DOJ Continues to Block Media Access to Tsarnaev - WhoWhatWhy

DOJ Continues to Block Media Access to Tsarnaev

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Photo credit: US Marshals Service / Wikimedia
Reading Time: 4 minutes

For over two years now, WhoWhatWhy has been trying to get the government to give us the details of the justification behind incarcerating convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev under a repressive confinement regime known as Special Administrative Measures (SAMs). SAMs make it nearly impossible for the media to have any access to prisoners.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) refuses to budge and continues to deploy the dubious logic that to confirm or deny the existence of SAMs would be an unwarranted invasion of Tsarnaev’s privacy. This was in response to a request we filed back in 2015 through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking documents about the conditions of Tsarnaev’s confinement. The DOJ denied our request and subsequent appeal.

And yet, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), a division of DOJ, readily confirms that Tsarnaev is in fact being held under SAMs.

WhoWhatWhy twice submitted requests to interview Tsarnaev to the warden of the maximum-security federal penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, referred to as ADX Florence. We sent one in October 2015, and another in August 2017; both times we were told we could not interview him because “Inmate Tsarnaev has Special Administrative Measures,” which, among other things, “restricts [his] communication, to include contact with the media.”

Essentially a form of solitary confinement, SAMs typically bar prisoners from communicating with anybody outside their prison cells, except for a very small number of pre-approved individuals, such as attorneys and inmates’ family members. SAMs were originally justified as a way to prevent members of organized crime from sending to compatriots outside the prison messages that could conceivably result in death or serious bodily injury. In the case of Tsarnaev, this justification rings hollow since DOJ insists that he and his brother Tamerlan had no “nexus” to any terrorist group and acted completely on their own.

But it also has the effect of giving the government total control over the narrative and backstory of a troubling event like the Boston Marathon bombing. No one from the media can speak with Tsarnaev and even his defense team and family are severely restricted in what they can reveal about their communications with him.

ADX Florence

The US Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado. (ADX Florence) Photo credit: FBP / Wikimedia.

Back in April 2016, we highlighted the Kafkaesque situation for a prisoner under SAMs.

We wrote about how DOJ denied our first request under FOIA exemption 7(C); the department stated that “lacking [Tsarnaev’s] consent … even to acknowledge the existence of such records … could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of his personal privacy.” 7(C) is meant to protect the privacy of individuals whose records are held by law enforcement agencies.

We appealed, pointing out that BOP had already confirmed the existence of the SAMs, and it was the very existence of the SAMs that prevented us from getting Tsarnaev’s “consent.” However, DOJ affirmed the denial of our initial request under a slightly modified “categorical” invocation of exemption 7(C) and added for good measure that it was not even “required to conduct a search for the requested records.”

The day after our article ran, officials in the DOJ’s Office of Information Policy (OIP) emailed each other links to the article. How do we know? Because we FOIA’d our FOIA request.


We had hoped to gain some insight into the decision-making process behind the rejection of our FOIA request and appeal. The results were not very enlightening.

We obtained 29 pages from the DOJ’s OIP in total — 10 of which are the requests and appeals we sent, with their corresponding responses. Another three and a half pages are blacked out and labeled “Non-Responsive Records.” We’re still waiting on records related to the initial request, which are processed by a different office.

It’s not clear what, if anything, OIP officials had to say about our article other than linking to it. Most of the substance of each email between OIP officials is redacted.

Melanie Ann Pustay, OIP

OIP Director Melanie Ann Pustay. Photo credit: DoJ

The balance of the heavily redacted records are processing worksheets and emails between OIP employees. Anything related to decision-making about the appeal is blacked out under (b)(5), the infamous “withhold it because you want to” exemption. FOIA experts roundly criticize the exemption because of its broad language and its increasing use by executive branch agencies.

It’s Who You Know?


In our ongoing effort to chip away at the wall of silence surrounding Tsarnaev, we also sent him a letter asking if he was willing to be interviewed. We were hoping to preempt any “without his consent” reasoning that we had encountered previously. The envelope was returned — opened — and accompanied by a notice indicating that the “correspondence was not delivered to the inmate because the inmate is not approved to correspond from [sic] you.”

Interestingly, director Peter Berg of Patriots Day, the Hollywood production about the Boston Marathon bombing, was quoted as saying he had corresponded with the incarcerated Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

“I did a lot of research on them,” director Peter Berg supposedly told Total Film magazine. “I met women who had dated them. I met the boxing coach of the older brother. I met the landlord. I wrote two letters to Dzhokhar in prison; he wrote one back [emphasis added].”

We sought confirmation of the above statement from Berg’s production company. No one responded to our multiple phone messages or emails seeking clarification. It’s not clear whether Berg misspoke, was misquoted, or whether he actually did let slip the fact that he was granted special access to this otherwise gagged individual of great public interest.

We know, from the fact that DOJ monitors news stories about itself, that they take a keen interest in how they are seen by the public. Is it possible Berg, with his favorable-to-law- enforcement portrayal of the marathon bombing, was granted special access to this mystery of a young man?

We’ll let you know if anyone from Berg’s office gets back to us.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from cell (Ken Mayer / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), do not disturb (Craig Chew-Moulding / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0) and FBI.

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59 responses to “DOJ Continues to Block Media Access to Tsarnaev”

  1. […] Department of Justice blocking journalists from interviewing Boston Marathon bomber, despite investigators finding no “nexus” to terrorists. “We sent one (request) in October 2015, and another in August 2017; both times we were told we could not interview him because “Inmate Tsarnaev has Special Administrative Measures,” which, among other things, “restricts [his] communication, to include contact with the media”.” […]

  2. Avatar jcbrook says:

    McPhee’s book “Maximum Harm” made it absolutely clear that the older brother was an intelligence agent. I think they both are. I don’t think the younger brother is even in jail. I question whether the older brother is dead. Our Pentagon and intelligence agencies are in bed with Hollywood. There would be a huge interest in continuing to foster the “official story.” So, the filmmaker could’ve corresponded with a propaganda master. Have you tried asking for ironclad proof that Dzhokhar is in jail?

    • Avatar Happyfeeling says:

      You have a point

    • Avatar The Interrogator says:

      Oh, the older brother is dead all right, as dead as Lee Harvey Oswald. As far as Dzhokhar? Nobody really knows if he’s alive or dead, or what his mental & physical condition is except the guards and the DOJ & the State of Colorado Prison system Director & perhaps a few subordinates.

  3. Avatar Elisabeth Ritter-Blaser says:

    WhoWhatWhy ……now that Trey Gowdy is going after the DOJ please please please take the chance and request answers why the DOJ still imposes SAMs on Dzhohar Tsarnaev, why they act suspisciously in regards of Dzhokhar’s wellbeing….and are not willing to give insight into Dzhokhar’s environment……..and they should be asked why they are afraid to let Tsarnaev have an interview with you! I do believe very much that this opportunity would be now! Maybe you can bring this theme to the attention of Mr.Trey Gowdy and I pray hard that the Dominos fall one by one! And that Dzhokhar can get his freedom back! Because I strongly do believe that Dzhokhar is caught up in a huge huge cover up that does involve exactly those prominent people who are mentioned when it Comes to Trey Gowdy an his urge to expose!

    • Avatar Happyfeeling says:

      I am donating to the re election of Trey Gowdy. I am not in his state but need more people like him in Congress. He has not disappointed me so far. I hope he keeps all of his integrity.

    • Avatar The Interrogator says:

      Any relative of any inmate in those prisons SHOULD have the right to visit. This is morally wrong & reeks of a cover-up. No convicted inmate should not be able to see a relative or another attorney, if they desire. Secrecy in this kind of prison is unacceptable, imho. Relatives could visit even hardened criminals at Alcatraz. Why not here?

  4. Avatar Mark says:

    Who What Why— thank you for your doggedly pursuit of the truth in this case. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been told the truth or the government wouldn’t be trying so hard to hide everything. ‘They doth protest too much me thinks’.

  5. Avatar Olle Reimers says:

    Please go to Judicial Watch and see how their FOIA requests concerning the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal are met from the DOJ. The remains of the Deep State seem to be in full action.

  6. Avatar Gumshoe News says:

    Mary Maxwell provides several solutions here: in this Gumshoe article entitled “Solving the Marathon Bomb Mystery, Part 8: What Can We Do Now?”

  7. Avatar Happyfeeling says:

    If other news agencies, with WhoWhatWhy, tried to gain access to Dzhokhar and filed lots paperwork to see him maybe the flood gates would open. Is there a form that can be filled out at the prison requesting visitation that he would receive and sign.

    • Avatar Elisabeth Ritter-Blaser says:

      this is a very good idea , actually!

    • Avatar The Interrogator says:

      Nothing short of a major break-in to that prison would work. And, I would never recommend that. Nothing will work. I’m sorry to say this, but nothing will. If his Aunt cannot gain access legally, nothing else will work.

  8. Avatar Oldsailor65 says:

    Dzhokhar should not be able to: see, hear, breath or do anything but be dead.
    It costs more to keep him alive in Colorado than the average middle income person makes for working all year.

  9. Avatar SouthWest says:

    The only version of events we get is from the government mouthpiece – the media, exercising their first amendment right to free speech while denying Dzhokhars right to speak openly about the charges against him. Suspicious. In saying that, even if WhoWhatWhy did get access for an interview, who is to say it won’t be sculptured by the government? Just take a look at the affidavits by his family members Maret and Dzamaly. The government have worked very, very hard at keeping him silent and controlling the narrative, and that means keeping him isolated with no voice. Thank you WhoWhatWhy for trying to access the other side of story. Please don’t give up. There have been too many years in this case where we have only heard one side of a story, a side that never made any sense! Dzhokhar is innocent. They know it.

    • Avatar Non Stop says:

      I would definitely like to here what he has to say but I’m sure it’s a bunch of religious crap that he may not believe anymore. He’s His aunt Maret has aligned herself with the freejahar movement. Feds know this and wasn’t a smart move. Keeping the restrictions on him also keeps the freejahar people away from him.

    • Avatar SouthWest says:

      If anything other than investigative journalism brings awareness to truths which contradicts the official narrative, it is social movements. The government hates them. The affidavits, especially Dzamaly’s, outlines attempted pressure for the family to convince Dzhokhar to take the blame for the bombings because he refused to do so. His attorney(s) and those who worked for them admitted that they were aware of his innocence, according to the affidavit. This is pretty serious stuff, but is widely ignored. Strange. Would be great if Dzhokhar could speak freely and without pressure or coercion to tell his side of the story.

    • Avatar Happyfeeling says:

      Without the truth in our news our democracy is doomed. This is a big part of our freedom. To know the truth.

    • Avatar The Interrogator says:

      The Courts wouldn’t even allow a photo to be taken of him. They only allowed a court sketch person to sketch him in an ugly way, making him look ugly and older.

    • Avatar The Interrogator says:

      The isolation in a SuperMax prison is meant to drive the individuals completely insane. They have no contact with other humans. It’s cruelty in the extreme.

      The lack of access to him has no reasonable justification behind it. He is behind bars, solid bars and cannot harm anyone. There is no rationale behind this, UNLESS someone wants to hide what is really going on, or hide the truth of what he would tell a friend like his Aunt.

    • Avatar Elisabeth Ritter-Blaser says:

      Oh yes ! All the higher ups do know of Dzhokhar’s innocence! And the DOJ knows it! In the legal system throughout the United States this is well known. But it is eerily silent in the legal system when it Comes to Dzhokhar wrongful conviction case!

    • Avatar The Interrogator says:

      With the JF KENNEDY assassination files getting so much attention, it brings a NEW LIGHT to other False Flag events.

  10. Avatar Elizabeth says:

    I understand that not much is fair when it comes to the DOJ, but considering that Dzhokhar,s two sisters are the only people allowed to visit him, I highly doubt if Berg is telling the truth. Maret Tsarnaev has requested to visit her nephew more than once and is not allowed to visit or even speak on the phone, so if the DOJ Gave Dzhokhar a letter from Berg, and he actually answered it which I doubt he would, then the DOJ is disgusting, which is an understatement.

    • Avatar The Interrogator says:

      Unless it’s an FBI or CIA agent, or someone representing the Justice Department, NOBODY is allowed to see if he’s even alive. Very unfair.

    • Avatar Elizabeth says:

      How do you know that ?

    • Avatar The Interrogator says:

      Because even his own Aunt has no access to him. His mother & father wanted to fly over here, but they were threatened with charges if they did. Hence, literally none except members & lawyers of the “State”, aka “Feds” can see him, or even know what has happened to him. Sad state of affairs, especially when the media is obsessed with being so accepting of Islam, Muslims, other nationalities, etc. Also, his Aunt says she could not get involved due to an FBI threat to her. She said on the Infowars show long ago that she feared for her life and those of her children, but for some reason she has overcome that fear to file what she has to represent Dzhokhar.

    • Avatar Elizabeth says:

      His sisters have definitely visited him, because it is discussed in court documents which I have read. The defense was upset because an FBI agent was present during one of the sisters visits (which a defense member was also present) and the defense said that was against lawyer client privilege and stated that the visit was work related as they wanted to see the relationships between Dzhokhar and his sisters. Their were quite a few motions written about the sisters visits.

  11. Avatar Elisabeth Ritter-Blaser says:

    Oh yes please ….WhoWhatWhy …..I can not wait until I can hear from you wether you have heard from Berg’s office or not! Their silence is very telling to say the least and I am more than convinced that Dzhokhar never had the opportunity to read your question wether he would be willing to be interviewed by you! Please Keep on fighting for an interview with Dzhokhar and please continue to demand answers from the DOJ ! And please share it with the public. Because the public has the right to know! Thank you so much!

  12. Avatar Jason BMW says:

    i have no sympathy for this monster.

    • Avatar archer says:

      Neither do I if he is truly the monster he’s made out to be. But when the government starts with the secrecy I start to have doubts. I’m not saying he had no part, but his brother didn’t die the way they said, he was shown being led into a police cruiser naked, his friend in Florida was murdered, by the FBI while being interviewed, I say murdered because he was shot in the head several times, friends of the Tsarnaevs were deported hastily, the Russians communicated about them to the FBI asking who they were etc.

    • Avatar tubularsock says:

      And the REAL criminals may actually be the DOJ !

    • Avatar Elisabeth Ritter-Blaser says:

      you are so very right on this!

    • Avatar The Interrogator says:

      Photos were posted on google of his body, and there was a knife slice cut on the side of his body. Gruesome. I also saw the video of the older brother in the nude getting into the squad car. The attorney Aunt and others have made the astute observation that Dzhokhar was NOT wearing a black backpack. It was white and not at all was it similar. This is exculpatory evidence which was ignored. This 19 year old’s life was taken from him, and he has been suffering ever since in a tortuous super max prison in isolation.

    • Avatar archer says:

      Info wars was on the story almost immediately, the black backpacks belonged to men dressed the same with khaki pants and black jackets, no one to my knowledge has ever explained who they were, and there were several of them.

    • Avatar Comments editor says:

      Thankyou for your comment.
      The uniform you describe (including the black backpacks) matches that of the 2nd WMD Civil Support team. The team is sometimes deployed to work on standby, and is known to have been working at the marathon that day. Several of their specialised vehicles were present. The standard issue backpacks contain portable detection and protection equipment.

      There is a well-known picture of a man in what appears to be a Craft International baseball cap – but this is not indicative of the presence of Craft International, as those caps were part of the company’s range of merchandise at the time, and therefore available to the public.

      Comments Editor.

    • Avatar archer says:

      Was there a drill of some kind prior to the explosions? That seems to be the case before a “mass attack”.
      Still waiting to read the JFK files, I’m not going to live forever, talk about secrecy. I did however read Russ Baker’s 10 part series on the JFK hit, it was an extraordinary piece of work. I saved it to my computer.

    • Avatar Comments editor says:

      Thank you for your comment.
      The naked man is shorter than Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

      As for the photo to which you refer: as far as we know, this was taken by a law enforcement officer/agent. According to one interview, a different LE person appeared to believe that the picture had been taken and distributed by one of the medical staff. He spoke angrily to a doctor about this, but the doctor responded saying that he knew the picture was taken by LE because he saw the officer in the act. This tends to corroborate a different interview in which Dr.Richard Wolfe (ER Chief at the hospital) stated that the photo was taken in a non-clinical area, to which it had been moved and was no longer under the control of medical staff, but LE.

    • Avatar Happyfeeling says:

      Not a monster. He is an American citizen who did not have a fair trial.

    • Avatar Jason BMW says:


    • Avatar Elisabeth Ritter-Blaser says:

      It is not delusional! Why had Judge O’Toole not the guts to give the opportunity to move the trial to another State , another town? Why have it must been exactly Boston? A town frenzied up with Anger and hate towards a 21 year old Young man?And you call this delusional?The Jury was biased from the get go! And you call this delusional? Dzhokhar’s former defense does know to this very day of Dzhokhar’s innocence! Read the Affidavit of Maret Tsarnaeva , an aunt of Dzhokhar! Moreover the Public Defender’s Office in Boston is in the know of Dzhokhar’s innocence as well.Dzhokhar never had a defense! It was decided prior to the trial that Dzhokhar is guilty and that he will be sentenced! He never stood a chance ….at his trial as well.No he had indeed not a fair unbiased trial and this does scream for a fair retrial and the freedom for Dzhokhar! Yes is an American Citizen and should be treated as such.

    • Avatar archer says:

      I forgot to mention he didn’t really have a defense at all, they might have “convinced” him it was in his best interest to plead guilty.

    • Avatar Happyfeeling says:

      How could that ever be in his best interest ? If I was being convicted of this atrocity I would please innocent right to my death. The attorney convinced his mother to sign her letter in her words to Jahar to plead guilty. I have no idea what that mother was told to convince her to do so.

    • Avatar archer says:

      By Best interest, I mean they convinced him tomorrow is promised to no one, play along or else.

    • Avatar Jason BMW says:

      Seek professional help. You find conspiracy everywhere. A sure sign of a mental health problem.

    • Avatar Happyfeeling says:

      I think you cannot have a conversation that is meaningful. What do you even know outside of what the national news media has written about the boston bombing ?

    • Avatar Jason BMW says:

      This is hardly the place for a meaningful discussion. I have no special knowledge about the bombing, do you?

    • Avatar The Interrogator says:

      Look at Dzhokhar’s backpack color.

    • Avatar danny j says:

      Please don’t feed the trolls.

    • Avatar The Interrogator says:

      This is indicative of a totalitarian regime, and what happens as a result.

    • Avatar The Interrogator says:

      OJ Simpson was guilty as heck, and the courts bent over backwards for him. Tsarnaev, on the other hand, had so-called “defense” attorneys (what a joke) who committed him as “Guilty” on Day 1 of the Trial.

    • Avatar Jason BMW says:

      Simpson was found not guilty by a jury. Independent of your CON delusions. Boo hoo for you and your false “facts”….

      Tsarnaev was caught in the act on video and a shoot out with the cops. Are you insane?? Yes certainly.

    • Avatar The Interrogator says:

      Dzhokhar is who I was speaking of.

    • Avatar shishani says:

      Who made you judge and jury ?

    • Avatar Jason BMW says:

      Just as you are judging me ?

    • Avatar Happyfeeling says:

      No one is judging. I am asking you what you know about the case to come to your conclusions.

    • Avatar Jason BMW says:

      Yes, your comment was presumptuous, hostile and judgmental. The other side of that question is what you know that others do not?

    • Avatar Happyfeeling says:

      Well answer me this. Why were there 2000 FBI, police and whatever else hunting this unarmed 19 year old boy when one dog could have found him in an instant. The dog was there. The FBI would not let the Boston Police use the dog. Not to mention all the bullets fired at him trying to kill him. Pleaseeeeeeeee. The lock down was ridiculous.

    • Avatar TRUTHPREVAIL says:

      Jason Bonhome, look very closely at the evidence that was presented during the trial. You will see that this ‘monster’ is INNOCENT.

    • Avatar Jason BMW says: