Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
March 15, 2015

Looking For Holes in the Marathon Bomber's Story

Almost two whole years have passed since bombs blew up at the Boston Marathon finish line. This week during the trial of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev–the younger brother who made it out alive–federal prosecuters are laying out their evidence, part of which includes three FBI photographs of the inside of the boat Dzhokhar used for a hideout during the manhunt.

Stowed away under a tarp, Dzhokhar used a pencil to scrawl out on fiberglass panels a long-form note to whomever it may concern. Prosecuters are using these photographs of the note as proof of Dzhokhar’s motive for helping carry out the attacks. Sure, a smattering of security camera images linking Tsarnaev brothers to the crime scene might be plenty to sway the jury, but considering the high stakes when it comes to terrorism and the law, you can understand why the feds want to make sure there aren’t any holes in their story.

In some ways Dzhokhar’s message is all too familiar, shaped as it is by a warped sense of justice and a delusional quest for reward, heaven, victory, and all the Allahu Akbar. And yet what makes this photograph compelling evidence of extremism isn’t so much the pious handwritten tirade of a young frightened reject, though certainly that’s part of it. On its face, since the photograph mixes and matches signs of firepower with the martyr’s defiance, the end result works as prophetic writing on the wall for both sides of the story. Call it a monument to two incommensurable visions of extreme justice, where death is a penalty for one and a reward for the other.

— Philip Perdue

(photo: AP Photo/U.S. Attorney’s Office. caption: This undated forensics photograph made by the FBI, provided by the U.S. Attorney’s office and presented as evidence during the federal death penalty trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Tuesday, March 10, 2015, in Boston, shows handwriting on the bullet-riddled, blood-stained wall of a boat. The prosecution presented the photo as evidence of the handwritten note found inside the boat where Tsarnaev was captured April 19, 2013 in Watertown, Mass., four days after the bombings.)

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