Sunday, May 03, 2009

Evan Bright Puts Big Media To Shame

March 12, 2006, Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi's parents (Fakhriya Taha Muhasen and Qassim Hamza Raheem) and five-year-old sister (Hadeel Qassim Hamza) were taken into the parents' bedroom by a US soldier ('allegedly' Steven D. Green) where they were murdered. Abeer was in the living room with Paul Cortez and James Barker who were gang-raping her. It is one of the most explosive of the War Crimes from the Iraq War.

James Barker entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to 90 years, Paul Cortez also copped a guilty plea and was sentenced to 100 years, Jesse V. Spielman was convicted (no plea) and sentenced to 110 years and Bryan Howard had a plea agreement which resulted in 27 months of imprisonment. The only one accused and not tried was Steven Dale Green.


He had already been discharged from the US military and left Iraq when the War Crimes came to light. He is being tried in a Kentucky federal court. In the other trials (which took place in military courts), all fingered Green as the ring-leader, those in the house stated he took part in the gang-rape and that he killed all four Iraqis. On Monday, Green's trial began at the United States District Court Western District of Kentucky .

Next were pictures that the former Sgt. Took of the crime scene upon his arrival. Skipping over the menial details… Exhibit 7D, a picture of Qassim Hamza Rasheed dead, laying face down on the floor with brain matter scattered in.. multiple places around him… caused several visible and audible grimaces within the crowd, with Green looking down but eyeing the jury. After pictures of all bodies were shown, Green was seen rubbing his eyes/forehead.

You might assume that this resulted in massive press coverage. You would be wrong. As always, Brett Barrouquere of The Associated Press could be counted on. (He has covered the cases for nearly three years now.) And? That really was about it.

The Washington Post? Nope. The New York Times? No. The CBS Evening News? The NewsHour? NPR? Newsweek? CNN? Pacifica? No. Seriously, no. Even Tony Perry (Los Angeles Times) who seems to live to cover every court-martial and trial involving the military wasn't covering this trial.

One of the few people covering the trial is Evan Bright and the excerpt above is from his reporting as are all excerpts in this feature article.

Evan Bright

Bright is an eighteen-year-old high school student. You read that correctly. What Big Media can't do, Bright's managed to. And, get this, he's not even planning on becoming a journalist. We interviewed Bright by e-mail to find out about the young man who does the oversight role the press is supposed to.

Jim: As the first week of the trial draws to a close, what stands out most to you?

Evan Bright: Hmmm. A few things really: An unknown someone once called this whole situation "a total lapse of humanity," and thus far, that is absolutely the best way to describe it, hence the title of my first blog post. Next would be how much the military/militaristic style is ingrained in all of these people. "all rise" and these guys stand at. ATTENTION. I'm almost expecting them to salute. The last thing would be how great the defense is doing, all things considered. That's objective, I'm not picking a side or rooting for the defense, I'm just saying, for what they have, they're doing a damn good job.

Ava and C.I.: How many reporters are at the hearing covering the case?

Evan Bright: 3-4. On Monday, opening statements day, there were 6-8. I'm here with Brett Barrouquere of the AP and Jim Frederick of Time Magazine who's writing a book on Bravo company. The people who only came for opening statements are Andy Wolfson from the Courier Journal, someone from Reuters, Mira Oberman the midwest correspondent from the "Agence France-Press"... the French press.

Evan Bright reporting on Day Four of the trial: According to Barker, "Cortez took a little convincing to get him to come along. He said if we were gonna have sex with the girl, he wanted to go first." He testified to ushering the 5-year-old girl and father into the house, and then separating 14-year-old Abeer from her family. He said that he held Abeer's hands down while Cortez raped her in mere seconds, while Green shot the remaining three family members. When Cortez was finished, they switched places, with Abeer screaming and crying the entire time. Afterwards, Green raped her, and then shot her.

Jim: Are you in the court's media room during the trial? If so, what work items do you have with you? Laptop, etc.

Evan Bright: Nope, I'm front and center in the court room, right behind the jury. I can diagram that out if you wish. I'm in the media room right now with my laptop, cell phone, and lunch!

Jim: [. . .] how do you rate the courthouse's wireless connection?

Evan Bright: Good enough. I wouldn't be trying to download anything though. According to [Federal Defender Scott Thomas] Wendelsdorf (D) it's "shady" in the courtroom itself.

Proceedings began today. Defendant Steven Green entered the courtroom appearing in a champagne sweater vest, seeming jaunty and aware in light of his situation.

Today began with the cross-examination of Colonel Todd Ebel. Although Green chose the darker grey sweater vest, he appeared to be in a lighter mood, at times smiling and conversing with his lawyers.

The cross of Colonel Kunk got a little more exciting today. Green opted out of the sweater vest and in with a light blue button down(why am I writing about court fashion style?). During the cross, Darren Wolff once again had conflicts with Kunk. Questioned over the burning of the soldier's FOB(forward operating base), Kunk testified that the soldiers "lost some of their personal property," with Wolff trying to assert the morale downturn the soldiers would have had after losing their "homely" items.

Ava and C.I.: You frequently comment on what someone's wearing, such as the orange jump suits when the person testifying is a prisoner. You've also noted Green's wearing, for example, sweater vests. Do you have any thoughts on whether or not the defense is attempting to use fashion to create an image for Green in the court room?

Evan Bright: I'm just trying to tell x random reader what they aren't going to read in the morning paper. They're just getting him to dress nice...hehe.

Ava and C.I.: Regarding commenting on physical details, you say you're just attempting to provide some things that wouldn't be noted in other coverage. Do you think you might be drawing on your photography background in providing those details?

Evan Bright: In a way. When I first really got into it, I noticed that I would see the 'random-est' of things in everyday life and think "Man that would be a badass picture." The same thing happens here, especially with the attorneys holding up weapons for examination by the witnesses or using the to-scale model of the Al-Janabi house. Sometimes, pictures can tell a story that can't be told in writing.

Ty: Are the diagrams and the models being used in court easy to follow?

Evan Bright: Very. Both questioning lawyer and witness have a touch screen that they can draw on when pictures are put up on screen, etc. Every juror has a screen in front of them too.

Ty: Has any observation about the judicial system or process stood out? Has any observation about the media stood out?

Evan Bright: [Assistant Federal Defender] Pat Bouldin stated in his opening that "this isn't Law & Order...JAG....CSI...." Both true and false. It isn't super-dramatic like TV, but this is the real deal. Sure I could get a citation and I'd find out how the legal system works. I could go sit in county court for a day and see things in action, but not like this. This is the real thing. Nothing about the media....the U.S. Marshalls aren't big fans of us.

Dona: What sort of stories do you cover for The Tilghman Bell? Are you covering the Green case for your high school paper?

Evan Bright: My main gig is photography and always has been. Find me on facebook and you'll see that I have more albums than almost anyone else, 40-50 I believe. Anyway, I mostly take care of photos at The Bell. When I'm given the chance, or I give myself the chance, I try to do an album or movie review each month. Music is, whether I want to believe it or not, my life. I tell people I listen to a lot of music and they say "okay," without understanding that I have around 35,000 songs in my collection. So when I write, it's usually related to music. I did a big thing on teen sleep deprivation earlier this year and how stupid it is to make teenagers come to school at 7 in the morning.

After the lunch recess, Spielman described entering the house and keeping watch while Barker and Cortez separated 14-year-old Abeer from her family. He agreed to hearing three gunshots and that, after asking Green if everything was okay, Green replied "everything's fine", before letting him see the bodies of Qasim, Fakrhiya, and Hadeel. He said he knew they were dead because there was "blood scattered on the wall & part of the father's cranium was missing." Accordingly, Spielman walked out of that room and witnessed the rape of Abeer.

Jess: When did you first learn of the Green case?

Evan Bright: Not too sure on this one. I want to say back around the end of December.

Dona: You write for your school's newspaper and are also reporting on the trial. Is this the start of your journalism career?

Evan Bright: Journalism and photography is a hobby, not a passion. At this juncture I can't see myself waking up everyday to do this kind of thing...I've been told my entire life "do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life," and because of that, I refuse to ever have wake up and say "aghhhhh gotta go to work again." I could see this working as a backup plan I suppose. I know that isn't what "the world" want's to hear but...oh well.

Jim: Have you had media inquiries? Would you do radio or TV interviews or reports on the trial if asked?

Evan Bright: A few. posts my blogs....MANY more people are reading my blog than I thought would. The defense lawyers joke with me about what I write in them. I'd be glad to do interviews if asked.

Dona: What interests you about journalism the most?

Evan Bright: The simple fact that journalism is how the world reads the news and with that, how terrifyingly easy the public can be swayed or made to believe what they see. Too often do people take what they see on the news as fact without doing their own research.

He testified to seeing Green unbuttoning his pants and getting down between Abeer's legs and raping her, after which he took a pillow and put it over Abeer's head and fired an AK47 into the pillow, killing her. At this, the defendant was spotted looking down. He then watched Barker pour a liquid onto her body. While her body was burning, he added clothes and blankets to fuel the flames, "to destroy evidence," he said. He continued, describing Cortez & Barker washing their chests and genitalia back at TCP2, and how he himself threw the AK47 into the canal. When asked why he didn't turn his squad members in, he "didn't feel right, telling on people [he] served with."

Dona: In your down time, which journalists do you enjoy reading? Any thoughts on the state of journalism in 2009?

Evan Bright: Matt Taibbi, Anna Quindlen, Joshua Kors. [written] Journalism as we know it is on it's way out. Until we find a new venue or new way to do what we've been doing, we'll continue to see more and more newspapers close down and more and more people get their news from the internet and things like Twitter.


Jess: It's the weekend. During the week, you've been covering the trial. Someone hangs out with you this weekend, what are they going to find you doing?

Evan Bright: I've had one hell of a week actually. I'm at the courthouse from 8 until 5pm, then I was at my highschool's play from 6 until 11pm running the lighting for that, then running home at 1130 and staying up til 1AM finishing the blog for the day....even though the blogs would say otherwise ;). Then I would wake up at 630 or 7, rinse wash and repeat" as the say. On this particular weekend? Doing the lights for the play, taking candid pictures at derby parties for a little $. Other than that, you might find me hanging out with friends, mixing something on my turntables, playing guitar [. . .]

Jess: You mention 35,000 tracks downloaded -- tracks right? -- so you must have some pretty strong music tastes. If you had to pick an all time favorite -- even three -- what would you list? And, second question, if you had the power to turn the world on to someone who really hasn't received the recognition he or she deserves, who would you send them off to download?

Evan Bright: My Morning Jacket, Radiohead, and The Notorious B.I.G. As for someone unknown-ish who needs recognition, J Dilla, Animal Collective, Q-Tip, and N.E.R.D. [. . .] Radiohead is one of my favorite artists. I agree with how they released their album In Rainbows.

Ty: In listing your articles for the school paper, you mention one regarding a seven a.m. start time for school. Did I understand you right? Is that a new policy and if school starts at seven, what time does it end?

Evan Bright: 5-School starts at 7:28 and ends at 2:20. It's always been that way for as long as I can remember, even 10 years ago.

Dona: You wrote that article about the seven a.m. start time, you said what you wanted to say, but apparently nothing changed which you probably suspected would be the case. Do you see that as one of the biggest limitations of journalism?

Evan Bright: Yep. I don't want to say that it's hard to initiate or engage people in change in America (not to sound like Obama), but really, too often it is. People would rather experience minor discomfort with option A, than exert a little effort and change it to option B so that they can do without the discomfort. Writing hardly ever inspires people to sprint out the door to go...petition to have school starting times changed, or whatever issue is at hand.
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