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Anti-Tsarnaev Hysteria And Dzhokhar’s Backpack

From July 10, when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev denied committing any crimes at his arraignment, the mainstream media have engaged in a continuous attack on him and certain of his supporters. It is not that they object to his denial: that is simply dismissed implicitly as a tactic employed by one whom everyone believes is guilty of the Boston marathon bombing and related offenses. No, the real problem is how he looked, when he gave his denial and before.

At first it was a matter of misinterpreting distorted facial features as “smirking” at the proceedings, when they were probably caused by repair of injuries sustained during or after his arrest. Concurrently, an ongoing attack on some of his supporters who happen to be female continued, under the assumption that they only supported him because he was an attractive young male (at least before his encounter with the police), or more insidiously, because they harbored a secret passion for monstrous criminals.

Then Rolling Stone took it upon itself to publish a lengthy article purporting to show how a normal teenager became a monster. It failed to do so (despite gushing over it from outlets like Slate and New Yorker), but did succeed in stirring up anger at it by people who did not understand that its view of DT was just as negative as theirs: its cover photo of him was deemed too attractive. Then, one belated illustration of what was said to be this anger was the release of photographs showing the capture of a man alleged to be DT (although not everyone is convinced that it is him). This was followed by castigation of the police sergeant who took and released the photos because he made evidence public without authorization, but then by widespread support for him.

In parallel with all this, those ubiquitous Sources Familiar With The Investigation have let it be known that the authorities are still interested in tying DT’s deceased older brother Tamerlan to the triple murder in Waltham, Mass. in 2011. This is based upon the assertion that the also deceased Ibragim Todashev was about to sign a confession that he and TT did the murders just before the FBI killed him. It is not mentioned that this killing itself is suspicious, nor, especially, that Todashev’s widow alibis him for the time when the triple murder took place.

(For details of these developments, see here and here.)

They haven’t yet connected the Tsarnaevs to fellow criminally charged Bostonian Whitey Bulger, but give them another day or two. It all seems so hysterical and so sustained that one wonders where it is coming from. Could there be a logic behind the display of illogic?

I think there might be, but to see it we have to consider some of the evidence about the Boston marathon bombing.

The April 25 criminal complaint against Tsarnaev says that

the second [explosion] occurred approximately one block away [from the first, allegedly caused by TT] in front of 755 Boylston Street. The explosive devices were placed near the metal barriers where hundreds of spectators were watching runners approach the finish line.

The June 27 indictment says

DZHOKHAR A. TSARNAEV walked to the front of the Forum restaurant at 755 Boylston Street, where he placed a backpack concealing an IED constructed from a pressure cooker, low explosive powder, ,,,

In short, the government alleges that DT left a bomb at the curb in front of the restaurant. Now we have not been provided with a photo of him doing this (although perhaps the FBI has one), but we have seen several of him carrying his backpack prior to the explosions, for example, this one showing him walking behind his brother, where Tamerlan carries his backpack on his back, but Dzhokhar carries his casually slung over one shoulder.

And that is a problem. On May 20 Dave Lindorff wrote an article describing his research on backpacks carrying simulated bombs. He found, first, that a bomb like those that exploded at the marathon weighs around 30 lb, and, second, that carrying such a weight in a backpack over one shoulder will have caused more lines of strain than are observed in DT’s backpack before the explosions. The second part of this demonstration seems unnecessary: no-one is going to carry 30 pounds on one side when it is easy enough to put the straps around both shoulders and carry it on one’s back, as a backpack is normally worn.

Another problem is the location of the discarded backpack. Just lately (July 16) Woody Box posted a detailed analysis on his blog of where injured people were located in relation to the location of DT’s discarded backpack according to the government, with photos and diagrams. The force of the blast blew some people close to the restaurant entrance to a location inside it, but did not move people standing next to the alleged bomb location at the curb any appreciable distance.

That is to say, the actual bomb location must have been closer to the restaurant than where the government locates Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s backpack.

The indictment also says both backpacks were black, whereas DT’s was white. I suppose the government can excuse this as a slip of the pen. (It is one sign among others that the indictment was composed in haste. I’m inclined to believe that it was rushed so as to be released before the end of the day when some new information about NSA surveillance had just been released by the Guardian, in the hope of drawing attention away from that.) But apart from that the evidence is that DT’s backpack did not contain the bomb.

These points are not the only instances where the government has failed to dot all its i’s and cross all its t’s in deciding to blame the bombing on the Tsarnaevs. (A fairly well known point is that a published photo of the exploded backpack the government says was Tamerlan’s bears a closer resemblance to the backpacks worn by several operatives of the “security” firm Craft International who are seen in several photos congregating near the race finish line.) But they are sufficient to see that the government would have a good deal of trouble persuading an impartial jury, against a competent defense, that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev caused the explosion in front of the Forum restaurant.

You might say that the government also cites lots of evidence against the Tsarnaevs dating from three and four days after the bombing, as well as damning materials it says it found in their apartment. But if a jury came to believe that the brothers were set up with respect to the bombing itself, could it really be expected not to believe that the government planted this other evidence?

Thus my hypothesis is that the government fears that it might not win at trial, and further that embarrassing information might emerge even if it did. Therefore it is fomenting as much anti-Tsarnaev hatred as possible, in order to sustain an atmosphere whereby the defense can be pressured into agreeing to a guilty plea in exchange for a lesser sentence than execution, thereby avoiding a trial.

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E. F. Beall

E. F. Beall