Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The War in Iraq - Prisoner Abuse

The incidents of prisoner abuse in Iraq are a crime and are being treated as such. Those involved are being identified and will be tried, and if found guilty, punished.

This should be the end of the story, but unfortunately, it isn't. The story has received enormous play in the media and is seen as an opportunity for those both inside the country and out who have opposed the war all along. The US holds itself to a higher standard than those we are currently fighting and we should not attempt to whitewash the abuse by comparing it to what they do. By the same token, we should not resort to hyperbole and exaggerated breast-beating. In order to understand the story, and what it means, some context is needed.

Jonah Goldberg provides some of that context here, arguing that it was a bad move for media outlets to publish the pictures of media abuse. Although he's taken some criticism for this view, Mickey Kaus convincingly supports him here.

These abuses were uncovered and were being investigated by the military long before they became headlines. CBS did not "break" the story of the scandal. The U.S. Central command announced that an investigation of prisoner abuses was underway on January 16th, just two days after the investigation was launched and more than three months before Sixty Minutes II carried the story on April 28th. The first serviceman charged just went on trial this week.

I think Goldberg is right. There are plenty of instances of the news media refusing to publish inflammatory photos and video. After 9/11, the networks quickly stopped showing footage of victims at the WTC leaping to their deaths and, quite correctly, we have never seen the footage of WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl's execution, just, as I expect, we will not see the footage of Nick Berg's murder.

One cannot help but suspect that those making the decisions to run the abuse photos were doing so to further their own political aims, namely; to hurt President Bush's re-election chances and to hasten the end of the U.S.'s involvement in Iraq.

While the motivation of the media is subject to speculation, the President's more open opponents clearly think that they can make political hay from this. John Kerry's camp was quick to capitalize on the photos, calling for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation in an e-mail that also asked for contributions.

In my opinion, Secretary Rumsfeld has been an innovative and effective Secretary of Defense. The wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq were, by all possible military standards, brilliantly fought, successful campaigns. Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation would only hurt the war effort, and those calling for it for their own political gain are doing the country a disservice.