4:13:02 PMOur View: Less secrecy, more accountability needed in bombing investigations
BOSTON — More than four months after the Boston Marathon bombings, many questions linger about warnings that were missed before the explosions, actions taken during the search for the bombers and the mysterious death of a potential witness during questioning by the FBI. What’s most disturbing is that there appears to be no comprehensive effort to answer questions of public interest.
But several recent incidents indicate the search for answers continues:
— GateHouse Media, parent company of The Herald News and Taunton Daily Gazette, has continued to raise questions about documents missing from the official docket of the case against accused bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Last week, Michael J. Grygiel, an Albany, N.Y., attorney hired by GateHouse and other media outlets, wrote to U.S. District Court Judge George A. O’Toole in Boston, noting the missing files and saying that federal prosecutors have also not publicly identified any compelling law enforcement or government interests to justify it.
On Aug. 19, O’Toole ordered that 13 previously sealed court filings be released, and that all other sealed documents would remain impounded until further order of the court. But Grygiel wrote that the fact that there are still missing documents prevents the press — as the eyes and ears of the public — from determining whether a constitutional challenge is warranted.
Unnecessary secrecy only fuels speculation and conspiracy theories. There are well-established procedures for sealing court documents critical to an investigation or trial. Violating those procedures not only keeps journalists from doing their jobs, but also raises questions about what the government might be trying to hide.
— U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., has written a letter to the new director of the FBI seeking answers to questions he has raised before as a member of the Homeland Security Committee. He wants to know how Tamerlan Tsarnaev fell off the radar of federal counter-terrorism teams despite warnings from Russian intelligence services, why some information about the bombing suspects wasn’t shared with local law enforcement and about loopholes in terrorism "watch lists.”
The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where Tsarnaev attended school and lived on campus — including immediately after the bombings — has completed an internal investigation showing that university officials handled the situation about as well as they could have under the circumstances. The unprecedented shutdown of the campus in the days following Tsarnaev’s capture so law enforcement could search for evidence was difficult for all involved.
— The state prosecutor in Orlando, Fla., has announced he will investigate the death of Ibragim Todashev during FBI questioning. Todashev, a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was reportedly unarmed and alone with a single FBI agent at the time of the shooting, but the FBI has refused to answer questions about the incident. The state probe will rely heavily on the FBI’s investigation of its own agent, making it less than fully independent, but at least State Attorney Jeff Ashton promises to make his findings public.
There are other pressing questions, particularly about the searches in Watertown and two firefights that left one suspect dead and the other wounded. Some answers will likely come from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial.
Meanwhile, a trial won’t answer important public policy questions: What went right that week? What went wrong? How well did dozens of federal, state and local public safety agencies coordinate operations? How can we be better prepared the next time terrorists’ strike?
Answering those questions will take a comprehensive inter-agency review, with its conclusions open to public scrutiny. Unfortunately, we’ve seen no signs of such a review under way, and heard no calls for one from public officials. Until then, many of the most important questions about the marathon bombings will remain unanswered.
Taunton Daily Gazette Editorial Board
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