Hoping to get an inside look at how the case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev might unfold, The Globe and Mail speaks with former U.S. attorney-general Alberto Gonzales. The country’s first Hispanic to hold the top legal job – and during a most controversial era – the Harvard Law School graduate served under president George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007. Here he offers a range of insight on this critical file before the Obama administration brought charges against Mr. Tsarnaev.
Contrasting the approach between the Bush and Obama administrations
Every administration is going to be a little different, so how this department handles the case may be different than the way we might have handled it.
On whether Mr. Tsarnaev could be deemed an enemy combatant in the future
Nothing prevents the President from deciding: “This isn’t working, it’s not going the way we hoped it would go, so I’m pulling him out of the criminal justice system and I’m designating him an enemy combatant.”
On whether the Obama administration should try Mr. Tsarnaev in a civilian court
This is an American citizen who committed a crime in the United States, and he was detained initially by law enforcement. Those are all very strong indicators that this should be in our criminal justice system.
On Mr. Tsarnaev’s reported interrogation before being read his Miranda rights
These guys want to bring this guy to justice. They’re going to do everything by the book, but to the extent that [legal precedent] gives them flexibility, they’re going to take advantage of that to get as much information as they can.
Is there a way to avoid the death penalty?
Here, you have a defendant who has something we want, which is information, and we have something he probably wants, which is his life.
On whether the Obama administration will seek the death penalty
All appearances seem to indicate there are death-penalty charges on the table here … If the President wanted to interject himself [and overrule the Attorney-General], he could do that. But I think there’s a political risk in that.
How might the defence present Mr. Tsarnaev?
By all accounts, this was a very well-adjusted young man. … I can see the argument coming: “This is a young man who really followed his brother’s lead and may have been pressured and certainly influenced by his brother.” I think he’ll present a more sympathetic figure to a jury than his brother would have.
On collaboration between Boston prosecutors and Department of Justice lawyers
[The Attorney-General] is going to want to have his best and most experienced prosecutors looking at this case. … They’re going to want to put their A-team on this.