Editorial: Time for a little self-restraint in covering Iraqi abuses

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

We were all appalled at the disgusting photos of American servicemen and women treating Iraqi prisoners in ways we would not want our own sons and daughters treated, were they prisoners of war.

The "do unto others" yardstick carries a heavy responsibility -- one which we assumed extended to those in the military and how they should behave.

The immediate repercussion of the release of those photos on CBS' "60 Minutes" was the brutal slaying of an American civilian in Bahgdad -- taped for the media, and shown in all its horror by Arab television networks.

If the actions by guards of the Bahgdad prison weren't enough to further inflame the hatred of Americans by the Arab world, the actions of The Washington Post were.

Editors at The Post, given an opportunity to be the first to publish the next set of photos showing prisoner mistreatment in Iraq, jumped at the opportunity. Photos of physical and sexual abuse were prominently played on page one of The Post last week. Our question: Why?

Hadn't the photos which had been previously released done enough to prove the point that serious errors in judgment were being made inside that prison? Just how much graphic evidence of the abuses is needed by the American public? Does our right to know -- and the freedoms of the press -- dictate that a seemingly never-ending stream of photos depicting American soldiers as sadistic should be published, simply because we have a right to?

If it were the purpose of the editors of The Post to further discredit the war; to further repulse the nation into demanding an end to the war; or to do their part to harm the reelection campaign of George Bush, then we suppose they succeeded in all fronts.

But what of the men and women of the armed forces serving around the world and especially in the Middle East, exposed daily to the danger that they will be captured and put in the prison of a foreign power, subject to the treatment that power deems appropriate, no matter how vile? Isn't it the responsibility of a free press to know when to exercise self-constraint? We think so.

No new information about the causes of the abuse inside Abu Ghurayb prison came forth with the publishing of the second set of photos. The American public has said, by a margin of 7 to 3, that it wishes no further such photos be released. What The Post and other newspapers with its vast resources should be doing with the space taken by such photos is filling it with factual findings of its reporters about how the incidents happened at all, and, ultimately, how high up in the chain of command were these abuses were condoned.


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