Sorry for the lack of blog postings lately. Last week was supremely busy with news, and this week is supremely busy with preparing to leave. I leave in a week, and there’s still much to do. So blogging will likely be sporadic until I get on the ground later in May.
But some things can’t wait. Several readers have pointed out the entire Taguba report is available online, finally. One of my readers, who will remain anonymous but who was an MP in Iraq until recently, feels that Hersh is sensationalizing. My reader’s point is that the report says the leadership was inept. Hersh says the abuses were systemic. At the reader’s suggestion, I’ll let you guys decide after you’ve had a chance to read the report and compare it to Sy’s piece.
Secondly, I received some pornographic pictures from Milan Sulc, asking me to publicize them and put pressure on the White House and No. 10 Downing Street. The pictures purportedly show American soldiers raping two Iraqi women.
Let me be clear: I think this set of pictures is fake. They were staged for a porn site. Why do I believe this? I saw these pictures several months ago after someone else sent them to me. I did a Google search and found the site where they were hosted. They were advertised as stills from some movie, the title of which I don’t remember — nor do I care to.
These pictures are getting wide play in the Arab world. And this is the damage that those assholes at Abu Ghraib have done. There’s a real tendency in the Muslim world to believe anything evil of America. Admittedly, it’s hard to blame them sometimes. But these pictures of soldiers — the uniforms don’t even look American or British, for goodness’ sake — are fakes and should not enter into the debate. (For one thing, they’re jungle cammies, which aren’t used in Iraq and one guy is wearing a bondage mask, which isn’t standard issue.) The real story out of Abu Ghraib is bad enough, considering that possibly 25 prisoners have died while in American custody.
I use Milan’s name because he has put himself forward to publicize these issues. I’d also like to quote his response to me, as I think it demonstrates the tendency of people to simply believe what they want to believe, as long as it reinforces what they already hold in their heads. (My original responses, which he quote, are in bold)
Thanks for taking the time to respond. My first reaction was “well, he’s got to know”…
However, upon second thoughts, a few questions occured to me:
a) They’re from a porn site, which I’ve seen months ago. This in itself is no proof of them being fakes, is it? There have been articles about the army “investigating” reports of rapes in Iraq and Kuwait – of women GIs by their male colleagues. There are also articles about “investigations” that several Iraqi prisoners died under torture while in US or UK custody. There are reports that several Iraqi women claim to have been raped in Abu Gharib. All of thelse claims have been made months ago (the first investigation of an Iraqi being beaten to death by UK soldiers started over 6 months ago). There are also reports that hundreds of other pictures of Iraqi prisoner abuse exist and that soldiers trade them. Is it therefore inconceivable that someone could post videos of a real rape on a porn site? The guys faces, after all, are all disguised and cannot be identified (at least in the photos I’ve seen).
b) Those aren’t American or British uniforms, either. Over the past two years there have been numerous articles that US has been outsourcing torture of prisoners to others – with US personnel sometime being present, although allegedly not participating in the torture itself. In the last few days it finally became known that the army is also outsourcing interrogations to “civilian” sub-contractors. Presumably, at least some of them might chose to ware fatigues, no?
c) Is the authenticity of these specific pictures really not beside the point? There is a lot of arguing going on now that the pictures or an Iraqi prisoner being urinated on, that were printed in Daily Mirror last week, might actually have been staged. Well, maybe yes and maybe not. But what is certain is that several Iraqi prisoners were beaten to death by UK soldiers while in their custody. Is it really less of crime that their deaths were not taped or photographed?
Millan is looking for reasons to believe, but the last point, c), is what really stunned me. _Is the authenticity not beside the point?_ No, the authenticity _is_ the point. No serious person doubts the authenticity of the photos out of Abu Ghraib, which makes them so powerful. But to say it doesn’t matter whether these alleged rape photos are real or not, when the likely outcome is more attacks against American troops that will kill a number of them, is just irresponsible. Milan has no evidence that these pictures are real, and neither does IslamOnline.net or the other sites that are showing the photos. Oh, they all say the photos aren’t verified — “yet,” they add with portent — but responsible journalism is to verify first and publish later.
This is what has been getting under my skin about a lot of the anti-war journalism going on out there. I was on Larry Bensky’s “Sunday Salon” on KPFA in Berkeley this past Sunday and he kept asking me why the mainstream media didn’t have the Abu Ghraib story months ago, when “we knew” this was going on.
We did? I’d heard rumors. Other Web sites run by reputable journalists had heard rumors. Riverbend mentioned it, but no one had confirmation, until Sy Hersh and CBS came along and provided it. Hell, U.S. troops told me horrific stories of abuse to POWs during the war last year, but only off the record and I was unable to confirm any of them.
Aftrer I was quickly cut off when I didn’t confirm Larry’s ideas about Iraq (“What do you expect to find when you go to Fallujah?” he asked me. “A bunch of angry Iraqis?” I ventured, which apparently was not enough of an indictment of U.S. troops for his tastes) he brought on Aaron Glantz who had been in Fallujah recently, Aaron called in on a scratchy satellite phone and it sounded very dramatic. He offered the report that the Marines had killed hundreds of civilians. I couldn’t ask him since I think they had cut off my mic, but I wanted to ask, “How do you know they were civilians? Were the insurgents wearing uniforms?”
I know a lot of people have read Jo Wilding’s accountings of Fallujah and it sounds pretty grim there. I have _no doubt_ that a lot of civilians were killed, but my point to Aaron, if I could have made it, would have been, how do you know whether someone was a civilian or insurgent? Were the civilians who did die caught in the crossfire or were they targeted? Was the ambulances carrying weapons or were they on a legitimate mission? And how are the Marines supposed to tell the difference? I don’t know the answers to these questions, and I’ll bet Aaron doesn’t either. Simply taking Iraqis’ word for it isn’t good enough, especially if you don’t get the Marines’ comments. Gossip and conspiracy are the primary means of information exchange in Iraq, not fact-based journalism.
And this seems to have taken hold in anti-war journalism as well. I have no doubt there are horrible things going on, and that U.S. soldiers are doing some of them. But I’m unwilling to report on them unless I can get some confirmation. And when it comes to showing photos of Iraqi women allegedly being raped, I’m damn well not going to print something without it being rock solid. To do otherwise is to invite attacks on troops, the brutalizing of American captives — including journalists — and nasty reprisals by the Americans leading to more Iraqi deaths. I want as few people dead as possible.
I’m going back, to find some shards of truth — or at least as near as I can. Yeah, I think Iraq is a disaster and Bush’s policies have directly led to that. I was — and am — opposed to the war, but that stance seems pretty much irrelevant now since the U.S. is in deep and the military seems to be fighting to postpone defeat rather than fighting to win. The argument as to whether the U.S. should have invaded is a pointless one now, to a degree. Everyone involved in this mess, including Arab journalists, needs to write as accurately as possible because “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth ever gets its boots on.” That’s what’s happened with the alleged rape photos and people will die because of them. Milan and other sites printing them when they admit they are not confirmed should be ashamed of themselves.