Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Boston Bombing
Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Aaron Tang / Wikimedia

As the fifth anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing comes and goes, we can’t help but wonder what Dzhokhar Tsarnaev might have to say for himself — if he were allowed to speak.

For one thing, we’d like to ask him if he could fill in some details about his brother Tamerlan’s mysterious activities in the years leading up to the bombings — much of which the government continues to withhold as “classified.”

Dzhokhar is being held at the maximum-security federal penitentiary in Florence, Colorado — known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies” — under extreme confinement conditions called Special Administrative Measures (SAMs). He was convicted and sentenced to death in 2015 for his role in the bombing near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. Tsarnaev is appealing his federal death penalty conviction. (All death penalty convictions are automatically appealed.)

Essentially a form of solitary confinement, SAMs prevent inmates from communicating with all but a few pre-approved individuals. Tsarnaev is not even allowed to communicate with other inmates in the facility. The government justifies the imposition of SAMs by pointing to the possibility that Tsarnaev could try to secretly communicate with criminal compatriots or incite violence of one kind or another.

It’s not clear who that might be, since the government insists that Dzhokhar and his brother Tamerlan acted on their own.

The few statements Dzhokhar made that we heard about actually sounded apologetic and remorseful in nature.

For instance, Sister Helen Prejean, Catholic nun and death penalty opponent, testified at trial that Tsarnaev “had pain in [his voice] when he said what he did, about how nobody deserves that. I think he was taking it in and he was genuinely sorry for what he did.” Prejean had met with Tsarnaev in jail multiple times over the course of two months.

ADX Florence

United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility, Florence, Colorado. Photo credit: BoP / Wikimedia

In a final statement in court, Tsarnaev said he “would like to now apologize to the victims, to the survivors,” and, “I am sorry for the lives I have taken, for the suffering that I have caused you, for the damage I have done — irreparable damage.”

Does this sound like what one would expect from an extremist hell-bent on inciting violence?

In justifying the imposition of the SAMs, prosecutors cited, in part, a phone conversation the defendant’s mother recorded and then played for the public “in an apparent effort to engender sympathy,” they wrote. The defense team characterized that concern as “telling.”

“While the government may not want anyone to feel ‘sympathy’ for Mr. Tsarnaev,” a defense motion reads, “that is not a proper basis to impose SAMs.”

Nonetheless, Tsarnaev can’t speak with members of the news media, although the reasoning for that comes across as a little overwrought:

Communication with the media could pose a substantial risk to public safety if the inmate advocates terrorist, criminal, and/or violent offenses, or if he makes statements designed to incite such acts. Based upon the inmate’s past behavior, I believe that it would be unwise to wait until after the inmate solicits or attempts to arrange a violent or terrorist act to justify such media restrictions.

The warden at the US Penitentiary in Florence recently refused our third interview request citing the SAMs. We’ve written previously about our efforts to interview Tsarnaev. Each time the request was denied. A second letter to Dzhokhar was also recently returned — unopened this time.

The warden suggested we take up the matter with “the US Attorney’s Office in the district he was sentenced in,” i.e. Boston. The US Attorney’s office in Boston has not responded.

Ironically, when we previously requested the underlying justification for the SAMs from the Department of Justice (DOJ), it refused to provide it because to “confirm or deny” the mere existence of SAMs would be a violation of Tsarnaev’s privacy.

Tsarnaev’s appellate team has until August to present its written brief opposing the decision of the lower court. A brief is the legal team’s argument about why the trial court’s decision was legally incorrect. The government then files its own brief responding to the appellant’s brief — which the appellant then responds to in a final brief. At that point the case will be fully “briefed” and would then move on to an oral arguments stage.

As far as how long all this will take? “That requires a bit of a crystal ball,” Cliff Gardner, one of Dzhokhar’s attorneys wrote in an email to WhoWhatWhy. Gardner could not guess how long it will take the government to file its brief, but did say that it is certain to be “long and complex.”

Whenever the actual appeal trial finally gets underway, the government will still be firmly in control of the narrative that is fed to the public about Dzhokhar.

Update notice, 4/17/2018, 9:55 pm: Boston US Atty.’s Office spokesperson Christina Dilorio-Sterling responded to our request to reconsider the provision of the SAMs that prevents members of the media from interviewing Tsarnaev. She wrote: “The Attorney General has determined that Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) are warranted to safeguard national security and the safety of individuals and the community.  I cannot get into any further detail, and I am sorry that we are unable to assist any further.”

Correction notice, 4/19/2018, 11:37 am: This article originally used an incorrect photo of the federal supermax prison in Colorado.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (US Marshals Service / Wikimedia).

2 1 vote
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Glad to see WWW is still covering this story. The single best investigative reporting this site has ever done. I wish WWW would return to stuff like this.


Has WWW interviewed boxer-cop Sean Gannon, with regards to the bombings? He seems to have a lot of inside information.


Just what are you trying to imply? That he is not a killer? That because he is so young he is not responsible for what he did? Because he may or may not be sorry and you can not report on that someone is hiding something? Sounds like you’re miffed because you don’t have the story. The story is, he is responsible for a horrendous tragedy. He was found guilty in a court of law. I know that’s not always saying a lot in our legal system but in this case I’m pretty sure we can feel safe in his guilt. Too bad the media can’t hash the subject to death also on every single comment he makes like they did with Manson, till the day he died. What can he say for himself? He’s sorry? What good would that do? It may be good for his soul but it won’t bring back the people he killed or re-attach the severed limbs that were amputated from all those people or take away the memories of those tragic hours on that terrible day. I do have sympathy for him. It is tragic that one so young has wasted his life as he has on hate and terrorism, but that was the choice he made and he has to live with it it can not be undone. Life is not fair and it is impossible to bring back the dead. Life is not a child’s game. I hope he can make peace with himself. As for the media and their desire for another story to report from the mouth of a terrorist about to die for the crime he did, go cry to your mama because I have no sympathy for your desire for another headline.

Josée Lépine

I am not so sure about his guilt. The indictment bill does say in paragraph 7 that his bomb was concealed in a black backpack. If you would like to take the time to look at government exhibit 22 you will see for yourself that Jahar was carrying a very light grey or white backpack. The jurors have seen that exhibit when it was presented to them. Also take a very good look at exhibit 22 where you will see Jahar or someone resembling Jahar depositing a very light backpack on the ground to the right of the tree. The government’s own exhibit of the backpack that exploded was to the left of the tree. Now you know why people continue to investigate this tragedy that is that an innocent person is in jail and on death row for something he did not do. I am not saying that nothing happened and that no one died, what I am saying is that it is someone else than the Tsarnaevs who did it.


Under the US Constitution, this kid was not given a fair trial. Please present the evidence. How can we be sure of his guilt when the findings are under lock and key. What is everyone afraid of – releasing the papers of the trial or speaking to him ? It is our system of reporting the news, true news, that keeps us free. Personally, I think there is more to the story and I would like to know it even though you don’t.

Larry Payne

As I remember, the only evidence against the Tsarnaevs was a security video which allegedly showed the brothers placing the backpacks at the scene. Why was this video never shown to the public and not shown at Dzokhar’s trial? From accounts I have read, Dzhokhar was claiming innocence at the same time his government appointed lawyer was entering a guilty plea for him. Mainstream media proclaimed the Tsarnaevs guilty without ever asking for any proof. Mainstream media is the “decider” of who is guilty.
That makes it a lot easier for the courts to back up MSM’s decisions.

Elisabeth Ritter-Blaser

The public was lied to and the lies do continue! The last so called “confession” of Dzhokhar after he was sentenced to death by Judge O Toole was shoved down his throat anyway! Why has Dzhokhar “confessed” after it was over for him anyway? You see how the MSM can lie to the public and the public will be betrayed completely. Why can WWW not obtain information about Dzhokhar himself ? They repeatedly asked to get access to Tsarnaev to do an interview with him. WWW was turned down on this. Furthermore, they requested from the Government information about Tamerlan and that was denied as well. Why are there sealed docs which are kept sealed! Sooo…. clearly the former Prosecution / US Government has much to hide!


Anytime there is a news story about someone like: Dzhokhar, included in that story should be the sum total so far as to how much taxpayer money has been spent on that individual. A running total of taxpayer money spent to date should be kept on all criminals. Let the taxpayers know how it is costing to keep these criminals alive.

Josée Lépine

I surely hope that you never get accused of a crime that you did not commit, or perhaps you should then you would understand your RIGHT.


Ever hear of the Innocence Project? I don’t know what the number of retrials is…that have found prisoners to have had flawed trials and slim evidence that have spent many years in prison and sentenced to death for a crime they didn’t commit! Our system of justice is good some of the time….but, it is far from infallible and the FBI is far from unflawed.
“Liberty and Justice for all” sounds great…but justice is a difficult thing to expect… when overruled by emotions.

Josée Lépine

Indeed Steve and some of whom have been executed were later found innocent.


The Innocence Project would be stonewalled just like his attorneys and have been. The govt obviously has something to hide.

Josée Lépine

Yea the government has a dirty little secret to hide. What puzzles me is the fact that no-one from the government, no-one from any level of law enforcement agencies or any media, nowhere in any of the court documents and trial transcripts was a mention of the white or light grey backpack.

Elisabeth Ritter-Blaser

Oldsailor, yes that is true you are right……why should the public pay for someone who is completlely innocent and locked up on death row where he never belongs! Let’s free him already…. please read all the reports on Dzhokhar and the BMB Event! Thank you!


You folks are so off the mark it is ridiculous. But I guess you balance out the crazies on the far right. If the authorities wanted to keep this criminal silent, they would have carried out his execution long ago. This man is responsible for the death and maiming of many innocent people, and his sentence is a consequence of his actions. And quoting Sister Prejean is a joke. So he had “pain in his voice”. I think his victims suffered far greater pain. This nun is hardly a neutral observer. She would have spared the Nazi criminals at the Nuremberg trials.

Dusty Roads

Maybe the pain in his throat was due to the bullet that went through it… just a thought.

Josée Lépine

Frank I strongly suggest that you look at the government’s exhibits. Then you would understand why we say that Jahar is innocent.

Josée Lépine

Jahar and Tamerlan are both innocent of all of the crimes that were committed between April 15-19, 2013. We cannot forget that and we have to continue our research. But what we need to do is start inviting American citizens to start questioning this case on a constant basis. They have to start writing to congressmen and senators and press them for answers. After all they were elected to serve citizens. Remember that Jahar does not have a voice, but we do. Have a wonderful day and please start writing.


you got the wrong guy ..he is innocent..


Why oh why, am I not surprised?
When the facts In the pics are right before your eyes.
When you look at that skull, it becomes so rational.
The black backpack with the crockpot came from Craft International.
(Just my opinion)

Subscribe to the Daily WhoWhatWhy

Relevant, in-depth journalism delivered to you.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.