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Defining Torture Down

The ConWeb would much rather be apologists or beat up on John Kerry than report on abuse allegations of Iraqi prisoners by American troops.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 5/6/2004

You'd think conservatives would be bothered by the allegations that American troops have abused and tortured Iraqi prisoners.

A scan of the ConWeb indicates otherwise. When it has done any original reporting on the issue at all, it has tried its best to minimize the allegations or distract attention elsewhere.

NewsMax has been the biggest apologist thus far. The goal of its original reporting has been to downplay the allegations as much as it can. When the allegations first broke, a May 2 story called them "overblown," adding that " For all the hysterical headlines, this allegedly shocking episode sounds more like a college fraternity hazing" and "Pretty weak stuff by the standards of Saddam."

A May 4 story goes on to blame Iraqi guards for some of the worst alleged abuse. A story the next day claims that "at least some" of the "so-called abuse" was "justified" because of previous acts of violence by the prisoners.

And a May 6 story provides NewsMax's own interpretation of the "Taguba Report" that outlined the abuses -- the worst of the allegations, it states, are unverified accounts from inmates and should be ignored though "the media has been covering them as if they were just as credible as those that have been confessed to." The article continues, "Before the press labels any more of our soldiers serving in Iraq guilty until proven innocent, perhaps reporters should make it clear that the most damaging of the prison abuse complaints come from Saddam Hussein's dead-enders, al Qaeda terrorists who have joined their cause and common street criminals -- all of whom have a vested interested in seeing the U.S. fail in Iraq." This from a news organization that treated an unverified e-mail as fact in a news article.

Strangely, a NewsMax board member thinks differently. Arnaud de Borchgrave points out in a May 3 column that "The final straw for U.S. credibility were still pictures of the sadistic indignities inflicted by American military policemen on some of the 7,000 prisoners in Baghdad's central prison." de Borchgrave accepts the apparent truth; why won't NewsMax's employees?

WorldNetDaily started out with running a fairly straightforward report May 2 on the initial allegations. A few days later, however, it's distraction mode: A May 5 article (one of those few-and-far-between bylined articles; this one was by Paul Sperry) claimed that "The senior American commander in Iraq last year ordered interrogators to stop using humiliation techniques on Iraqi detainees without his permission."

This was preceded the day before by a really strange distraction. Here's the lead: "Graphic photos appearing on Arabic websites of U.S. servicemen raping and sexually abusing Iraqi women were actually taken from American and Hungarian pornography sites." On May 5, it proudly proclaimed that the attention WND gave it prompted it to shut down. hasn't found much worthy of original reporting about the allegations thus far -- a May 4 call by an "Islamic advocacy group" for a congressional probe followed by two stories on May 6, about calls for defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign and how Arabs have interpreted President Bush's non-apology for the abuse. Meanwhile, a May 5 commentary by Steven Zak, "an attorney and writer in California," says it's all the Iraqis' fault this is happening: "We're there because Iraqis, collectively, have created a hellhole that threatens the world, not to mention a nightmare for themselves."

These stories on WND and NewsMax, by the way, have mostly been downpage, rarely the lead. So, what has been the lead? Why, John Kerry-bashing, of course. WND, for instance, considered Free Republic posts and some guy's e-mail to WND about whether how true Kerry's story of flying in a fighter jet to be more important than the abuse allegations, playing in it lead position for much of May 5. CNS' May 6 stories got outranked by continued incomplete coverage of that memo by Jamie Gorelick.

Over at the Media Research Center, the same game was being played. A May 5 CyberAlert complained that a CNN reporter compared the abuse allegations to the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam war. But that was the second item in the two-item CyberAlert (though to writer Brent Baker's credit, he did call the allegations "horrific).

The first item? A much longer article alleging that critics of John Kerry didn't get a fair shake from certain media outlets.

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