In the NYTimes last weekend, Frank Rich vented frustrated over how the press and public had lost interest in the prisoner abuse scandal. (“On Television, Torture Takes a Holiday'”– link.) What set him off, I believe, was the fact that the Prince Harry story got so many people up in arms, while the Charles Graner trial and conviction passed virtually unnoticed.
Rich was offering no apologies for the sadistic bad boy at the center of the Abu Ghraib debacle. Rich’s complaint, however, was that despite the best intentions of the defense team to implicate the policy Graner was carrying out, and draw attention to the higher ups who set Graner in motion, the effort fell on deaf ears.
Beyond bemoaning the issue, I commend Rich for considering why the story disappeared — even if he offered too many ideas for any one to really stick. One theory (which particularly involves interests here at the BAG) is that the trial didn’t play because there weren’t enough good pictures. As Rich writes:
There were no cameras at Specialist Graner’s trial itself. What happened in the courtroom would thus have to be explained with words – possibly more than a few sentences of words – and that doesn’t cut it on commercial television. It takes a televised judicial circus in the grand O. J. Simpson tradition or a huge crew of supporting players eager (or available) for their 15 minutes of TV fame to create a mediathon.
Looking into this theory, I went hunting around for images of the trial. What I mostly found were mundane shots of Graner and his legal team entering and leaving the courtroom. Beyond that, what was mostly available were court room drawings.
This first rendering is from the AP:
The next three drawings are respectively: the trial counsel (Capt. John McCabe); the Judge (Col. James Pohl), and Graner. (These images were generated by the Multinational Force.)
Not too sexy, huh? (Given the exposure these images received, perhaps we really are as conditioned as Rich asserts.)
However, Rich offered another (visually-oriented) theory why the abuse scandal had fallen off the radar. He suggested that the abuse pictures conjured the image of defeat, and that American’s don’t want to confront the possibility these images could form the predominant impression of the war in the minds of the Iraqis.
What I thought Rich would mention, but didn’t, was “the other abuse story” that failed to circulate (at least, in the U.S.) last week. In contrast to the Graner trial, this story seemed to fit Rich’s point even better (if not too well). The story I’m referring to was the disclosure in England of their own prisoner abuse scandal. (“British Leaders Seek to Contain Damage From Iraq Abuse Photos” — link.) In an instance of history repeating itself, it appeared that British soldiers had abused Iraqi prisoners near Basra in May 2003, and had also been “digitally apprehended.”
Although Rich is matter-of-fact about people wanting nothing to do with the abuse scandal, I just find it hard to believe. On the other hand, I was going through news photos all week, and I never came upon these English snapshots. On top of that, after reading Rich’s piece, a vague recollection came to me. It seemed that I actually might have seen one of these image in a newspaper that week. As much as I tried, though, I couldn’t remember which or when.
But then, I may have intended not to remember it.
(image 1: AP via chinadaily.com; image 2,3 &4: Multi-National Corps-Iraq – link; image 5: AP Photo/British Court Martial)