Sunday, August 13, 2006
June 4th, we offered a short story entitled "The ones we never know" -- the point of which were the many Iraqis who die and, if we're lucky, are noted . . . as a "civilian." They frequently don't have names, they frequently exist, in reporting, as nothing more than someone who sprung to life moments before they were killed. There is no attempt to put faces (let alone names) to the fatalities. Each death speeds by in a number and by the next day they're no longer even a "one died in Baquba" but part of a collective "38 people died in Iraq yesterday."
Sometimes that results from the sheer number of deaths (which the United Nations recently estimated to be 100 a day), sometimes it results from the fact that reporters really can't move freely in Iraq. Sometimes there must be another reason.
Such as with The New York Times repeated actions to render Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi invisible. Abeer Qassim Hamza was murdered on March12, 2006 in the town of Mahmoudiyah along with her parents Qassim Hamza Raheem and Fakhriya Taha Muhasen and her five-year-old sister Hadeel Qassim Hamza. Originally, an investigation into their deaths pegged the killer or killers as "insurgents."
The last week of June, the US military announced that they were investigating the deaths. There was talk that one of the four, Abeer, had been raped. The military gave her age as
twenty-years old. On July 3rd the the US government issued a press release noting that the previous Friday (June 30th) Steven D. Green had been arrested in Asheville, North Carolina and charged with rape and murder. The 21-year-old Green had served with the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army but been dischared. Later, four soldiers still serving in the military (Paul Cortez, James Barker, Jesse Spielman and Bryan Howard) were charged with murder, rape and arson (there was an attempt to burn Abeer's body and 'do away' with the evidence) and a fifth serving soldier Anthony W. Yribe was charged with derelection of duty for failure to report the incident.
The same day that Green's arrest was announced, Ellen Knickmeyer's "Details Emerge in Alleged Army Rape, Killings" ran in The Washington Post refuting the claim that Abeer had been twenty-years-old. To date, this remains the most serious attempt (domestically -- big media or small) to detail Abeer's life and death.
Last weekend, an Article 32 hearing began for Cortez, Barker, Spielman and Howard to determine whether there was enough evidence to charge them with the crimes they are accused of. (Steven D. Green will stand trial in a federal court in Kentucky.)
You might think this was the time for reporters to explore Abeer's life? If you thought that, you weren't thinking like a reporter because no one stepped up to the plate. What you saw instead was what you'd seen largely since the beginning, details of Green's life, details of the other soldiers, denials, excuses (stress) . . . You name it, you saw anything but Abeer.
Saturday, August 6th The New York Times rendered Abeer invisible yet again. In a lengthy article running the day before the Article 32 hearing began in Baghdad, Robert F. Worth and Carolyn Marshall's "G.I. Crime Photos May Be Evidence" managed to make the argument that the defense would (stress, fatigue, etc.) -- thing is, the defense had yet to make that argument. Apparent psychics Worth and Marshall could see into the future and read the defense briefs.
Worth and Marshall should start their own 900 hotline because they presented their argument before the defense and the defense's argument? From Andy Mosher's "At Rape Hearing, U.S. Soldiers Describe Stress of War" in The Washington Post:
Eugene Fidell, a Washington military law expert, said Tuesday that the defense attorneys were most likely emphasizing combat stress to argue that their clients not face a possible death penalty in the event of a court-martial. "This is not a defense known to the law," Fidell said. "But this kind of evidence could come in during the court-martial, and it might be pertinent to the sentence. They could be setting the stage to avoid a death penalty."
Worth and Marshall -- amazing psychics for grasping a defense "not . . . known to the law."
Day after day, The New York Times repeatedly rendered Abeer invisible. She never had a name, she was always a "14-year-old girl." They never provided details about her life, though they had many details of the accused. They also had a very sanitized way of reporting on the Article 32 hearing. Apparently, readers of the paper of no record are thought to be delicate souls who can't take the hard details of a murder and rape case.
They heard things about drinking and golf (manly men, the accused), they just didn't hear some of the less Animal House-like antics involved. AFP was left to report that, on the first day of the hearing, "An Iraqi army doctor has told of his horror at coming upon a dead teenager 'naked with her legs spread' after the alleged murder of her family by a group of US soldiers." Al Jazeera could report the following:
An Iraqi army medic has described a scene of horror to a US military hearing that will decide if four soldiers are to be court-martialled for the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl and the killing of her family.
The medic, who was not named, said that when he entered the house in Mahmudiya on March 12, he found 14-year-old Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi naked with her legs spread and burned from the waist up, with a single bullet wound beneath her left eye.
But it was just too much for the Grey Lady. Another Times, The Times of London, could carry a report on military investigator Benjamin Bierce testifying to the hearing about the confession James Barker had made to him:
Special Agent Benjamin Bierce recalled how Specialist James Barker described how the couple and their youngest child were put in another room, while the teenager was kept in the living room.
Barker said that he held the girl's hands while Sergeant Paul Cortez raped her or tried to rape her. Barker then switched positions with Cortez and attempted to rape the girl, but said he was not sure if he had done so, Special Agent Bierce told the hearing.
Some shots were fired in the other room and Private Steven Green emerged, saying "They're all dead. I just killed them." Green put down an AK-47 assault rifle and raped the girl while Cortez held her down, the hearing heard.
Special Agent Bierce said Green then picked up the weapon and shot the girl once, paused, and shot her several more times. Kerosene from a lamp was poured over the girl and someone - it was not clear who - set her alight.
Reuters would note:
A U.S. military court heard graphic testimony on Monday on how U.S. soldiers took turns holding down and raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl before murdering her and her family.
Took turns raping her. Took turns holding her down. Took turns.
The same newspaper that could front page the most recent Michael Jackson-and-child case, day after day, suddenly got all thick tongued and couldn't say a word. (Leading Mike to wonder if The New York Times was employing perverts, rapists or pro-rapists?)
By the time the hearing was winding down, the paper of no record fell strangely silent on everything. So readers didn't hear Captain Alex Pickands' closing remarks which included: "They gathered over cards and booze to come up with a plan to rape and murder that little girl. She was young and attractive. They knew where she was because they had seen her on a previous patrol. She was close. She was vulnerable."
The soldiers had more than seen her on a previous patrol. As Ellen Knickmeyer noted:
Fifteen-year-old Abeer Qasim Hamza was afraid, her mother confided in a neighbor.
As pretty as she was young, the girl had attracted the unwelcome attention of U.S. soldiers manning a checkpoint that the girl had to pass through almost daily in their village in the south-central city of Mahmudiyah, her mother told the neighbor.
Abeer told her mother again and again in her last days that the soldiers had made advances toward her, a neighbor, Omar Janabi, said this weekend, recounting a conversation he said he had with the girl's mother, Fakhriyah, on March 10.
Fakhriyah feared that the Americans might come for her daughter at night, at their home. She asked her neighbor if Abeer might sleep at his house, with the women there.
It wasn't a one time thing. As C.I. noted:
The 14-year-old had noticed and been made nervous by the way those alleged to have raped her (it seems crazy to say "alleged" to have killed -- she's dead, she was a fourteen-year-old girl, she was killed, no alleged). Her family was about to send her to another home for her own safety.
If [Robert F.] Worth and [Carolyn] Marshall want to chart the decay of the military company, might they take a moment to wonder what sort of leadership existed that adult males sent by the US to Iraq were able to leer at (and comment on?) a fourteen-year-old girl? So much so that she and others noticed it. Who didn't notice it? And why didn't they notice it?
As Rebecca noted:
i don't know an american adult male who doesn't know the concept of the age of consent and grasp that they'll go to jail for sex with a minor that's consensual. add in that we're talking about rape.an underage girl was raped. the mainstream press covers this trial and can't even mention her damn name. good god, most of us have seen silence of the lambs, we know how important it is that the victim have a name.
it puts a face on it, it gives it's weight.
As Elaine noted:
People are acting, including Scotland's Sunday Herald, as though the US troops just snapped. That's now what's been reported. They were "eyeing" Abeer. Fourteen-years-old and she's got to deal with the disgusting ogling of adult males, adult males with guns, adult males who are part of the foreign forces occupying her country. Do you think the press has given much thought to what that must have been like for Abeer?
To be so nervous, so bothered by the unwanted attention that she complained to her parents who quickly decided that, for her own protection, they needed to have her go live with neighbors.
Abeer never got to do that. She was murdered. She was allegedly raped. Fourteen-years-old.
I don't think the press gets how disgusting this is. I think they see it as a murder and nothing more. Certainly, the New York Times in their early coverage emphasized the murder and treated the rape in a secondary manner.
And? We're sure some other websites noted it, noted the case. We just couldn't find it on our official independent media outlets. Abeer wasn't just rendered invisible by the almighty New York Times, she was rendered invisible by independent media which didn't have a moment to spare from the wall-to-wall coverage of Look What Israel's Done Now! to cover the details emerging from the hearing.
With Mai Lai during Vietnam, it wasn't the all powerful papers and networks breaking the story.
So you'd think that independent media would remember that. You'd think that they'd see the coverage coming from The New York Times and, at the very least, want to offer a critique about how a major daily under-reported the events and testimony of the hearing and, though they humanized the defense, they never did the same with Abeer, or, as the paper insisted upon calling her, "a fourteen-year-old girl" -- one who apparently had no life, no dreams, no hopes and not even a name.
Independent media often speaks of the need to go where the silence is. What's more silent than a rape victim who has been murdered? How about one that the press refuses to name? (CNN did name her in their coverage.) Abeer's story hasn't been told.
An excuse offered this week was that they didn't have the money big media has so they couldn't send people to cover the hearing. We won't argue that point. We'll simply note that the Lebanon coverage wasn't dependent upon reporting from Lebanon. (Flashpoints reports from the occupied territories and elsewhere day after day, week after week. Flashpoints didn't suddenly discover the story, they always cover the armed agression of Israel. We're not talking about Flashpoints.) What we saw or heard were discussions of Israel's actions, discussions of the effects of Lebanon. We think that there could have been discussions of the details emerging in what happened to Abeer and her family. But that didn't happen. Rendered invisible by the paper of no record, not explored by independent media, Abeer remained a statistic, not a person. She was faceless, she was voiceless.
We weren't even treated to a discussion of how the media was covering it. Possibly because independent media felt it might be hypocritical to slam big media when they hadn't done any work on it themselves?
Did Abeer's life matter? Did her death matter? Judging from the (non-existant) coverage, the answer is no. It's the same "no" we'd get to the question of has Iraq mattered in the last few weeks. It hasn't. Independent media has gone to Camp Casey III or provided Cindy Sheehan via a phone call or video-link.
In fact, all the topics you might normally count on independent media for happened outside of it last week. It was The San Francisco Chronicle that took a look at war resisters in Canada, for example. Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey will soon learn the decision on their appeal (to remain in Canada). Some media attention would help their case. Ehren Watada's Article 32 hearing starts Thursday and there have been no efforts to cover that.
Like Abeer, they were lost in the pursuit of one story and on story only. Independent media can pat themselves on the back that they weren't doing wall-to-wall on a missing blonde, but they're kidding themselves if they think they were providing the news people can use because that news is never just one topic.
Abeer had a life and she had hopes and dreams. Those are gone now. In death, she's ignored. In life she ended brutalized, raped and murdered. She became, through press treatment one more of "The ones we never know."
She had a name, she had a face. Below is her national i.d. which carries a photo of her when she was two-years-old. (This was the document that established her age as fourteen-years-old.)
The New York Times was happy to make the defense's case both before the hearing started and during it. It boils down to stress, blah blah blah, fatigue, blah blah blah. Captain Alex Pickands' response to that nonsense?
"Murder, not war. Rape, not war. That's what we're here talking about today. Not all that business about cold food, checkpoints, personnel assignments. Cold food didn't kill that family. Personnel assignments didn't rape and murder that 14-year-old little girl."
It's an argument not only against the defense's rationale but agains that of The New York Times which may be why these words never made it into the paper of no record.