In media report after media report, words come across that give the impression that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is acting in ways which puzzle even seasoned court reporters, and seems to be hardly at his own trial at all. As an afterthought reports will note that he is “slouched” in his seat or “looking at the floor.”
In a pre-trial hearing he kept smiling at his sisters, the only people he acknowledged, who were sobbing the whole time. BBC reported last month that as his lawyer confessed for him, Tsarnaev:
“slouched in his seat and showed little reaction,”
In a powerful compilation a Youtube user has pieced together media reports and interviews of the defendant’s friends, in his first pre-trial appearance, and it is unanimous that Dzhokhar is behaving like a different person than the one they knew. That was nearly two years ago, and since then he has been subjected to another nearly two years in isolation, with the government able to do anything they want to him. By definition, the type of incarceration in which Tsarnaev has been held, called Special Administrative Measures (SAMs,) permits monitoring of communications between a defendant and his attorney. This means that if a defendant believes he is being drugged or tortured, he could never say so to his attorney without being subjected to retribution. As of May 22, 2009, 44 out of 205,000 federal inmates were subject to SAMs.
“He never had that accent,” said a friend from the school, declining to give his name as he spoke to reporters outside the courtroom.
Fast forward two years, and a former high school wrestling teammate tells the Boston Globe that Tsarnaev seems like a “different guy” who had a different “body language.” Even in images as rough as court artist sketches, a dazed and bewildered Dzhokhar emerges from the artist’s hand.
Court artist sketch, 2013, below
Fidgets and facial tics seem to be an emerging characteristic of defendants held for long periods in isolation without the ability to confer with their attorney privately. At the trial of Jose Padilla, which took place after Padilla spent two years in isolation in the custody of military doctors in the brig, Padilla exhibited “facial tics, unusual eye movements and contortions of his body,” according to one of his lawyers. Padilla had no contact with counsel for 21 months, and any contact was closely monitored after that. Padilla was accused, at first, of planning to blow up a “dirty bomb” which would spread radioactivity throughout the city of New York, though those charges never found their way to the final indictment. Padilla was eventually convicted on a single charge of “material support” for terrorism.
And Fahad Hashmi, after being held for about the same amount of time under SAMs, pleaded guilty in 2010 to material support to terrorism charges – passing on socks and rain-gear to alleged Al Qaeda operatives. Fahad initially denied knowing anything about the clothing, which was in a suitcase brought by a visitor to his apartment in London. But by the end of his time in detention, facing life in prison at trial rather than the 15 year plea bargain struck by prosecutors, Fahad told the judge, who had asked him if he was indeed guilty: “Praise be to God, yes!”
Fahad, Padilla, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are all American citizens.
These are alarming indicators in a democracy where competency to stand trial is a key criteria of the legitimacy of the proceedings. The fact is this does not involve only Tsarnaev, but could be anyone.
A defendant not able to speak for himself. A “defense” team which starts his trial by declaring that he is guilty, despite his innocent plea, and ignoring reams of evidence suggesting that the brothers were being handled by outside parties, with full knowledge by the FBI. The only way in which Americans can safeguard what is left of the notion of a fair trial is for Tsarnaev’s family to demand the defense be fired, and Tsarnaev subjected to a full mental competence evaluation.
News compilation, Tsarnaev demeanor and mental state