For a while, it appeared that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev might not recover fully enough to answer questions from interrogators. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino suggested that might be the case over the weekend. Yesterday evening, though, news outlets reported from sources within law enforcement that while Tsarnaev might not be talking, he was writing responses to questions from officials:
The surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings has communicated in writing with officials several times, a senior federal official, who has been briefed on the investigation, told CNN’s Fran Townsend on Sunday.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, remains in serious but stable condition with a gunshot wound to the side of the neck, a federal law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN earlier.
This segment preceded that report, but it explains the obstacles that investigators will face in trying to get anything coherent from their captured suspect in the first few hours and perhaps the next few days, writing or no:
The CIA and FBI can’t wait to get started on the interrogation, as the Washington Post reports, and the Department of Justice will file charges soon whether Dzhokhar is talking or not. If so, that would nip one political debate in the bud:
Authorities are eager to question Tsarnaev about his alleged motives in last Monday’s bombing, which killed three people, injured more than 170 and rattled the nation more than a decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They also want to determine from him whether any international or domestic terrorist groups were involved. Islamist separatists in the Russian province of Dagestan, where Tamerlan Tsarnaev visited last year, Sunday denied any connection to the bombing. …
Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick (D) said Sunday that officials had recovered video that shows the surviving suspect putting his backpack down and moving away from it shortly before it exploded. The video is “pretty clear about his involvement and pretty chilling, frankly,” Patrick said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Boston’s police commissioner said Sunday that federal prosecutors were still reviewing information about possible charges against Tsarnaev, and federal law enforcement officials had indicated earlier Sunday that charges might come later in the day. It was unclear why they had not been filed or when they might be.
Bringing charges in federal court would end a brewing debate in Washington over how to handle the case. Four Republican members of Congress — Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) — had demanded Saturday that Tsarnaev be treated as an “enemy combatant” rather than as a common criminal suspect. That would enable the government to charge him under the laws of war in a military commission or to hold him indefinitely without charges.
I’d doubt that the DoJ will use the “enemy combatant” label, for two reasons. First, as a naturalized citizen acting within the US, the claim will be unlikely to succeed if challenged in federal court. Second, it doesn’t appear necessary; the evidence, as Patrick lays it out, means that an interrogation will focus less on getting a confession than on whether the Tsarnaevs were part of a wider conspiracy. The CIA and FBI can conduct that investigation without Mirandizing Tsarnaev even if he’s not labeled an enemy combatant. Why add that headache?