Lee on Literature: The Trial

Kafka revisited in the Boston bombing trial

Honesty, integrity and pride. Santa Fe resident Caroline Rotich inspired all of these feelings as she crossed the finish line with a brilliant surge of spirit to win the Boston Marathon Women's Division this year. At the same spot two years ago, an exploding bomb fueled some of the opposite sentiments about our government security forces: suspicion, incompetence and shame.

As the "guilty" verdict came in against Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev this month just before the race, many Americans gave a collective sigh of relief. Justice served, with a side of revenge. The conviction ends a Kafka-esque assault upon the American psyche: the possibility that a small segment of our own government was involved in this bizarre and destructive event. The severe lack of FBI transparency from manhunt to evidence gathering to trial verdict is telling. This opaqueness is nightmarishly similar to the ordeal faced by Joseph K. in Franz Kafka's 1925 classic novel The Trial.

The Trial begins with two government agents arresting Joseph K. for an unnamed charge. The arresting officers are directed from higher levels of the huge Law and Justice bureaucracy. Joseph K., a banker, must negotiate level upon level of proxies and courts, all the time unable to define any specific charge or evidence against him. At first, he questions the State while this opaque battle destroys his home life, his job and all relationships. Joseph K. gradually acquiesces to the grinding and undefinable State will, and in the end, he is led away to the countryside for execution by two low-level government agents.

The defining quality of The Trial (and much of Kafka's brilliant writing) is an intense dreamlike horror served with an objective tone. The effect is powerful: Ridiculous plots and random characters do illogical things which all seem quite normal while in the dream state. Yet when the dreamer wakes, the whole experience seems absurd in the first rational light of consciousness.

In the Boston Marathon bombing, a cadre of FBI agents took control of the debate by leaking select narratives through a mainstream media amplifier. This manipulation was so effective that the general public was assessing whether Tsarnaev should get the death penalty or not, before a single shred of evidence had been examined in court. All evidence (thousands of iPhone pictures at the marathon site plus street and business security camera footage) was quickly gathered and controlled by the State. A one-sided narrative was never challenged. Unlike OJ Simpson, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had no high-priced team of independent lawyers to thoroughly present all possibilities such as CIA/FBI involvement and/or bungling. The Tsarnaev trial (30 counts) lasted six weeks, while the Simpson trial (two counts) lasted approximately 40 weeks.

Disturbing facts point to State participation in the Boston bombing. First, the FBI has an established pattern of entrapping individuals with insufficient will or knowledge to execute terrorist acts. FBI agents encourage and train these individuals and then step in and foil "terrorist plots" at the 11th hour. Since 2005, this pattern was evident in many "terrorist" events: the NATO 3, the Cleveland 5, Bradley Crowder and David McKay, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the Liberty City 7, Eric McDavid and Hemant Lakhani.

The cases of James Cromitie and David Williams, two of the Newburgh 4, were clearly entrapment. Cromitie was the radicalized group leader who held great resentment of U.S. killing of Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Williams was a low-level drug dealer in Newburgh, NY. An FBI agent posing as a terrorist mastermind provided money, weapons, expertise and inspiration for both men to blow up a Jewish synagogue. The FBI stepped in and thwarted the plot after creating it. Is this scenario not strikingly similar to the Boston bombing (less the plot thwarting)?

Other serious questions make the Boston bombing particularly haunting to the American psyche.  Where were the bombs made? Why did the FBI solicit the help of the public to identify the Tsarnaev brothers when they had already been in contact multiple times with Tamerlan Tsarnaev ? In a recent New York Times review, former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano does not dispute the fact that the FBI interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev at least three times in 2011.

In addition to the fact that the FBI should not have needed public assistance in identifying Tamerlan Tsarnaev, what motivated the unprecedented urgency in the manhunt for the younger brother, including the "shelter in place" order and widespread violation of search warrant laws? Lastly, why was Tamerlan Tsarnaev's friend, Ibragim Todashev, executed by the State?

All of these uncomfortable questions are now laid to rest. Just as Joseph K. abandoned any possibility of waking from his nightmarish case in The Trial, Americans can now dream peacefully. Prior to his execution, Joseph K. received the following advice from a priest: "[I]t is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary." Sadly, Joseph K. notes, this "turns lying into a universal principle." For this reason, we need genuine and inspiring champions, like runner Caroline Rotich, now more than ever.

Lee Miller graduated from Cornell University and has taught writing for over ten years at the secondary and post-secondary levels.  He has published three books, including the historical /spiritual novel, Kali Sunset (www.clovercreekpress.com), about a Calcutta family conquering 20th-century India’s greatest challenges. The Lee on Literature blog looks at current events through the prism of classic literature.

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