Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

FBI Chief Says Agency Should Not Have Cleared Gun Sale To Dylann Roof

By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — FBI Director James B. Comey said Friday that agency employees should have rejected Dylann Roof’s attempt to purchase a gun because Roof had earlier been arrested for possession of drugs.

Authorities charge that Roof killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in a racially motivated attack.

“The bottom line is clear,” Comey said. “Dylann Roof should not have been allowed to purchase the gun that day.”

He said Roof went to a West Columbia, S.C., gun shop April 11 to buy the gun. Under federal law, the FBI had three days to block the purchase.

But an FBI examiner in West Virginia failed to get notice of Roof’s March drug arrest, which would have likely resulted in Roof being disqualified from purchasing the weapon.

On April 16, the gun dealer sold the weapon to Roof, who authorities say used it in the June 17 attack.

“We are all sick this has happened,” Comey said. “We wish we could turn back the clock but we can’t.”

Comey said he has ordered a full review of the mistake and will make recommendations for improvements to background checks. He added that he was informed of the lapse Thursday night but that agents have been reviewing the matter for weeks.

Comey said the Justice Department was also reviewing the three-day gun review policy.

Comey said the drug charge itself would not have automatically blocked the sale. But if examiners had talked to prosecutors, they would have learned that in the police report Roof admitted he had possessed the drug. That confession would have been enough to deny the gun sale, Comey said.

J. Elliott Summey, chairman of the Charleston County Council in South Carolina, said he was deeply saddened that authorities may have missed a chance to stop Roof’s rampage last month. While he was hesitant to place blame squarely on the FBI or the Columbia Police Department, the agency that arrested Roof for drug possession months before the attack, Summey said the missed opportunity highlighted a failing of gun laws.

“That’s a very sad scenario: that we’ve got gun laws to try to help legislate responsibility and somehow it’s not foolproof,” Summey said.

Summey knew shooting victims DePayne Middleton-Doctor and Cynthia Hurd, who were both former county employees, and wondered aloud how their loved ones would react to Comey’s comments. “How do you tell those nine families they missed it?” Summey asked.

While he believes the incident merits a re-examination of the way background checks are conducted, Summey said placing blame at someone’s feet won’t heal the damage that Roof visited upon Charleston.

“We could sit here for 10 years and do what-ifs,” Summey said. “It’s not going to bring those people back.”

Photo: FBI Director James B. Comey, Brookings Institution via Flickr

Boston Bomber Speaks Out For First Time: ‘I Am Sorry For The Lives I Have Taken’

By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

BOSTON — Speaking for the first time publicly about the explosives he and his brother set off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon two years ago, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev apologized for the bombings and to the victims of the worst terrorist attack in the U.S. since Sept. 11.

“I am sorry for the lives I have taken, for the suffering I caused, for the damage I have done — the irreparable damage,” he said.

In a slight voice and apparently racked by nerves ahead of his formal sentencing, Tsarnaev thanked his defense team and praised the survivors and relatives who spoke in the courtroom earlier “with strength, with patience, with dignity.”

“They told how horrendous this was,” he acknowledged.

Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, detonated two pressure-cooker bombs at the race’s finish line in April 2013, killing three and wounding more than 260. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed days later in a massive manhunt for the bombing suspects. Tsarnaev told investigators days after the bombing that they were motivated by extremist Islamic beliefs and that the attack was in retaliation for the U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wednesday’s remarks were a departure from Tsarnaev’s behavior during his trial and even earlier in the day, when he showed no emotion during heart-wrenching testimony from victims and the exhibition of the photographs and videos from the bombing. He did not testify.

“I also asked Allah to have mercy upon me and my brother and my family and I pray to Allah to bestow his mercy upon victims and their families,” Tsarnaev said, noting his own Muslim faith.

In emotional remarks earlier Wednesday, victims of the bombing talked about the lasting damage they suffered.

Tsarnaev, referred to only as “the defendant” by victim after victim, remained still throughout. He gave no sign that he was listening as runners and spectators spoke of invisible injuries and the horror of learning that loved ones were grievously wounded.

One woman confessed to remaining too afraid to sleep, but went on to say she had forgiven Tsarnaev.

Other victims expressed anger. Elizabeth Bourgault, who ran in the race, told those gathered: “The defendant will now die for what he did. Whatever God the defendant believes in will not welcome him.”

A prosecutor had to help hold up Liz Norton, whose two children were gravely wounded. “Who could harbor so much evil and so much hate?” she asked Tsarnaev.
Jennifer Maybury, whose nephew lost both legs, told him: “That day changed the course of an entire family.”

A federal jury voted last month that Tsarnaev, 21, a Russian immigrant, should be put to death. On Wednesday, a judge formally sentenced Tsarnaev to six death sentences and 10 terms of life in prison without parole.

In the federal court system, there is an automatic appeal of the verdict and death sentence. But Tsarnaev will soon be moved to a federal facility in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he will become the youngest inmate waiting to be put to death.

The last federal execution was carried out 12 years ago when Louis Jones Jr., a decorated Army soldier, was put to death for kidnapping and killing a female enlistee.

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

AFP Photo

Federal Cyberattack Linked To Foreign Government, Intelligence Panel Member Says

By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The cyberattack on the federal Office of Personnel Management was orchestrated by someone working directly for a foreign government or with a foreign state, a key member of the House Intelligence Committee said Sunday.

“There are only two possibilities here with an attack this sophisticated,” said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the panel. “Either a state actor or a group of private hackers who often work in concert with the state.”

But Schiff, speaking on Fox News Sunday, cautioned that the U.S. is not quite ready to say affirmatively who was to blame for one of the worst breaches of federal workers’ personal information.

The data breached in the OPM attack included Social Security information and other personal data belonging to about 4 million federal employees in the U.S. The information also included security clearances for federal employees.

Sources have said the information most likely was acquired to help the perpetrators identify which federal employees might be vulnerable and willing to spy against the United States.

“It’s very valuable information,” Schiff said of the stolen material. “And while we’re not allowed to comment on the attribution yet, we’ve gotten very good at attribution.”

On CNN on Saturday, Schiff strongly suggested that China, as most law enforcement sources have said, or Russia was behind the breach.

“We certainly have made great progress with the investigation,” he said. “I can tell you, as a general matter, that China is a very bad actor in the cyber field, and so is Russia. They not only have state actors, but they have private groups that work in concert with the state and are responsible for all kinds of hacks and theft.”

The U.S. government has yet to identify who was behind the attack that was first detected in April and announced last week. It was the third major intrusion into a major U.S. government computer system in the past year.

On the Republican side, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, agreed with Schiff that China is a top suspect in the intrusion.

“All threat indicators point to the fact that it was China, perhaps nation-state sponsored, because of the way it was done,” he said Sunday on CBS’s Face The Nation. “It was done to get personal information on political appointees and federal employees to exploit them, so later down the road they can use those for espionage.”

McCaul added, “This is an area where there are no rules of the game in terms of espionage and in terms of stealing this kind of information. I think this raises all sorts of issues with Americans.”

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Boston Defense Focuses On Tsarnaev’s Troubled Family

By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

BOSTON — Close to wrapping up their case, defense lawyers for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev portrayed their client Tuesday as the product of a troubled and ailing Chechen father who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and an angry, aggressive older brother who often picked fights in Boston.

Tsarnaev was found guilty last month on all 30 charges in the April 2013 bombings, and the jury of seven women and five men will soon be deciding whether the 21-year-Russian immigrant is moved to death row or spends the rest of his life in prison with no parole.

Defense lawyers, hoping for the life sentence, on Tuesday sought to show how he was affected by family members, from their history in the Chechen region to their immigration to Boston when Tsarnaev was eight.

There has been much testimony in the trial about his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, who became a strict Muslim at the time that her oldest son, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was becoming an Islamic radical.

Testimony Tuesday was the first that centered on his father, Anzor Tsarnaev.

Dr. Alexander Niss, a former Boston psychiatrist who now practices in Los Angeles, testified that for two years he treated the father for PTSD, nightmares, anxiety, hallucinations, and near dementia. Niss said the father, a former boxer, was deeply affected by the Chechen wars in the 1990s.

“He had a lot of anxiety, and panic attacks,” Niss said. “He had flashbacks. He had a lot of paranoia. He was afraid of the Russian KGB, thought they were following him and looking through his window at his home.”

The father, who is living in Russia, was not called to testify.

Amanda Ransom, a college friend of Tamerlan’s wife, described Tamerlan’s cruel behavior, saying he dressed flashy, drove a Mercedes and was prone to starting fights. She recalled him once angrily punching a man for speaking to his wife Katherine and said she sometimes could hear him screaming and throwing things at her as well.

One night in their school dorm, she said, “I heard him laughing and she was crying in her room. After they had had sex he told her he had AIDS and when she started to cry, he laughed at her. He said he wasn’t serious, it was a joke.”

Henry Alvarez, a fellow high school wrestler with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, said he had been shocked to learn that his former teammate was arrested in the bombings. “I never could imagine he would do something like this,” Alvarez said.

The defense is expected to put on expert testimony about the harsh conditions at the federal Supermax prison, where Tsarnaev presumably would go if he is sentenced to life, and then end its case Wednesday or Thursday.

Photo: Boston Marathon Bombing via Facebook

Defense Begins Last Chance To Save Life Of Boston Marathon Bomber Tsarnaev

By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

BOSTON — Hoping to save Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from the death penalty, lawyers for the convicted Boston Marathon bomber aggressively portrayed his older brother, Tamerlan, as the brains and muscle behind the 2013 terrorist attack, revealing for the first time that Tamerlan initially planned to strike in Russia but returned to this country because he could “not find a holy war” there.

Defense attorneys also argued to the jury that a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole would be an even harsher punishment for the 21-year-old Russian immigrant, who after the attack that left three people dead and more than 260 others wounded had voiced a desire to die as a martyr.

Showing jurors pictures of the federal “supermax” prison in Colorado — where Tsarnaev would probably serve out his sentence — defense attorney David I. Bruck zoomed in on a picture of a small window grate that he said allowed just a small amount of sunlight each day.

“He goes there and he’s forgotten,” Bruck said. “No more (media) spotlight, like the death penalty brings. His legal case will be over for good, and no martyrdom. Just years and years of punishment, day after day, while he grows up to face the lonely struggle of dealing with what he did.”

For much of the day, the defense focused on Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s activities, promising to reveal classified FBI reports about the older brother’s six-month trip to Russia.

“In January 2012,” Bruck said, “Tamerlan left his family to go to Russia and ‘go into the forest’ to join radical jihad fighters. He had been planning to wage jihad in Russia. He told people he had gone overseas to die, but returned because he said he could not find a holy war.”

The defense also displayed emails Tamerlan sent from Russia to Dzhokhar, describing his growing religious beliefs.

“I am doing well,” he told his younger brother. “I am educating myself more and more. In order for an Islamic society to emerge, Islamic spirit and thinking must reign amongst the population. And here in the Caucasus there are still very many people who live in ignorance.”

In another email to Dzhokhar, Tamerlan praised former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden as a “lion with a tender heart.” He attached a link to articles describing bin Laden’s “Apocalyptic Dream of America.” Tamerlan told his brother the articles were “a must read.”

When he returned to Boston, Bruck said, Tamerlan “was picking fights with people about religion. He was aggressive and extreme, and walking around dressed in flowing white robes like a Muslim sheik. …Tamerlan was a very tough guy, a boxer. He was suspended from high school and arrested for assaulting a fellow student, and he assaulted his girlfriend.”

Bruck said Tamerlan scanned the Internet, viewing pictures of Middle East massacres and insurgents. Tamerlan, Bruck said, wanted to learn about “men who must stand up and fight. That was his world.”

Defense witnesses testified they noticed a change in Tamerlan after he returned from Russia.

A former acquaintance, Robert Barnes, said he ran into Tamerlan at Angelo’s Pizza in Cambridge, Mass. Tamerlan wore a beard and a long white robe, he said, and boasted that he no longer drank alcohol or smoked pot. “I can’t or don’t do that stuff anymore,” he told Barnes.

Barnes said Tamerlan “had some criticisms about what the United States government does abroad. … He was definitely very passionate about it.”

Loay Assaf, a visiting iman at a Cambridge mosque, said Tamerlan interrupted Friday services twice.

Once Tamerlan shouted at him as the iman discussed the upcoming November 2012 elections, Assaf said. “The older brother stood up and he was shouting at me. He was so angry and saying, ‘This is not Islamic, this is wrong.’ He kept repeating this.”

In January 2013, Assaf was comparing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with the Prophet Muhammad when Tamerlan jumped up, screaming.

“He was fired up. Very hot,” Assaf said. “You could see his face was red. … Even his stance was a fighting stance. You could tell he was a boxer. And he kept saying, ‘This is not Islamic,’ ‘This is not right’ and ‘You’re a hypocrite.’ ”

Judith Russell, a Rhode Island registered nurse and Tamerlan’s mother-in-law, said: “Over time, he became much more religious. He would talk about it every time.”

The family opposed his six-month trip to Russia. “We thought it was very selfish because it was a vacation, basically,” she said.

Gina Crawford of Rhode Island, a close friend of Tamerlan’s wife, Katherine, said she texted her shortly after the Boston bombings.

Katherine told her “Tamerlan was at home in Cambridge,” Crawford said. Then Katherine added about the Boston attack, “A lot more people are killed in Syria.”

(c)2015 Tribune Co., Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Handout image shown to jurors on March 18, 2015 in Boston, courtesy of the US Department of Justice, shows an evidence photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at his home in Cambridge

Boston Marathon Bomber’s Lawyers Try To Explain His Crude Gesture

By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

BOSTON — Defense attorneys for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Wednesday tried to downplay prosecution claims that their client had shown anger and defiance at the U.S. when he raised his middle finger at a surveillance camera, and said he may instead have been upset or depressed over a conflict with a guard.

That image of Tsarnaev has become a crucial piece of evidence in the trial’s penalty phase, in which the jury must decide whether to sentence him to death or life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Wednesday was the second day jurors saw the image, which dates from July 10, 2013. On Tuesday, prosecutors showed them a photo, which turned out to be a still from a video.

Defense lawyers won permission to show two minutes of the video, which clearly shows an anxious then-19-year-old Tsarnaev pacing around his jail cell, sitting and standing, fussing with his hair, scratching his neck and clearly agitated.

At one point, he approaches the front of the cell and talks to someone, presumably a guard. One of Tsarnaev’s attorneys, Miriam Conrad, suggested to jurors that he may have wanted to lodge a complaint about the way he was being treated.

But Deputy U.S. Marshal Gary Oliveira, who testified to authenticate the photo and video, said he did not know what Tsarnaev was unhappy about. That left Conrad and the defense team with the option of exploring the incident further when they open their case in the penalty phase next week.

“Had anything occurred right before this that he was reacting to?” Conrad asked Oliveira. “Did anything occur which he seemed to be reacting to?”

“Not that I know,” Oliveira said. “I don’t recall.”

The video was made before Tsarnaev’s arraignment on charges of killing three people and wounding more than 260 others with two pressure-cooker bombs at the marathon finish line, and killing a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer days later as he and his elder brother, Tamerlan, tried to flee. Tamerlan was killed during the ensuing manhunt and Dzhokhar was wounded.

Tsarnaev, now 21, was convicted this month for his role in the attack. The defense contends that Tamerlan was the leader and Dzhokhar his acolyte.

It was the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

Also Wednesday, the government introduced more testimony from victims and their families.

Joe and Kelley Rogers rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital after learning their son, MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, had been shot five times, including once between the eyes.

“He was shot to pieces,” Joe Rogers said of his stepson. “And he’s laying there. They don’t really clean him up much yet. And my wife is touching him and his blood is coming up in her hands.”

Collier’s death left his mother suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and unable to work as a medical administrator. His siblings cannot sleep, Rogers said, and some moved away from Boston. Family holidays and vacations are grim. “It’s been a terrible two years,” he said.

Eric Whalley of Boston lost sight in one eye. A ball bearing remains embedded in his brain. His wife, Ann, lost a heel from her foot. Together, they endured about 40 surgeries.

“There was an almighty boom and the smell of fireworks,” he testified. “We were blown backward. My wife was blown behind me.”

Neither one realized the other had survived until three days later, when they were reunited in a hospital.

“She thought I was dead. I thought she was dead,” he said. “I just held her hand and we realized we were both in this together. We were alive.”

(c)2015 Tribune Co., Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

One of the blast sites on Boylston Street near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon is seen in Boston, Tuesday, April 16, 2013, one day after bomb blasts killed three and injured over 140 people. FBI agents searched a suburban Boston apartment overnight and appealed to the public for amateur video and photos that might yield clues to who carried out the Boston Marathon bombing. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Jury Quits For The Day With No Verdict In Boston Marathon Bombing Trial

By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

BOSTON — After deliberating for more than seven hours Tuesday, a federal jury in the capital murder trial of Russian immigrant Dzhokhar Tsarnaev adjourned for the day without reaching a verdict and will return Wednesday morning to continue considering the fate of the lone defendant in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Jurors sent two questions to the court at the end of the day. U.S. District George A. O’Toole Jr. did not reveal the questions or characterize them in any way. Instead, he said he would meet with prosecutors and defense lawyers to discuss the questions.

A panel of seven women and five men was chosen to hear the case. Tsarnaev faces 30 counts, 17 of which could carry the death penalty.

The silence from the locked jury room was a bit puzzling to some observers. Many expected a swift guilty verdict, given that Tsarnaev’s defense lawyers conceded to the jury that he played a part with his now-deceased brother in killing three people and injuring more than 260 others.

Though the defense team has said it expects a guilty verdict, it is arguing that Tsarnaev was naive and that his older brother, Tamerlan, induced him to detonate one of the two pressure-cooker bombs. Lead defense lawyer Judy Clarke described Tamerlan as the leader and her client as his follower.

“They’re both different people who thought differently, acted differently and had a different role in the conspiracy,” she said.

Prosecutors put on a nearly monthlong, vigorous case including surveillance videos, bomb shards, and fingerprint samples that tied the 21-year-old Tsarnaev to the explosions. The government also brought in victims to testify about their injuries. Some came to court with missing legs and in wheelchairs or on crutches.

In an impassioned closing statement Monday, prosecutors said the two Tsarnaevs were equal partners in planning and carrying out the terrorist attack, the worst in the U.S. since September 11, 2001.

Aloke Chakravarty, an assistant federal prosecutor, pointed at Tsarnaev sitting next to his lawyers and told jurors that he left a “confession” inside a boat where he was hiding.

“He wanted to tell the world why he did it, and he wanted to take credit,” Chakravarty said.

If Tsarnaev is convicted on any of the charges that carry the death penalty, the trial would move to the penalty phase, in which jurors would decide whether he would be put to death or given life in prison with no parole.

Photo: Rebecca Hildreth via Flickr

Prosecution Says Boston Bomber Is As Guilty As His Dead Brother

By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

BOSTON — The federal jury in the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is set to begin deliberations after prosecutors and defense lawyers on Monday offered rival narratives over who was to blame for the April 2013 terrorist bombings at the annual racing event.

Government prosecutor Aloke Chakravarty said Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, conspired together in the bombings and that Dzhokhar intentionally placed his pressure-cooker bomb next to the small feet of several young children.

“They chose Patriot’s Day,” Chakravarty said. “They chose Marathon Monday. They chose a day when the eyes of America were on Boston. They chose a day when people were on the sidewalks.”

But defense lawyer Judy Clarke, while acknowledging the tragic loss of life and conceding her client’s involvement in the bombings, argued that Dzhokhar was under the control of his older brother, a theme that is likely to recur in the punishment phase of the trial.

“The evidence is that Tamerlan built the bombs,” she said. “Tamerlan led and Dzhokhar followed. … He bought into his older brother’s plans and his actions.”

U.S. District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. asked jurors to begin deliberations Tuesday morning.

The jury was impaneled a month ago, chosen to decide the fate of the defendant in the worst terrorist attack in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, when hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

Three people died on Boylston Street, including an 8-year-old boy. More than 260 were injured; including 17 who were left amputees. Several days later, during a police manhunt, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Officer Sean Collier was shot to death.

Tamerlan was killed in that shootout. Now Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, if convicted, faces a death sentence.

Chakravarty showed the jury videos and photographs, pictures of the dead and dying, copies of Tsarnaev’s tweets and his Web searches for jihad material, as well as an enlarged image of his “confession” written on the inside of a boat. It was meant to remind the jury of the wealth of evidence pinning the bombings on the 21-year-old.

“He wanted to terrorize this country. He wanted to punish America for what it was doing to his people,” the prosecutor said. “And that’s what he did.”

Chakravarty, his face to the jury and his back to Tsarnaev, said: “That day they felt like they were soldiers. They were the mujahedeen.”

He said the brothers marked off two spots near the race finish line and separately detonated pressure-cooker bombs. Dzhokhar placed his bomb next to several youngsters. “He can’t help but see the row of children,” Chakravarty said of Dzhokhar. “But he puts his bomb there.”

The prosecutor said Dzhokhar called Tamerlan on a cellphone before they detonated bombs filled with nails, metal shards, BBs, and other ammunition. They spoke for 19 seconds. “To tell him (Tamerlan) things are a go,” the prosecutor said. “He told him he was in position. He told him it was go-time.”

They both were, he said, “fully engaged in their conspiracy. They knew what they were doing.”

Evidence showed Tamerlan was heavily radicalized, and Chakravarty stressed that Dzhokhar was just as deep into al-Qaida propaganda. “He got the stuff. He read the stuff. He believed in the stuff, and he acted on the stuff,” the prosecutor said.

“This was cold and calculated,” he said. “It was intentional. It was to make a point, that we will not be terrorized by America anymore. We will terrorize you.”

Finally Chakravarty held up portraits of the dead, and described their injuries.

Officer Sean Collier, 27. “Shot five times, three of them in the head, one between the eyes.”

Krystle Campbell, 29. “Massive blast injuries to her lower extremities. Parts of her body were shredded by the bombing.”

Lu Lingzi, 23. “She received blast injuries all over her body. Her leg was torn open. … She bled out.”

And Martin Richard, 8. “His entire body was shattered, broken, eviscerated, burned. There wasn’t a part of this boy’s body that wasn’t destroyed.”

For the defense, Clarke acknowledged the horrors of that afternoon. “We have come face to face with tragedy, suffering, and grief, in dimensions none of us can imagine possible,” she told the jury. “We would never have thought this devastation would touch our lives so directly.”

In painting Tamerlan as the conspiracy leader, she said her client was much less involved, describing him as a struggling, teenage college student. “He was 19,” she said. “He was an adolescent and doing adolescent things.”

Clarke concluded by signaling that the defense team, co-led by federal public defender Miriam Conrad, all but expects a guilty verdict. But she said that in the penalty phase of the trial that will follow, the defense would explain more about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his troubled relationship with his older brother.

“We are not asking you to go easy on Dzhokhar,” she told the jurors. “We are not asking you not to hold him accountable or responsible for what he did.”

The bombings, she said, “deserve to be condemned and the time is now. You will do what is right and what is just, and your verdict will speak the truth.”

In a brief rebuttal, lead prosecutor William Weinreb said both brothers were equally guilty. He rejected the defense’s suggestions that Tamerlan was the mastermind as “an attempt to sidestep responsibility, not to accept responsibility.”

He added, “These crimes were a two-man job. They were co-conspirators. They were partners. And that makes them equally guilty.”

(c)2015 Tribune Co., Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Rebecca Hildreth via Flickr

Closing Statements Set In Boston Marathon Bombing Trial

By Richard Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

BOSTON — Lawyers in the Boston Marathon bombing trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are scheduled to begin their closing statements in federal court here Monday morning, before the jury decides whether he is guilty in the attack that two years ago killed three people and wounded more than 260.

The closing statements come after a month of testimony and evidence, mostly from prosecutors who played surveillance tapes showing Tsarnaev along the race route before and after the blasts.

A guilty verdict is likely, given that Tsarnaev’s lawyers have conceded he had a key role in the April 2013 bombings. The defense team hopes to persuade the jury to spare his life during the trial’s penalty phase.

Once closing statements are finished, U.S. District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. will announce which of the 18 jurors actually will decide the case. There are to be 12 jurors and six alternates.

The judge then will read the jury instructions explaining the law and how the jurors are to rule on the 30-count indictment against the 21-year-old Russian immigrant. Seventeen of the charges carry the death penalty.

At that point, the jurors will retire to the jury room to begin deliberating.

Deliberations could begin Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.

The April 2013 bombings at the Boston Marathon finish line constituted the worst terrorist attack since Sept. 11, 2001.

Photo: Rebecca Hildreth via Flickr

Boston Marathon Defense Expected To Call Just Three Witnesses

By Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

BOSTON — Defense lawyers in the Boston Marathon bombing trial are expected to close their case Tuesday with just one more witness and send Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s fate to the jury on whether he is guilty in the mass explosions that killed three people two years ago.

The new witness will be their third, after government prosecutors called 92 witnesses over four weeks to prove Tsarnaev ignited one of the two pressure cooker bombs at the finish line of the race, injuring more than 260 other people.

On Monday, the government rested its case, and defense lawyers called just two witnesses to the stand Monday afternoon. Gerald R. Grant Jr., a forensics investigator, said cellphone records show Tsarnaev was not with his older brother, Tamerlan, when Tamerlan purchased BBs for bomb components and two large backpacks to hide the bombs.

They also called an FBI photographer. She identified several pictures taken moments before the blasts, as defense lawyers sought to show their client did not purposely target the Richard family. Martin Richard, 8, was killed, and his sister, 6-year-old Jane, lost a leg.

The defense also late Monday night filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss the 30-count indictment against Tsarnaev, which includes 17 capital murder charges. They allege the government over-charged their client and did not prove other allegations against the 21-year-old former college student.

They also contended that Tsarnaev should not be held responsible for a police officer who was wounded in a shootout with the Tsarnaev brothers several days after the bombings. They said witness testimony and other evidence indicates the officer could have been shot by cross-fire from other police officer.

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Medical workers aid injured people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Boston Marathon Bombing Jury Hears Details Of Boy’s Death

By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

BOSTON — From the witness stand at the Boston Marathon bombing trial, the city’s chief medical examiner slipped on a pair of white latex gloves Monday and gingerly prowled around in a large cardboard box.

It was no accident that Dr. Henry Nields was the government’s final witness in the first phase of the capital murder trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Before resting the government’s case, a somber assistant federal prosecutor methodically led Nields to slowly pull item after item from the box and show each one to the jury.

The contents told, clinically and legally, the heartbreaking story of a little boy’s death.

Martin Richard, 8, was one of three spectators to die from the twin pressure-cooker blasts near the marathon finish line on April 15, 2013. He wanted to be a runner someday, like his father, but instead became the smallest victim of the worst terrorist attack in the U.S. since Sept. 11.

No other sound was heard in the courtroom as Nields and prosecutor Nadine Pellegrini went over the boy’s clothing and discussed his injuries and death.

When a series of autopsy photos was shown, some jurors wiped at tears. Others appeared angry; all looked shaken.

Nields began by describing Martin as 53 inches tall and 69 pounds.

Peering into a box marked Government’s Exhibit 1592, Nields pulled out Martin’s long-sleeve green T-shirt, bloodied and torn, with a gash on the left side. He took out a gray short-sleeved undershirt with the New England Patriots logo across the chest, also gashed on the left side.

He held up Martin’s black belt. Someone had used it as a tourniquet to try to stop the boy’s bleeding from his nearly severed left arm.

He held up Martin’s black jacket, again with the gash on the left. Finally, with two hands, Nields displayed the boy’s black-and-blue running shoes.

Martin had come to watch the marathon with his family, including his 6-year-old sister, Jane, who lost a leg. His mother, Denise, lost part of her vision. She and his father, Bill, were in the courtroom Monday.

Pellegrini questioned Nields in detail about the boy’s injuries.

There were four abrasions on his face, others behind his left ear and another on his neck. His upper chest and abdomen were nearly torn apart. Pieces of his small intestines were exposed. Two ribs were fractured, his left kidney torn and exposed, and his liver lacerated.

The boy’s spleen and pancreas were cut, and his abdominal aorta was lacerated. “Most of (the aorta) was cut in half,” the doctor told the jury. “But not completely.”

Martin’s right lung was damaged and his lower spine broken and torn. His legs, arms and hands were covered in cuts and bruises. So was his back. His buttocks were severely burned. Small nails, metal pellets and a piece of wood were recovered from his right chest cavity.

Was any part of his body unscathed? Pellegrini asked.

“All of the areas had injuries,” the doctor said.

Nields identified and sometimes opened small evidence envelopes containing shrapnel from the bombs: 6-inch-long nails, three dozen wood, metal and Styrofoam fragments, and a thumb-size gray-white metal shard. Pellegrini handed some of them to the jurors.

How did Martin die? she asked.

“Cause of death was blast injuries to the torso and extremities,” Nields said. “The manner of death was homicide.”

What did that mean? she asked.

He died “essentially from loss of blood,” the doctor said.

Was it painful?

Nields was careful. Obviously the boy died within seconds. “But,” he said, “I would say overall the injuries were painful.”

Defense lawyers, who have conceded that Tsarnaev, 21, left a bomb near the boy’s feet, had no questions for the medical examiner.

Later Monday afternoon, Tsarnaev’s lawyers began to present the defense case, trying to counter government assertions that their client was an equal partner with his older brother in carrying out the bombings. The defense maintains that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed during the manhunt a few days after the attacks, cast a long shadow over his younger brother and was the mastermind behind the attacks.

To bolster that claim, the defense presented cellphone records to show that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was not with his brother when Tamerlan Tsarnaev purchased some of the bomb parts.

Seventeen of the 30 charges against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev carry the death penalty. The defense hopes to save his life by placing the bulk of the blame on his brother.

(c)2015 Tribune Co., Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: One of the blast sites on Boylston Street near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon as seen in Boston, Tuesday, April 16, 2013, one day after bomb blasts killed three and injured over 140 people. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

FBI Must ‘Urgently’ Upgrade Intelligence On Terror Threats, Panel Says

By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The FBI has made “measurable progress” in keeping the U.S. homeland safe since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but the bureau should expand its intelligence-gathering efforts to match an ever-changing threat from abroad and so-called lone wolves in this country, a special review commission said Wednesday.

The 9/11 Review Commission, created to monitor federal law enforcement changes after the 2001 attacks, said the FBI should “urgently” enhance its intelligence and analysis sections to deal with evolving threats.

The commission specifically cited “adaptive and increasingly tech-savvy terrorists, more brazen computer hackers, and more technically capable global cyber syndicates.”

The panel urged the FBI to hire more linguists and other foreign-language experts, and ensure that they are able to assist in the growing number of terrorism investigations. They said such changes were a “high priority” for the FBI.

Without making those improvements, the panel said, the FBI will lag behind in its full law enforcement capability. “This imbalance needs urgently to be addressed to meet growing and increasingly complex national security threats,” the report said.

In 2004 a national commission called for major changes at not only the FBI but also other federal law enforcement agencies. At the time, critics said turf wars between the agencies prevented coordination and information-sharing. That was seen as a major breakdown, allowing the September 11 hijackers to slip into the United States.

Wednesday’s update report was prepared by the 9/11 Review Commission, led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III; Tim Roemer, a former Indiana congressman and ambassador to India; and Bruce Hoffman, an expert on global security and a professor at Georgetown University.

The review panel concluded that the FBI has made sweeping improvements, going from a largely domestic-oriented agency dealing with bank robberies and other federal offenses to one keenly centered on anti-terrorism efforts. Cybersecurity has also become a major emphasis.

“The FBI has made measurable progress over the past decade in developing end-to-end intelligence capabilities and significantly improving information sharing and collaboration with key partners at home and abroad,” the report said. “This has undoubtedly contributed to protecting the homeland against another catastrophic terrorist attack.”

In a separate report Wednesday, the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General examined the FBI’s use of drones in criminal investigations.

While commending the bureau for using drones in kidnappings, manhunts, and search-and-rescue operations, the IG report said all 17 of the FBI’s operational drones are “at a single location and had only one pilot team on staff adequately trained to fly all models” of the aircraft.

The FBI said, however, that its drone operation was “capable of deploying to multiple locations quickly.” And the bureau said it is developing a five-year plan to relocate drone operations around the nation.

Photo: Johnathan via Flickr

Defense’s Goal In Boston Bombing Trial: Save Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Life

By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

BOSTON — The capital murder trial in the Boston Marathon bombing is moving so quickly that a verdict against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could come as soon as the next two weeks.

Given his attorney’s surprising admission during opening statements that the 21-year-old Russian immigrant detonated one of the two pressure cooker bombs in April 2013, Tsarnaev is almost certain to be found guilty.

The only cliffhanger now is whether the jury will sentence Tsarnaev to death, as U.S. prosecutors want, or spare his life, which has become the primary pursuit of his defense team.

“It is the sentencing phase,” said Boston College Law School professor Robert Bloom, “where you win or lose.”

Wrapping up its third week, the trial on the third floor of the downtown federal courthouse on Boston Harbor is one of the government’s biggest terrorism-related prosecutions since Sept. 11. A sentence of life in prison without parole would be seen as a blow to federal attorneys, who ignored pretrial overtures to reach a plea bargain that would have removed the option of the death penalty.

Tsarnaev’s defense team, which until recently sought to delay the trial, is now practically rushing through the first phase, when guilt is determined. In a bold but risky strategy, his lawyers are betting it all on winning the jury’s mercy and portraying their young client as a pawn of his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who they say was the real mastermind.

As the government has presented gruesome evidence and called traumatized victims to the stand, defense attorneys have thus far kept cross-examination to a minimum, sometimes allowing as many as eight or more witnesses to testify a day, often at a fast clip. A trial once expected to last until June may wrap up next month.

It’s even unclear whether the defense will put up any evidence of its own or call witnesses in the first phase, perhaps opting to move more quickly to the sentencing hearing, where punishment will be decided.

Stephen Jones, lead defense counsel for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, applauded the Tsarnaev defense for admitting its client’s responsibility. That kind of “honesty” with the jury, he said, might win leniency in the sentencing phase.

“It gives them some credibility with the jury, which probably believes he did it anyway,” Jones said. “So you want to use the first phase of the trial to get to the second phase, and that’s where they might win it with a life sentence.”

At the same time, because the defense is still formally pleading not guilty, it preserves the option to later appeal any conviction or sentence. That is crucial because death penalty convictions typically spend decades tied up in appellate courts.

For the defense, it is convenient that Tamerlan Tsarnaev is not alive to defend himself and deflect their strategy. He was killed several nights after the bombings, shot by police and then run over by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as the younger sibling fled in a car. The next evening Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found hiding in a boat in a backyard in the Boston suburb of Watertown, Mass.

To the degree that defense attorneys have participated in the last three weeks, they have focused on portraying Dzhokhar as more inclined to play video games than build bombs, more likely to chase girls than embrace jihad. While they acknowledge that some of his Internet searches included radical ideology, they say he rarely downloaded them.

They have emphasized that the surveillance videos of the marathon show Dzhokhar Tsarnaev walking behind the lead of his older brother. In writings he made while hiding in the boat, Dzhokhar said he was “jealous” of his brother for dying as a martyr.

And when prosecutors presented Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Twitter messages about radical jihad, the defense noted that he also tweeted about girls and cars. Defense lawyer Miriam Conrad called those “normal interests” for a young man.

She also challenged an FBI agent’s testimony that his Twitter picture was of Mecca, showing it actually was a portrait of Grozny, capital of the Russian republic of Chechnya. Tsarnaev is an ethnic Chechen.

In one of its most spirited moves during the prosecution’s case so far, defense attorneys insisted that the jury see the entire boat, not just the panels with Tsarnaev’s writings.

On Monday morning, Judge George A. O’Toole Jr., the jury, prosecutors, defense lawyers and Tsarnaev inspected the boat at an off-site location. Defense attorneys hoped the blood-stained craft with more than 100 bullet holes would create sympathy and show that police nearly killed their client before he surrendered.

Also this week, a friend testified about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s fear of his older brother, describing him as “very strict … very opinionated.” And on Wednesday the defense got a government witness to testify that receipts for the backpacks that held the bombs were found in Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s wallet.

A similar tactic played out in the Beltway sniper shootings of 2002, in which 17-year-old Lee Malvo claimed he was under the influence of an older father figure when they killed ten people in the Washington, D.C., area. After separate state trials in Virginia, the older man, John Allen Muhammad, was executed and Malvo received life in prison.

Attempts to portray Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a lost college student are on display in the courtroom. Tsarnaev appears in a dark sport coat, his beard thin, his black curly hair largely unkempt. He seems disinterested, sometimes bored. He doodles on a legal pad, or looks away. He sits between two older female lawyers at the defense table who at times seem to be mothering him.

Aware of what the defense is trying to do, prosecutors are using the trial as best they can to show Tsarnaev as cold and calculating, every bit a “partner” in the bombings that killed three people and injured more than 260.

On Thursday, an FBI official testified, leading the jury through data on the defendant’s laptop, saying that the day before the bombings someone — presumably Tsarnaev — read an article from the al-Qaida magazine Inspire with instructions on how to “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”

Previously, they called a father to testify about seeing his young son die and his young daughter lose both her legs. Late last week, a young man described the horror of being carjacked by the Tsarnaev brothers during the manhunt. He recalled that Tamerlan bragged about killing a police officer while Dzhokhar was somewhat polite, even asking if it was OK to play music in the car.

Most chilling was the video montage of the brothers walking through the marathon crowd, the bombs going off, and then Dzhokhar nonchalantly walking away. He next casually purchases milk at a local market, and later hits the gym at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth campus.

Prosecutors have presented much of the harrowing victim testimony at the end of each day, hoping jurors spend their evenings and weekends remembering the images of torn bodies and severed limbs. The same tactic was used by prosecutors in the 1997 trial for McVeigh, the last person executed by the federal government for terrorism in this country.

Experts warn that federal juries can be hard to predict.

Other federal terrorism death-penalty cases have come up short for the government, most notably in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York and the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the self-described “20th hijacker” on Sept 11. In both cases, the men were given life sentences with no parole.

In the first trade center bombing, jurors feared that a defendant on death row would become a martyr, and that a death sentence might only inspire other radical militants to attack the U.S. In the Moussaoui case, an expert defense witness testified that life with no parole — what he called “slow rot” — can be harsher than death.

Edward B. MacMahon, a Moussaoui defense attorney, said federal juries are often disgusted when the defendant prefers execution. “Jurors start to think that’s what they want, that the only time anyone would care about them is if you killed them,” MacMahon said.

In Boston, there may be factors working in favor of Tsarnaev’s bid to avoid the death penalty. For one thing, capital punishment is highly unpopular in this New England state, and it is forbidden in state trials. Tsarnaev is eligible because his is a federal case.

Bloom, the Boston College law professor, said jurors also may see a life sentence as a way to heal emotional scars by ending the case and the unavoidable appeals triggered in a capital murder case.

“If he gets the death penalty, he will just file more and more appeals,” Bloom said. “And the city will continue to suffer.”

In New Book, Guantanamo Inmate Describes Beatings, Death Threats, And Mock Execution

By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — One of the longest-held prisoners at Guantanamo Bay alleges in a book to be published Tuesday that he was tortured and abused during his early years in U.S. captivity.

The 466-page book, partially redacted by U.S. officials, appears to be the first lengthy account by a current Guantanamo inmate about life inside a CIA “black site” and the Cuban detention facility.

In Guantanamo Diary, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, 44, describes beatings, death threats, sexual humiliation and a mock execution, according to an advance copy of the book. Excerpts of the memoir were previously published by Slate magazine.

He tells of a grim life removed from his family. “July 2002, 10 p.m.,” he writes in the opening pages. ” … Somebody started to rip my clothes with something like scissors. … I was stripped naked. It was humiliating, but the blindfold helped me miss the nasty look of my naked body.”

His handwritten logs, written in English in 2005, were seized by prison guards and deemed classified. A federal judge cleared them for release after a seven-year legal battle waged by Slahi’s attorneys.

The book’s release is part of a renewed campaign by Slahi’s supporters to send him home to Mauritania. In 2010, a U.S. district judge ordered him released. That ruling was reversed by a federal appellate court, and the case was sent back to the district court for more hearings.

The U.S. government opposes his release, accusing him of helping to recruit and train three of the Sept. 11 hijackers. The government also alleges that Slahi became a member of an al-Qaida terrorist cell in Canada that was behind the foiled millennium plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on Jan. 1, 2000.

In his book, Slahi acknowledges that he joined al-Qaida in the 1990s, but contends that he intended to fight communists in Afghanistan and that he had cut ties with the terrorist organization long before the Sept. 11 attacks. He says he was taken to Guantanamo after one of the alleged Sept. 11 plotters, Ramzi Binalshibh, linked him to the scheme while being tortured.

Army Lt. Col. Myles B. Caggins III confirmed Monday that Slahi wrote the manuscript at Guantanamo and that it was later given to his lawyers. Caggins said the Defense Department “allowed the release of the Slahi manuscript after it completed an extensive, interagency classification review to ensure that the information released would not harm U.S. personnel or damage U.S. national security.”

He said the government “reviewed it for potentially classified information, redacted as appropriate, and then filed the manuscript as part of the federal court case in Washington.”

Caggins said Slahi’s allegations of abuse are under review. “These investigations analyzed thousands of documents, medical records, hundreds of interviews of Guantanamo personnel, and statements relevant to any allegations of abuse occurring at Guantanamo,” he said.

Slahi was arrested in Mauritania 18 days after the Sept. 11 attacks. He was held there for two weeks and questioned by FBI agents about the millennium plot. He was briefly released, then picked up again on Nov. 20, 2001.

A CIA rendition plane flew him to Jordan, where he says he was interrogated for seven months. He writes that he was flown to Bagram airfield in Afghanistan. He arrived at Guantanamo on Aug. 4, 2002. Most of what he wrote was in the same cell where he sits today, his lawyers said.

“I have only written what I experienced, what I saw, and what I learned firsthand,” he writes. “I have tried not to exaggerate, not to understate. I have tried to be as fair as possible, to the U.S. government, to my brothers, and to myself.”

He says he was subjected to long interrogation sessions designed to “break” him; deprived of food, water and pain medication; kept awake at night by guards banging on his cell and threatened with dogs. He says detainees were “exposed to loud music and scary pictures, and molested sexually.”

“Lonely in my cell, I was terrified when I heard the guards carrying the heavy chains and shouting at my door,” he writes. “My heart started to pound because I always expected the worst.”

AFP Photo/Mladen Antonov

FBI Says North Korea Played Role In Sony Hacking Case

By Richard Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The FBI on Friday blamed the government of North Korea for causing the cybersecurity breach of Sony Pictures Entertainment that has cost the company tens of millions of dollars.

The government of Kim Jong Un posed “one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States,” the FBI statement said.

Though experts had previously pointed to North Korea as the source of the breach and U.S. intelligence officials had quietly confirmed that assessment, the announcement is the first official U.S. acknowledgement that the North Korean government was involved in stealing Sony emails, leaking unreleased movies and destroying other computer records.

The FBI announcement sets the stage for a possible confrontation between the U.S. and the small, isolated country.

The hacking came as Sony was prepared to release The Interview, which depicts an assassination plot against Kim.

After many U.S. theater owners said they would not show the picture in response to threats by hackers to attack venues exhibiting it, Sony canceled its scheduled Christmas Day release of the film.

“North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves,” the FBI said in a lengthy statement. “Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior.”

The bureau did not detail what steps might now be taken against North Korea. But, it said, “the FBI will identify, pursue, and impose costs and consequences on individuals, groups, or nation states who use cyber means to threaten the United States or U.S. interests.”

Government officials and outside experts have said that the U.S. has relatively few good options in responding to the attack because North Korea, a small, extremely poor country, has few computer networks that could be targeted. At the same time, North Korea has an extremely large military that could pose a grave danger to South Korea, a U.S. ally, if the country’s leaders felt threatened.

For several years, top FBI officials and other federal law enforcement authorities have warned that cybercrime presents a severe threat to the United States. What happened to Sony, they now say, is an example of how bad a cyberattack can be.

In a separate statement, Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security, said that after the attack on Sony, “every CEO should take this opportunity to assess their company’s cybersecurity.”

In this instance a large corporation was hacked. But officials warn that other targets could be the power grid or major banks and financial institutions, attacks that could inflict widespread harm to the country’s infrastructure and economy.

AFP Photo

This story has been updated.

Dzhohkar Tsarnaev Appears In Court; No Outward Signs Of Plea Deal

By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhohkar Tsarnaev appeared in U.S. court Thursday for the first time in a year and a half as a federal judge held a final hearing to discuss last-minute issues before the trial begins Jan. 5.

For the second time, the defense asked Judge George O’Toole Jr. to move the trial out of Boston, saying negative publicity in the area would make it impossible for Tsarnaev to receive a fair trial. The defense also asked the judge to order an investigation into alleged government leaks in the case. O’Toole made no rulings but signaled he will issue formal orders later.

Security was tight around the courthouse as Tsarnaev arrived and during the brief hearing. Defense lawyers and government prosecutors also discussed jury questionnaires and other trial-related arrangements.

At one point during the hearing, the mother-in-law of a Tsarnaev friend who was shot to death by an FBI agent in Florida shouted out her support for the defendant, according to ABC News. Elena Teyer, whose son Ibragim Todashev was killed in Florida after allegedly attacking an FBI agent during an interview, said she told Tsarnaev in Russian: “We prayed for you. Be strong, my son. We know you are innocent.”

Some 1,200 potential jurors will be called to the courthouse, and jury selection alone could last a month. Tsarnaev faces 30 charges in the April 2013 attack that killed three people dead and injured another 260.

The government is seeking the death penalty.

There were no outward signs of a plea agreement, which some had expected. Nearly 90 percent of the case is sealed, making it virtually impossible to determine which side – the defense or the government – has prevailed in nearly two years of pre-trial skirmishes.

AFP Photo

September 11 Detainees In Guantanamo Get Copies Of CIA Torture Report

By Richard A. Serreno, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — As defense attorneys for five alleged Sept. 11 plotters began sharing the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture with their clients in Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. military prosecutor predicted the findings will make the trial more transparent.

Army Brigadier Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor, acknowledged that last week’s release of the torture report gives the defense side the advantage of seeing their long-running complaints about torture at CIA detention sites officially documented.

Martins said it “increases the likelihood that more of the processes (in the case) will be open to the public and assures the accused will be able see and consult with defense counsel about certain information not previously available to them.”

As frustrations mount about the delays in the military tribunal system, Martins insisted the case will move forward. Although they are far from reaching a trial date, he said the prosecution team is committed “for however long this takes.”

A pre-trial hearing was scheduled to begin Monday morning to discuss allegations that the FBI secretly tried to interfere with defense lawyers by seeking confidential information about their cases. If true, the intrusion could lead to the case being thrown out or one or more of the defendants tried separately.

But late Sunday night the trial judge, Army Col. James Pohl, abruptly canceled the Monday hearing without giving any public explanation.

The five defendants at the Cuban prison were given copies of the 500-plus page report to review in their cells, getting what is apparently their first comprehensive confirmation of the harsh interrogation techniques they endured at CIA detention facilities before being transferred to Guantanamo.

The lead defendant, Khalid Shaikh Muhammed, was waterboarded 183 times, and he and his co-defendants also were subjected to other harsh techniques, such as sleep deprivation, beatings, and being chained naked in their cells.

Some of the defendants, if not all, likely will try to use their torture as a reason for leniency to spare their lives in the death penalty case, hoping to win some sympathy from a military jury.

That campaign has already begun with James Connell, the lead attorney for defendant Ammar Baluchi, who the CIA claims gave useful information after being subjected to torture.

“The CIA and its defenders are using Mr. al Baluchi as a scapegoat for its illegal and reprehensible use of torture,” Connell said. “The United States spent incredible amounts of money, energy, and American credibility, and now the CIA is pointing at Mr. al Baluchi to justify its massive torture infrastructure.”

But the lawyer added, “Mr. al Baluchi does not hold any grudges against the CIA.”

The Senate report said some of the tortured detainees, including Ramzi Binalashibh, suffered mental problems as a result of their treatment.

During court appearances in Guantanamo, Binalashibh has erupted in outbursts several times and a mental evaluation of his condition is underway.

James Harrington, the lead attorney for Binalashibh, said his client is “competent and fully capable” of understanding the gravity of the charges and assisting in his defense.

AFP Photo/Shane T. McCoy