- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 23, 2004

It is difficult to understand what useful journalistic purpose was served by the new photographs of Iraqi prisoner mistreatment published in Friday’s edition of The Washington Post. As The Post itself acknowledged in one of two front-page stories about the pictures, the images do not shed any light on the central question of who directed the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. So The Post, by its own admission, adds no useful information on perhaps the most basic issue in the case. As for the stories that accompany the picture, if true, they would simply reinforce what was already known: There were rotten soldiers at this prison, who deserve to be severely punished and kicked out of the military.

When it comes to the serious problems at Abu Ghraib, two distinct approaches seem to have evolved: the careful, deliberative approach taken by the military, and the sensationalist, voyeuristic approach adopted by The Post and others in the media. Here is a partial list of what the military has done to address the problems: On Jan. 13, the abuses came to the attention of military commanders in Iraq. One day later, the Army’s criminal investigation began. By the end of January, Maj.-Gen. Antonio Taguba began his investigation, one which produced a copiously documented report on the abuses at Abu Ghraib. (Gen. Taguba’s report included the first set of photographs that were leaked to the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh and published several weeks ago.) The Army has been investigating Army Reserve training practices. In March, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt announced that the military had filed criminal charges against six soldiers in the investigation. Today, one soldier has been convicted and imprisoned in connection with Abu Ghraib, and six more are awaiting trial. Others have received letters of reprimand and/or been relieved of their responsibilities.

Weeks before The Post published its photographs, the public was well aware that prisoners at Abu Ghraib were mistreated. So, given the fact that pictures had been published and the legal process against the abusers was already going forward, what did the newspaper hope to achieve by running a new set of graphic, degrading photos of Iraqi prisoners?

Three objectionable possibilities come to mind: 1) to sell newspapers; 2) to damage President Bush politically; or 3) appallingly, to undermine the war effort in Iraq.

Whether the motivation was meretricious, partisan or antiwar, it was meant to excite rather than to elucidate — and thus was journalistic pornography.

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