Saturday, May 8, 2004

Abu Ghraib Pt. II -- Media Sensationalism & the Iraqi Response

Besides the nature of the incidents themselves, the media's handling of Abu Ghraib is also deserving of criticism. According to Bill Cork:
Something that struck me as I read the Taguba Report is that while we are just now hearing about this abuse and seeing the pictures (and are rightly shocked at what we are seeing), this is, in a sense, old news.

A timeline will give some perspective (compiled from the Taguba report, the Hersh article, and a couple of other news reports). The offenses occured "between October and December 2003." Then an MP, SPC Joseph M. Darby, saw a CD with pictures--and immediately turned it in to higher authority. On 17 January 2004 LTG Ricardo S. Sanchez suspended Bn. Cdr. LTC (P) Phillabaum and admonished BG Janis Karpinski; two days later he asked CENTCOM for an investigation of "detention and internment operations by the [800th MP] Brigade from 1 November 2003 to present." CENTCOM so ordered on 24 January. Taguba was appointed on 31 January. Taguba was on his way to Baghdad with his team two days later. They conducted interviews and read reports and completed their report by 29 February, and presented it a few days later; the report includes recommendations for administrative punishments and further investigations. Article 32 proceedings were taking place against others involved within a month.

It was only after these proceedings had begun that The New Yorker and "60 Minutes" found out and told the world.

These reporters, in other words, told us this past week about things that had happened six months ago and which the Army had investigated thoroughly and fairly and had begun taking action against those involved.

The situation was tragic. But it was dealt with. It is being dealt with. Apart from the lurid expose by the media. You wouldn't know this from the news reports.

More commentary on Bill Cork's blog Lincoln & Liberty.

Likewise, writing for the NRO, Jonah Goldberg questions the double-standards of CBS' enthusiasm for displaying atrocities commmited by American soldiers, and reluctance in publicizing the crimes of others:

The media decide which images are too disturbing, too sensational, too dangerous all of the time. Ms. Goldberg, for example, spoke for the establishment media when she declared that the Danny Pearl murder-video was "too sickening to broadcast even once."

So the question is, What was gained by releasing these images [of Abu Ghraib] now? CBS could have reported the story without the pictures. They could have still beaten their competition to the punch.

But these pictures are so inflammatory, so offensive to Muslim and American sensibilities, whatever news value they have is far, far outweighed by the damage they are doing. "Context" — the supposed holy grail of responsible journalism — is lost in the hysteria and political grandstanding.

* * *

Jeff Jarvis gives a wrap-up of Iraqi bloggers' reactions on his blog Buzz Machine. I was especially pleased to read this Iraqi blogger report that not all have let the reporting of this incident color their perception of the American mission, and seem to be doing a better job -- more so than some critics -- of distinguishing between the actions of a minority of soldiers and the military as a whole.

Finally, if the reactions of this Iraqi mirror those of others, perhaps there is hope that we can get beyond this, and not let Abu Ghraib have the last word on Iraq-U.S. relations:

. . . The media seems to be always trying to exaggerate things and to describe any violent action from Iraqis (or Arabs) as "resistance" and any violent action from the coalition as "crimes of the occupiers" to make a good story that sells or that serves their masters' objectives. Anyway, this is not the subject I want to talk about today.

I want to tell you that I felt great relief when I saw and heard the highest-ranking officials in the coalition apologize to the Iraqi people for what a small group of their soldiers did and assuring us that there will be serious investigations to expose those who committed the atrocities and to punish them the way they deserve.

What happened was awful, that's true but I feel comfortable with the good intentions of the coalition leaders and people who rejected the crimes against the detainees.

Let me tell you this, under the past regime Iraqis were the victims of worse atrocities (by the hands of Iraqis) everyday but no one could say a word about that, now, nothing can be hidden from the people and no one can get away with his crimes. For the first time, law is starting to govern our country and this will force anyone to think twice before he plans to harm someone or break the law in any way.

The crime was a step backwards but the way it's being dealt with is -- in my opinion -- a step forwards on the way to strengthen the trust between the coalition and the Iraqis.

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