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Boston Bombing News: How Far Do You Trust the Justice System?

A recent Tsarnaev status conference featured a protest which included Ibragim Todashev’s mother-in-law Elena Teyer and Muslim Observer blogger Karin Friedemann. Metro talked to the protesters, and also interviewed a bystander who believes in the American justice system:

Grad student Sean Hughes, who debated with Tsarnaev’s supporters outside Moakley Courthouse, believes massive support either for or against the Tsarnaevs is premature. “It’s really easy to fall into conspiracy theories…We have… a ton of evidence that only privileged eyes have seen. There are certainly going to be inconsistencies that seem ‘suspicious.’ Despite all the evidence they claimed they had, I walked away from the courthouse today with one question unanswered: if the evidence was so damning, why isn’t his defense team using it?”

Well, Sean, perhaps because the trial hasn’t started yet. Or, perhaps because the defense has witnesses to protect, and needs to tread delicately at this point?

Most people don’t want to know about the FBI’s well-documented history of dirty tricks. So, they write off those who dare to question the veracity of alphabet agencies as “conspiracy theorists.”

Conspiracy theorists are usually very, very sure about their theories. I’m not that sure about anything. But, like leftcoast, I am troubled that no “so-called investigative reporters are willing to look beyond the official narrative by digging deeper or channelling their inner Bernstein or Woodward to rule out the many questions…” Since most journalists won’t do this, someone has to!

In addition to hints of the FBI’s creative attitude toward the truth, the BMB case highlights several other disturbing facts about our current justice system.

Unfair treatment of Muslims and other minorities. Karin Friedemann told Metro she “believes the Tsarnaevs are being persecuted because they are Muslim .. .there are hundreds of Muslim prisoners in jail and most of their trials are based on innuendo and bigotry with the absence of any tangible evidence.” A quick browse of her blogsite turned up one example; I’m sure she has documented others.

Bangladeshi-American Shifa Sadequee liked to chat on the Internet about everything from Islam to Freemasonry. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, he researched ways to help the Afghan people, and found himself accused of joining the Taliban. He “was held for three years in solitary confinement without trial, during which time he was pressured to testify against his friends in exchange for a plea bargain. He refused.

“…The religious debates of teenagers were taken out of context to paint them as terrorists and to preemptively prosecute them. Yet the actual chats remained classified as ‘secret evidence’ and were not presented to the jury.” Shifa was eventually convicted and sentenced to 17 years; a massive mail campaign helped to reduce this sentence from a possible 60 years. His brother said: “When ethnocentrism guides in the making and application of the law, jurors and courts/judges will always find certain groups ‘guilty.’ ”

“Legal” Witness Tampering. Thank you omramzey for the link to Harvey Silverman’s commentary on Azamat Tazhayakov and Robel Phillipos:

…delaying the sentencing of a guilty party until after he testifies against an alleged co-conspirator or other individual has become common practice in criminal trials, especially in the federal courts. Comparing this practice to witness bribery … is actually to underestimate the tactic. It is closer to the crime of extortion … The practice of rewarding witnesses for favorable prosecution testimony (or, conversely, punishing witnesses who will not go along) has … become “business as usual” … This practice should be stopped. It would after all, constitute a crime if engaged in by anyone other than a prosecutor.”

BTW, I believe that testimony which Aza or Robel might provide about their friend’s “demeanor after the bombing” is a meaningless red herring. Yes, Dzhokhar socialized, as he normally did, and probably used drugs and/or alcohol (also normal). He also did an unusual amount of sleeping, and a mechanic who saw him on Tuesday said he seemed nervous. (Well, he had just survived being very close to a large explosion.) So… “Nervous? Must be guilty. Normal? Guilty and callous.” Every smile a smirk. What, exactly, was he supposed to be doing?

Coerced, False Confessions. Thank you Jane for the link to this article, which quotes one of the Phillipos jurors as saying that Robel’s confession “was very powerful proof for her and the other 11 jurors.”

Ignorance is bliss. Back in April 2013, I too assumed that if Dzhokhar confessed, he must be guilty. I’ve learned a few pertinent facts since then.

The Innocence Project has documented 321 people who were convicted, sometimes sentenced to death, only to be later exonerated with DNA testing. (The overwhelming majority of these cases involved African American suspects.) IP states: “False confessions and incriminating statements lead to wrongful convictions in approximately 27% of cases. Looking only at the homicide cases, false confessions are the leading contributor to wrongful convictions, contributing to 64 (62%) of the 104 homicide wrongful convictions that were overturned by DNA evidence.”

Police Chief Magazine says that false, coerced confessions are “rare,” but one of their sources estimated up to 840 per year. (Isn’t that too many?) They note that juveniles and people with mental limitations are especially vulnerable.

Conditions which can produce a false confession include: duress, coercion, intoxication, diminished capacity, sleep deprivation, manipulation, threats, denial of counsel, and failure to read Miranda rights.

Dzhokhar was interrogated by a team which uses military, not civilian, criteria. His requests for a lawyer were denied. He was sleep deprived, handcuffed, and dosed with Fentanyl, a narcotic 40 times more powerful than heroin. He wrote (sometimes incoherent) answers to questions. Those questions have not been provided for the defense counsel or jury’s inspection.

Robel was interrogated numerous times without a lawyer. A “good agent” offered to protect him from the “bad agents” waiting outside the door to hurt him. At the trial, one of the interrogating agents actually admitted his job is to “get confessions,” er, that is, “get at the truth.”

Missie Baker of TBMB writes “…the scenario most likely to lead to a false confession… occurs when the interrogator is convinced the individual is guilty.” Also: “The police may feed the suspect bits of information which (can then be) incorporated into a confession.”

This TBMB article also contains the tale of an innocent Muslim who made a false confession in the wake of 9/11. Among the reasons for his confession were threats to the safety of his family, which one cannot rule out in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. (Isn’t it odd that his interrogators led him to believe that his brother was still alive?)

IP, PCM and TBMB agree that ALL interrogations should be electronically recorded. The police magazine states that universal recording “is not only feasible, but may have an overall benefit to the criminal justice system.”

I’m sure that most police and most attorneys are honest and committed to justice. But our legal system can be abused, and often is … especially when the suspects are not rich, and not members of “favored” groups. And, most especially when the suspects are accused of terrorism.

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