Jonah Goldberg

Because it is required to repeat the obvious as if it were catechism during feeding-frenzy moments like this, let me say again: The abuse of Iraqi prisoners depicted in those now world-famous photos is an outrageous scandal and the perpetrators must be punished.

OK, now can I say something else?

CBS should be ashamed for running those photos.

Since the journalistic priesthood insists that context is everything, let's get some context. The investigation into these abuses was long and well-underway before CBS' "60 Minutes II" broke the story. In fact, it was the U.S. military that really broke the story by putting out a press release.

In January, the U.S. Central Command announced, "An investigation has been initiated into reported incidents of detainee abuse at a Coalition Forces detention facility." Other investigations were well-underway by the time CBS ran its story.

Also, journalist Seymour Hersh was preparing an article for the New Yorker on the abuses. "60 Minutes II" knew this because they'd tried to hire him as a consultant.

This is all very relevant, to me at least, because the case for broadcasting those photos to the world would be much, much stronger if the good reasons to do it weren't vastly outweighed by the bad.

The good reasons are obvious. The people have the right to know. The scandal firestorm sharpens the resolve of politicians and the military to investigate and stop the abuse of prisoners. The bad is that uproar from these pictures drowns out all other messages, explanations and journalistic "context."

 Lost is the fact that in America torturers get punished, while in the Arab world they get promotions. Huge percentages of Arabs are illiterate, which means these pictures will tell the whole story, particularly in the hands of the vilely anti-American Arab media. This will harden hearts against us and almost certainly result in lost American and Iraqi lives.

Now before you get all pious with table-thumping sermons about the glories of the First Amendment and the need to publish news without fear and all that, consider a few facts.

In 1994, 10 Belgian peacekeepers were horribly mutilated alive (castrated, their Achilles tendons slashed, etc.) in Rwanda. The full extent of the barbarity wasn't disclosed for a long time for fear of reprisals.

Just a month ago, television news networks agonized about how much they should show of the butchery of Americans in Fallujah. They opted for very, very little.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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