Iraq torture images in the news …barely

Now, obviously the reality of Abu Ghraib and the Iraq horrorshow generally is an essential backdrop to the anti-cartoon protests. But isn’t there something pretty sick about the paucity of coverage the release of the new torture photos has received in comparison to the seas of ink spilled over the cartoon controversy? About the fact that the rioters throughout the Muslim world are at least ostensibly reacting to offensive cartoons rather than real torture? And, finally, about the utter hypocrisy of “free speech” in the West—as manifested by the Bush administration’s protests over the photos being printed and broadcast? Big ups to Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service for resisting White House pressure. From The Australian, Feb. 17:

US slams SBS for showing new Abu Ghraib photos

THE Bush administration has criticised SBS’s decision to broadcast new pictures of the US military abusing prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, saying it could further inflame Middle East violence.

But John Bellinger, a legal adviser at the US State Department, acknowledged that the images were further proof of the “reprehensible conduct” of US military personnel at Abu Ghraib.

Initial photos of detainee abuse first aired in 2004, provoking international outrage.

The release of additional images comes at a sensitive time as the Muslim world protests against the cartoon depictions of the prophet Mohammed, first published in Danish newspapers.

“It’s unfortunate, though, that the photographs are continuing to come out because I think it simply fans the flames at a time when sentiments on these issues are raw around the world,” Mr Bellinger said of the images aired on Wednesday night on SBS’s Dateline. “But the photographs show conduct that is absolutely disgusting.”

The photographs, believed to have been obtained in the US by program reporter Olivia Rousset, included shots of a naked prisoner covered in faeces, one placed in a stress position, as well as dead bodies.

Paul Cutler, director of news and current affairs for SBS, defended the decision to run the pictures and the timing of going to air, saying it was important to illustrate the intensity of the abuse at Abu Ghraib.

Mr Cutler said SBS had obtained the images in the last month and said: “Our aim was to turn it around as quickly as possible, so really what was happening elsewhere was, to a large extent, incidental.”

Last October, another Dateline program made headlines around the world after it broadcast footage from Afghanistan, taken by Australian photo journalist Stephen Dupont, of US troops burning the corpses of two Taliban fighters in a bid to taunt Islamic militants.

At a press conference in Washington for foreign media yesterday, Mr Bellinger said the Bush administration’s position was that it was better that the Abu Ghraib photos not be released.

“We felt that it was an invasion of the privacy of the detainees themselves to have these photographs come out and in addition, that it would … cause, potentially, further violence.”

He said “people in our military have done bad things here”, but said those involved had been held to account.

“In the Abu Ghraib incident, 25 individuals were prosecuted and held accountable for what happened. There were more than 2800 interviews done, there were 31 congressional hearings.”

Several pictures appeared to show US soldier Charles Graner, jailed for 10 years for his leading role in the Abu Ghraib abuse and who featured in the earlier batch of photographs.

In another display of rank hypocrisy on the “free speech” issue, The Telegraph runs an outraged opinion piece Feb. 19 protesting the media’s release of the video showing British troops in Basra brutalizing Iraqis:

Editors have no right to imperil our troops
By Nigel Farndale

It has been a good week for press freedom; an even better one for Andy Coulson, the editor of the News of the World. Following his scoop about the British soldiers beating up Iraqi rioters, he has been clearing space on his shelves for the awards that will surely be coming his way.

Other newspapers have been wallowing in his reflected glory. In a paroxysm of self-congratulation, Roy Greenslade of The Daily Telegraph hailed the story as an example of “us – the press – doing our job responsibly. For the good of the people of Britain and Iraq”. Martin Samuel of The Times went further, characterising the British Army as a bunch of cowardly thugs out to “maim and kill”.

With these two heavyweights puffing and blowing as they led the charge, the British squaddies never stood a chance.

But I do wonder whether the decision to run the story was really as noble as Mr Greenslade suggests. An unnamed “whistleblower” approached the News of the World wanting cash for a video.

The editor got out his chequebook and then had to decide whether a few extra sales were worth risking the lives of British soldiers in Iraq. Bravely, he decided they were. He then claimed he was running the story “with regret”, as if he had no choice. Of course he had a choice.

He could have handed the video over to the Ministry of Defence. An investigation would have been conducted. Anyone found guilty of unlawful abuse would have been punished.

Instead, the NoW video has become a propaganda tool for those who wish us ill in Iraq. The al-Jazeera news channel has been showing it around the clock. In Basra there have been demonstrations and protest marches – and the Iraqi Council there is refusing to cooperate with British forces.

And on and on and on it goes in this vein. Nigel closes, several paragraphs later, by invoking the cartoons:

A final thought: the main reason why British newspapers decided not to publish the Danish cartoons seems to have been that they did not want to put their staff in danger. Well, fair enough, but shouldn’t that consideration extend to British soldiers? Andy Coulson doesn’t think so. Shame on him for that.

So where’s all the outrage about the Islamic threat to free speech all of a sudden? When it is a Western ox that’s being gored, note how quickly the language switches from a reckless defense of freedom to an earnest concern with consequences.

See our last post on the torture scandal.