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Pro-First Amendment, Anti-Torture Lawyer Josh Dratel to Represent Tsarnaev Widow

The story [invalid link; see update below] that emerged late yesterday somewhat innocuously cited Russell family attorney Amato DeLuca announcing that the widow of Tamerlan Tsarnaev Katherine Russell had hired a criminal lawyer so that she could assist constructively in the ongoing Boston bombing investigation (h/t Provelt for another source of the story), albeit the FBI would not comment on whether Russell was cooperating. It was mentioned that the attorney in question was Joshua Dratel, who had experience in cases of alleged terrorism including that of one-time Guantanamo detainee David Hicks.

That is a bit like saying that in 1968 the Chicago 8 hired a lawyer experienced in civil liberties cases named William Kunstler. Dratel has certainly been involved in alleged terrorism cases, with what might be said to be mixed results. (The Hicks case resulted in an Alford plea, which got him out of six years of custody at Gitmo and sent home to Australia to serve a 9-month sentence. Just last year the U.S. Court of Appeals threw out his conviction, although Dratel’s client Abu Ali had his sentence increased from 30 years to life after an appelate court ruling.) And he is the Co-Chair of the Select Committee on Military Tribunals of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

But Dratel is also the co-editor, with Karen Greenberg, of the award-winning The Torture Papers: The Road To Abu Ghraib (Oxford 2005), on the scandal at that prison in Iraq early in the US occupation. And he has authored articles on the decline of civil liberties, such as this piece against legislation restricting the space allowed for demonstrations.

In short, another accomplished lawyer with his heart in the right place for this high-profile case (added to death penalty specialist Judy Clarke being brought in last week to represent Dzhokhar Tsarnaev). Those ubiquitous “officials with knowledge of the case” who last Friday leaked the claim that compromising material was found on Russell’s computer (after someone persuaded Warwick, Rhode Island police to release a six-year old mugshot of her, now routinely printed along with articles on the case) may have hoped to stir up sentiment in favor of her prosecution, but they may also have bit off more than they can chew.

Update 11:30 AM Eastern. In a new leak, “a federal law enforcement official … who is not authorized to comment publicly” has told USA Today that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev said during his interrogation that Russell was not involved (h/t Provelt). I guess we’re supposed to believe that the feds just remembered this. Of course, since as argued in previous posts such claims of what Dzhokhar said have no actual credibility, this new tidbit can only indicate what they may be thinking about the strength of their case against the widow.

Update 2:15 PM Eastern. The link given in the first paragraph of this post is no longer valid, as the Washington Post has chosen to “update” the story by erasing all but the comments thread and substituting a narrative about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s body. Here is a valid link to our story.

Update 4:00 PM Eastern. A hearing on the case by the House Homeland Security Committee today has been producing a good deal of “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” However, two Los Angeles Times reporters covering the affair were able to learn from “two officials” that an “18-page report was written by the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, a command center funded in part by the Department of Homeland Security” on April 10, five days before the bombing, and that it “identified the finish line of the race as an ‘area of increased vulnerability’ and warned Boston police that extremists may use ‘small scale bombings’ to attack spectators and runners at the event.”

From there the article goes on to say that the report identified no specific threat and to repeat the standard litany that the FBI had interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011, etc., as if we are to accept that the Tsarnaev brothers were indeed the bombers. However, for those of us who do not necessarily accept that assertion my question is: who had access to this report announcing in advance to all who did that the finish line of the race would be a vulnerable area?

Update 4:40 PM Eastern. The Boston Regional Intelligence Center just mentioned and the Boston Police Department were criticized last fall by the ACLU of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, who said that they had “illegally gathered information about local activists.”

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E. F. Beall

E. F. Beall