March 12th 2014
A pre-trial hearing for the three friends of accused marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was held on March 10th. Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov are charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy for allegedly removing items from Tsarnaev’s dorm that may have been pertinent to the marathon bombing investigation, whilst Robel Phillipos is charged with lying to authorities during questioning of the purported incident.
The hearing dealt with several matters of interest, yet for some inexplicable reason media outlets promoted their reporting of the case with ‘headlines’ and write-ups that seemed remarkably familiar…….
Heard this before….?
Is the news that Tsarnaev allegedly destroyed his phone(s) really such a startling revelation?
The information first emerged back in June 2013 in the criminal indictment against him. It was cited again in October 2013 as part of the government’s justifcation for invoking restrictive prison conditions against Tsarnaev and his lawyers. Special Administrative Measures (or SAMs) were placed on the suspect when, bemusingly, the government claimed that the destruction of cell phone(s) somehow constituted evidence of ‘terrorist tradecraft’.
Both incidents received a high level of reporting at their respective times, so why do journalists and editors feel the need to rehash what is quite clearly, old news? Was there nothing else said in the pre-trial hearing that was worthy of an original headline or two?
The real news brought many questions…..
How about the FBI claim that measuring the width of an interrogation room should not be done due to ‘matters of national security’? This ludicrous assertion came to light after the defense revealed they needed to show pictures of the room to witnesses who believed they were being videotaped. The government asserts they were not. Thankfully, Judge Douglas P Wilcock maintained his sanity and ordered that the defense be allowed access to the room, calling
the FBI’s excuse ‘ridiculous’.
But what of the wider issues here? If the witnesses weren’t videotaped, why were they under the mistaken belief that they were? Did anyone tell them that was the case? If so, who? Or were they actually videotaped - and the government is just plain wrong? Don’t expect the corporate media to ask these questions any time soon: the smashing of Tsarnaev’s phones (again) is of much greater importance.
This fixation with old news does not even provide a pretence of any great significance. The line is simply repeated, without so much as a ‘why ? how ? where ? when ?’ If a matter is worthy of a headline, then surely the readers are entitled to more?
Another troubling issue arose from the defense’s request for statements made by the defendants before they were mirandized. The request was denied by the judge as the statements are not being entered to the court as evidence, yet the circumstances which led to those statements being made were truly disturbing.
Robert Stahl, an attorney for Dias Kadyrbayev stated
about the friends’ arrest:
'There were dozens and dozens of officers and after they were ordered out at gunpoint and stripped in public view and handcuffed, they were then left in patrol cars for several hours'
The act of removing a person’s clothes in public is not only dehumanizing to both parties, but leaves the subject under no illusions as to who is in charge, and points to their own vulnerability - both physically and mentally. Arresting officers will no doubt claim their actions were necessary for ‘security reasons’. But was this really the case? Was this done to intimidate the suspects? Do such actions constitute an abuse of power? If so, who is ultimately responsible? What ever the reasons, such a shocking affront to human dignity seems more reminiscent of the actions of a fascist state, rather than a so-called progressive nation in 2014.
Regrettably, the thought-provoking implications of this distasteful act were all but abandoned: the destruction of Tsarnaev’s phone(s) again proved paramount.
What about the defense claim that authorities ripped up a statement made to police by a witness who was a friend of the accused three? The claim was subsequently denied by Federal prosecutors, but still received barely a mention in the multitude of ‘destroyed phone’ reports. Why? Is the alleged destruction of evidence by the state such an everyday occurrence, it is no longer warrants journalistic speculation, reasoned criticism or further comment?
Apparently so, particularly when the public need to be informed of a smashed cell phone for the third time in less than a year.
Could do better…..
Why so many publications chose to file the ‘non-news’ is baffling. Rather than expend any energy reflecting on the real issues (let alone investigating), it appears they simply chose to repeat each other, using an old story dressed up as ‘new’ news. In the case of the ‘destroyed phones’ it wasn’t, and such lazy reporting is wholly unacceptable. The public not only rely on mainstream news outlets to provide them with up-to-date information, they also rely on them to hold authorities to account. If journalists and editors are not prepared to do it, who will?
Our media wield enormous power and with that power comes responsibility: in short, they could do much better.
So, not only will we reflect on the important issues raised at the pre-trial hearing of Dias Kadyrbayev, Azamat Tazhayakov and Robel Phillipos, we’ll continue to ask questions too.
The one question we won’t be asking is ‘did Dzhokhar Tsarnaev smash his cell phone?’.
In view of more pressing matters, it’s not exactly paramount.