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Ibragim Todashev’s shooting needs explanation

By Adrian Walker

Globe Columnist

Ibragim Todashev was mysterious in life, but he has fallen into a void in death.

Todashev was fatally shot during an interrogation by Boston-based FBI agents in Orlando on May 22. The Russia native was being asked about his friendship with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the presumed mastermind of the Boston Marathon bombing. Unusual as it is for someone to be shot to death during questioning, silence has reigned in its aftermath. The FBI's few statements have been more confusing than illuminating.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts made an attempt Tuesday to spur somebody, anybody, into providing clarity. It called on state authorities in Florida and Massachusetts to conduct their own investigations. The questioning was being done by the FBI and Massachusetts State Police, though some reports have indicated a lone FBI officer was in the room when Todashev was shot.


In response, Attorney General Martha Coakley made it clear her office has no intention of getting involved, pleading lack of jurisdiction. Florida officials have maintained all along that they have no standing to investigate. There doesn't seem to be any reason to think they are about to change their minds.

It's entirely possible the state attorneys general are not the ones to investigate this killing. Still, it's odd how little people seem to care about the fatal shooting of a witness.

The reasons for Boston's lack of public outrage are not hard to fathom. First, the shooting didn't occur here. More importantly, Todashev was a presumed friend of the greatest villain Boston has seen in many years. In the context of the Marathon bombing, the killing was quickly relegated to a footnote. If people here think about him at all, they seem to wonder what he was doing in the country.

But we should know better than to rush to absolve the FBI, no questions asked. After all, another of Boston's great villains, James "Whitey" Bulger, is being tried for decades of terrorizing the city while an FBI informant.


And while the verdict on Whitey is still weeks away, the evidence is clear that the FBI aided and abetted his activities for ages. Not just a rogue agent or two, either; much of the agency's Boston office was involved.

It's not comforting, either, to examine the FBI's record on examining its own shootings. According to a New York Times investigation, the FBI has cleared itself in nearly every agency-involved shooting of the past 20 years.

No doubt many — maybe all — of those judgments were correct. But there is a reason agencies aren't normally allowed to investigate themselves. It is reasonable that an independent voice should be brought to bear.

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting wrongdoing in Todashev's killing. I'm saying the public absolutely needs to know what went on there. So far, that isn't happening.

An agency invested with the tremendous power of the FBI requires oversight and accountability. Regardless of whom Todashev's friends were, or what he may have been involved in, surely we can all agree that the government can't just kill people without explaining — clearly and in detail — what happened.

Instead, this has become a battle of white hats versus black hats. At a time of high anxiety, a guy who is paid to protect us killed a guy who sounds like a menace. We have no problem thinking the best of the protector, and the worst of the guy under apparent suspicion.


That may be understandable, but it's a sorry substitute for justice. It shouldn't be good enough for our politicians, and it shouldn't be good enough for the rest of us, either.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.