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White House Urges Correction of Detainee Rape Photo Story

6 years ago
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As I reported Thursday, the White House denied reports in the British press that the Abu Ghraib photos being blocked by the President contained images of rape and sexual abuse.

In a rather unusual move, the White House sent out the following email early on Saturday:
Important Please Read: From White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs

A number of you have asked about or reported on a recent article in the Telegraph that inaccurately described photos which are the subject of an ongoing lawsuit. Both the Department of Defense and the White House have said the article was wrong, and now the individual who was purported to be the source of the article has said it's inaccurate. Given that this false report has been repeated around the world, and given the impact these negative reports have on our troops, I felt it was important for you to see this correction.

- Robert Gibbs

The email contains the link and text of a Salon article featuring Taguba's clarification. Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see how this is helpful. At Thursday's briefing, I asked Gibbs about the propaganda value of such reports, versus the actual photos:

Now, as it turns out, Gibbs was absolutely right. The Times article was misleadingly conflating reports about other detainee photos with the photos the President seeks to block.

What Gibbs, Taguba, and Salon are missing is that they weren't just referring to the 2006 Salon report. The descriptions in the Times piece also closely matched reporting by Seymour Hersh on still more photographs. Hersh also reported on video depicting much worse things than even the Times story described:
"It's not when they saw the photographs," Hersh stresses. "It's when they learned how serious it was. They were told in memos what the photographs showed... They showed other, more sexual abuse than we knew, sodomy of women prisons by American soldiers, a father and his son forced to do acts together. There was more stuff [than] was made public. You didn't need a photograph if you had a verbal description of it.

"It's quite implicit," he added. "They knew very quickly this was bad."
Hersh was speaking about this report on the reception Taguba received from the Bush administration.

What is important to note here is that neither Gibbs nor Taguba is saying that photographs and videos of these atrocities don't exist, but rather that they are not the specific ones the President is trying to block.

This means that the photos that are being blocked are either worse than those described by Taguba and Hersh (difficult to imagine), or not. Either way, this correction seems to highlight the existence of material with a much more harmful propaganda value than the photos being suppressed.

It also promises a long future of stories like this, as more photos and videos become the subjects of FOIA fights. So, which is worse? Putting it all out at once, or extending the shelf life of these stories indefinitely, and leaving the horror of this material to the collective imagination?
Tommy on: Daily Dose:

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