process.
For political crimes, due process is a racket. Ethel Rosenberg died after a show trial where her own brother, David Greenglass, lied about what she had done. After another political trial, held here in Dedham, Massachusetts, the feds executed Sacco and Vanzetti on August 15, 1927. Almost ninety years later, many doubt the justice of their trial or their sentence. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will die after a trial where everyone appeared to agree that the truth about the central crime would not come out. We saw enormous attention paid to the consequences of the crime, and virtually no attention to its genesis.
Since the marathon bombing two years ago, the feds have acted doggedly, as Lara Turner puts it, to remove Tamarlan Tsarnaev’s friends one by one. Their removal of Ibragim Todashev via FBI execution is the most well known instance. The question of whether Tamerlan went to Chechnya as an FBI informant – or what contact he had with the FBI here in the States – won’t be answered or even addressed in a public trial now. What a lost opportunity.
Now the feds have managed to silence Tamerlan’s best friend of all: his own brother.
It is amazing to me that somehow, Judy Clare Clarke, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s defense counsel, was persuaded to keep her mouth shut and not be a troublemaker at the trial. She apparently decided that both she and her client would keep their mouths shut – a strategy that, despite her efforts, resulted in a death sentence. The trial was the one chance we had to find out the background to this crime. I’m curious whether she persuaded her client to go along with her keep quiet and hope for the best strategy. It’s hard to argue when your attorney says, “I’m going to try to save your life here.”