The Boston bomb suspect’s Rolling Stone cover: Aren’t we forgetting people used to be innocent until proven guilty?

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Rolling Stone Non-Sense Cover

By Sophie McAdam.

“”The Rolling Stone story breaks not only “traditions of journalism”, but several media laws and ethical boundaries that are crucial in a fair, free, democratic society.  Cast your mind back, if you can, to that sunny and carefree pre-911 world, where intelligent people didn’t have panic attacks over dark-skinned men on buses carrying electronic cigarettes.  Back then, the Rolling Stone article would have caused outrage for a very different reason- it assumes the guilt of a man who is still awaiting trial.

Damn right we should be angry. And very concerned. We should be looking very closely at the emotive and dehumanizing “monster” label Rolling Stone have pinned to the alleged terrorist and we should be asking: What happens when the trial begins? How can we expect the jurors not to be influenced by mainstream media’s premature guilty verdict? And what if- just what if- Dzhokhar and his brother are innocent?

Habeus Corpus is the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Before 9/11, we took this simple concept for granted. It’s what made western societies so great, with liberty and justice for all. It’s a vital part of a civilized society- and wait a minute, isn’t that why those terrorist boogeymen are so envious of us in the first place? It’s an ancient human right dating back to a time where we were still burning witches, with its first recorded usage in Britain as far back as 1305 (later enshrined as a legal civil liberty in 1679). But in the UK this long -standing law- taken for granted for centuries – was nullified in the blink of an eye by Tony Blair’s 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act. The situation in the US is no different: having adopted the British system, US law had prohibited the restriction of Habeus Corpus up until 2001, but 911 gave the government a convenient excuse to start chipping away at this most basic of liberties.

The media, of course, are complicit. “Terrorists are everywhere!” scream news bulletins and newspapers. On buses and the subway, on planes and trains, under your bed and inside your closet! You’re either with us or against us, folks- and don’t you dare complain, it’s unpatriotic. Go shopping,  go back to sleep, just shut up.

Mainstream media has consistently reflected the state’s official bullshit story that you can’t possibly have freedom and security. But it’s ok, because if you allow the state to “protect” you – through the collection of your emails and telephone calls, increased airport security, more CCTV cameras recording your every move and terrifying SWAT teams terrorizing innocent families, you will be safer from the ever-present threat of these evil men who “hate our freedoms”.  A good trade-off, right?

Wrong. We are now living in a time where we have neither freedom nor security. In 2011, Habeus Corpus was killed once and for all by an NDAA amendment authorizing the U.S. military to arrest and indefinitely imprison (without charge or trial) any civilian, including its own citizens, anywhere in the world, simply for suspicion of any (intentionally vague) “belligerent acts” against the U.S government. Activist and veteran journalist Chris Hedges, along with Noam Chomsky and others, has tried to overturn this chilling piece of legislation, but the group lost their appeal this month. This alone should terrify every single one of us.

Hedges called it a “black day for liberty” and indeed it is. But not only for journalists and activists who dare to criticize the government, but also those (inevitable) cases where innocent people are accused of terrorism. Could Tsarnaev be one of them? It’s not my intention to speculate, because it is the justice system, and only the justice system, which has the job of deciding one way or another. What the Rolling Stone cover really exposes is the death of real journalism, which should be about truth, not conjecture; reporting hard facts, not fear-mongering.

Was it ethical, for example, that images of the Tsarnaev brothers be released immediately after the bombings? Don’t forget that at that point, the FBI purported to be as much in the dark as the rest of us. “We don’t know who caused this tragedy” was quickly replaced by “we got them, and here’s what they look like!” without so much as a “how?” from so – called journalists. What concrete evidence – I mean something more than the fact the brothers wore rucksacks and looked slightly foreign – did police have against them before quickly distributing CCTV images to the baying press?

The publication of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s Amazon wishlist just hours after the event was another oddity: this was before the PRISM scandal broke, and I for one was baffled. How does the state have immediate access to this guy’s Amazon account? Is the publication of his literary preferences really in the public interest? Why are newsreaders telling us in sad and serious tomes that the elder Tsarnaev brother had ordered a book on the Chechnyan struggle, as though this somehow wraps up the case against him? My bookshelves reflect my own interest in history and politics, and I even have a couple of books about Al-Qaeda, so bite me. If curiosity equals crime then we’ve slipped further into dystopia than I realized.

Apparenly Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had written “Fuck America” on the inside of his stowaway boat as he lay bleeding from a gunshot wound surrounded by armed feds, along with comments bemoaning the death of fellow muslims at the hands of the US. But even if this doesn’t sound a least slightly doubtful, can being faithful to Islam and feeling resentful of American foreign policy really be taken as proof of terrorism?  Most educated non-muslims now agree that the US – led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were illegal, unethical and frankly barbaric. Critical thinkers should be wary: without a doubt, there are far more questions than answers in the Boston case.

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that anything and everything you do, say and think can and will be used against you, with the mainstream media acting as government’s chief executioner. Trial by media seems to have replaced the courts, leaving heroes of our time like Manning, Assange and Snowden languishing in military prisons, embassies and airports respectively. On the other hand, it hardly matters whether the press perverts the cause of justice or not, when it’s likely you’ll be shipped to Guantanamo or swiftly murdered by the feds before you ever have your day in court.

Habeus corpus wasn’t the only thing to have died after 911. Along with it went common sense, good judgement, logical thinking, and empathy for our fellow human beings. We are paranoid, full of hate and fear of “the other”, and we have traded all our liberties for a security which was not, and can never be, delivered. Day after day, we mindlessly eat what the media feed us,  a spaghetti dish of lies and half-truths served with a cup of hysteria to keep us from thinking critically.

I don’t know about anyone else, but the US and British governments – along with their yapping poodles in the media – terrify me far more than Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s YouTube account.  All of us who care about freedom and justice have an obligation and a duty to call for the press to keep quiet until a jury- one not tainted by screeching, delirious media speculation – has decided whether there is enough real evidence to convict Tsarnaev in a court of law.””

Written by Sophie McAdam at True Activist blog.

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