Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 1, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

ABU GHRAIB REACTION....I mentioned yesterday that the story about American abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad is getting considerably more attention in the Arab world than it is here.

This picture tells the story. As MSNBC reports, "Egypts Akhbar el-Yom newspaper splashed photographs of the U.S. soldiers posing by naked, hooded inmates on page one with the banner headline 'The Scandal.' Al-Wafd, an opposition paper, displayed similar photos beneath the headline, 'The Shame!'" The BBC rounds up similar treatment throughout the Arab world. Meanwhile, only a handful of U.S. newspapers gave the story significant play.

Reuters reports that at least one historian thinks that's exactly as it should be:

This shows U.S. newspaper editors understand what kind of war coverage interests American readers, according to David D. Perlmutter, a historian of war and media at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

"The torture pictures are absolutely irrelevant," Perlmutter said in a telephone interview. "Americans care about American soldiers, and only journalistic and political and academic elites fret about pictures of collateral damage....If you start talking to the public, you'll find people sympathizing with the soldiers," he said.

Is he right? The soldiers' relatives seem to think so:

The Baltimore Sun's Friday editions identified two other soldiers facing court-martial. The newspaper cited unidentified Army officials in naming Sgt. Javal S. Davis, 26. His wife, who also spoke to the newspaper, defended her husband.

"We really don't know how those prisoners are behaving," said Zeenithia Davis, who is in the Navy in Mississippi. "There's a line between heinous war crimes and maintaining discipline."

A Sun reporter on Thursday showed a photo of one of the nude prisoner scenes to Terrie England, who recognized her daughter, reservist Lynndie R. England, 21, standing in the foreground with her boyfriend.

The alleged abuses of prisoners were "stupid, kid things pranks," Terrie England said. "And what the (Iraqis) do to our men and women are just? The rules of the Geneva Convention, does that apply to everybody or just us?"

Remember this the next time someone wonders aloud why Arabs all hate us so "irrationally." We play down incidents like this as "aberrations," merely a few soldiers out of thousands, and run the story on page 27. They see it splashed across the front page and think of it as yet another case of American hypocrisy. It's going to be awfully hard now to convince them they're wrong.

Kevin Drum 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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