CNN Blames the Photos,
Not the Torture

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr should be given some kind of award for the most outrageously off-target reporting on the newly released photos and videos of U.S. torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. In her numerous appearances during the morning news cycle on CNN after the images were first broadcast on Australia’s SBS television, Starr described what she saw as the “root of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal” as such:

“Let’s start by reminding everybody that under U.S. military law and practice, the only photographs that can be taken are official photographs for documentation purposes about the status of prisoners when they are in military detention. That’s it. Anything else is not acceptable. And of course, that is what the Abu Ghraib prison scandal is all about.”

What? Here I thought the “scandal” was that the U.S. military was systematically abusing prisoners. These new photos, with their documentation of violently inflicted, open wounds, obliterate any notion that what occurred at Abu Ghraib was anything short of torture by all accepted definitions of the term. They reveal some horrifying scenes of naked, humiliated, bloodied prisoners, some with apparent gunshot wounds. In a video broadcast on Australia’s SBS, naked, hooded prisoners were seen being forced to masturbate in front of the camera. But, according to CNN’s Starr, the real transgression was that some soldiers documented the torture in violation of “U.S. military law and practice.” In a report later in the morning, Starr returned to her outrageous characterization of the “scandal,” beginning her report:

“As we look at a couple of the photographs, let’s remind people that why these are so inappropriate. Under U.S. military law and practice and procedure, you simply cannot take photographs – as we’re going to show you some of them right now. You cannot take photographs of people in detention, in humiliating positions, positions that are abusive in any way, shape or form. The only pictures that are ever allowed of people in U.S. military detention would be pictures for documentation purposes. And, clearly, these pictures are not that. That is the whole issue that has been at the root of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, that it was abusive, the practices in which soldiers engaged in.”

“You cannot take photographs of people in detention, in humiliating positions, positions that are abusive in any way, shape or form,” according to Starr. But apparently it’s OK to place them in those humiliating, abusive positions – or at least not worth commenting on in these reports on CNN. Starr continued her report, describing Pentagon reaction to the newly released photos:

“But the Pentagon certainly is not happy that these pictures, these additional pictures, which had not been distributed publicly in the past, Pentagon not happy that they are out. And the reason is, the Pentagon had filed a lawsuit trying to prevent their publication in the United States out of concern, they say, that it would spark violence in the Arab world to see these photographs and it would put U.S. military forces at risk.”

The release of the photographs will spark the violence? No – U.S. torture of prisoners sparks massive outrage, and justifiably so. Moreover, this outrage should not just be confined to the “Arab world” but should be felt everywhere, particularly in the U.S. Besides, Pentagon lawyers have already tried this defense in federal court, and a judge ruled that fear of facing the consequences of your actions is not a legitimate defense.

Starr concluded another report saying the Pentagon is concerned that if the images “appear in the Islamic world … they will incite unrest in the Islamic world, and therefore put U.S. military troops at risk.”

CNN anchor Zain Vergee then shot back, “And they were swiftly put on Arab TV. As you say, they’re out there.”

They were swiftly put on Arab TV. Is there something devious about that? Is “Arab TV” somehow committing some transgression against freedom and democracy by broadcasting these images that were first put out by Australian TV in a country Bush claims as his ally?

All of the images of the torture at Abu Ghraib should be made public, as the Center for Constitutional Rights and ACLU have been fighting for, because they are an accurate representation of what has happened and continues to happen in U.S.-run and -supported gulags around the world.

When and if they are released, Barbara Starr should be reminded that she is supposed to be a CNN reporter at the Pentagon, not a Pentagon spokesperson on CNN.

Author: Jeremy Scahill

Independent journalist Jeremy Scahill is author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is a frequent contributor to The Nation magazine and a correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now! He is currently a Puffin Foundation writing fellow at The Nation Institute.