NOTE: BagNewsNotes is now located at Please update your bookmarks.

You will be automatically redirected in a few seconds...

« The Accessibility Timeline | Main | More Sacrilege: Black Madonna »

Feb 16, 2006

Media Coverage of New Abu Ghraib Images: Been There, Done That?


I'm going to assume you've already seen the fresh images and video from Abu Ghraib.  (If not, check links below).  Because the story is so new, I wanted to focus on how the western media tends to visually edit and delimit controversial content.

As of early this morning, at least, the BBC piece linked to a gallery of 9 images, but primarily features the dog picture.  The NYT story showed a figure carrying a box along with the dog image.  WAPO chose to only show the person with the box.

According to BoingBoing, 60 new still images were released by Australia's public broadcasting network, SBS.  So the question is, why will the American public likely be inundated by only one or two?

Of course, one could state all kinds of reasons.  One explanation is that they are some of the less graphic.  My contention, however, is that they were particularly chosen for their similarity to images we've already seen.  Because they have less novelty, it minimizes their impact.

Take the dog images, for example.  The lower shot was just released, but the top image ("1st set") has been distributed widely from the original images released in May '04.    Cognitively, our knowledge of the first effects our registration of the second.  Given the pre-existing reference, the shot from the second set plays in the mind like an advanced frame from the same sequence.  So strong is this perception that one even tends to discount the fact the "new" victim is wearing a hood and is apparently a different size.


(As regards the figure with the box, it appears to be either a pre- or post image related to the famous electrode photo.)

If the press did select these images (consciously or unconsciously) to temper the reaction, some would argue that this is a good thing.  With civil disturbances still occurring over the Danish cartoons, who needs a fresh set of non-recycled images to fuel the fire?  Also, it's probably true that these images really do pose a threat to American forces, as the milquetoast AP video report (contained in the NYT article above) happens to emphasize. (The report is based on the photos, but the only thing shown is footage of the outside of the prison.)

Conversely, this new material provides a much clearer and more disturbing sense of how sadistic and brutal this renegade program actually was.  If anything good comes out of the leaking of this additional material, one would hope it would be the prosecution of those higher-ups that designed and implemented this abomination.

Original SBS Dateline program here. (Caution: graphic content.)

Boing Boing links to downloads/bit torrents


15 shots from Sydney Morning Herald


(image 1: Cameraworks.  WAPO. May 20, 2004. image 2: February 15, 2006. image 3: AP via The New Yorker.  April 30, 2004. image 4: Wednesday, 15 February 2006.  BBC.)


Different photos of the same events. Except that in the set with the dog, I notice that a portion of the wooden wall has been doctored. A small vertical 2x4 support has been removed, but the knotholes, woodgrains are the same, and the spots on the floor are the same.

What kind of game is being played here?

Asta's right, why doctor these photos in such a crude and obvious way? Is it an attempt to undermine the veracity of the photos themselves?

The vertical support is still there. That picture has fill-flash used, so it is sharper, and less blurred (faster filmspeed). The flash flattened the lighting, but if you look right above the knee, you can see the base of the upright. The second one relies upon harsh greenish room light, and the shadows are much stronger.

I think it is the same person (dirt/dust on knee?), but in the green shot, he might not yet know of the dog. This would actually be scarier if hooded.

I'm going to agree with Michael, that the Press is going to show only what we've already seen, so that the public will go on to fresher fare. There ARE very disturbing images in the batch which we haven't seen before. But since when does the press serve the public?


I beg to differ, Carolly, the wooden structure has been digitally removed. It looks as if they used the smudging tool in PhotoShop, or cloned in the neighborhing section, but it is an amateurish job, at that. I've used PhotoShop way too many years. Not trying to be argumentative, but my experienced eyes tell me this is so.

All of which makes this "new release" more like a psy-ops exercise. I guess "they" think we are really really stupid.

I think the top dog photo has been doctored too; it doesn't make sense that it would be sharp overall but blurry (or "flattened" so completely) in just that one area. Maybe a calmer image of the dog was photoshopped in. Also, it's hard to tell if the soldier is truly looking at his victim. But whether it was doctored or not, the photo originally released is much less viscerally disturbing than the "new" one. Obviously, then, the original photos were edited for our consumption, because most of the new images are worse (I think).

But let's be clear that we're concerning ourselves with the *American* public's reaction to these new images in this thread. No matter how hard the American media tries to edit these new images, the American public *will see all* of the new pics soon enough. Americans now know that we must bypass the MSM to go find the images. And when people see the pic of a fresh-faced female American soldier giving the thumbs-up near the head of a dead, broken-toothed Iraqi in a body bag, or the pic of Graner with his arm cocked to deliver a(nother) punch to a hooded, bound, and limp human body, I don't think they'll digest the images in desensitized fashion.

However, the recent protests over the Danish cartoons will likely give ignorant "racists" the excuse to lump the Abu Ghraib prisoners and the cartoon protesters into a single group in order to voice their hatred toward all Muslims (I'd originally written "all people in the Middle East" instead of "all Muslims," but clearly the bias is against Muslims, even though I'm using the term "racists"; "racist" just fits). In other words, I think we'll be seeing and hearing more of a "they deserved it" reaction than we did two years ago, when the first round of Abu Ghraib photos hit us between the eyes.

Yes, Bag I agree that these photos are similar to those that we have seen. & Since they were released in Australia, one of our closest allies in this mess, they might be trying to assist in softening the public's interest in such photos/videos. There are much worse images being held by the powers that be.

Someday they will be seen, and heard. From what I read the sounds of boys screaming on the videos being held are FAR worse than any images we have seen to date.

I can see the sharp, vertical and horizontal edges of the 2x4 in the first photo, I agree it is an illusion of the lighting and not a photoshop job.

I have a question about the hoods. I have seen photos with 4 or more hoods. How were they made, out of what, by whom? All interesting questions and the answers could give a clearer idea of responsibility.

I don't have cable. I haven't heard about the new photos on NPR and that surprised me.

The new photos are very graphic and upsetting...

The nudity alone is really horrible. Muslim men cover a certain area (at the very least, between the navel and the knees) even in front of other men. They don't wear shorts above the knee; they don't undress in front of each other in locker rooms; they don't use urinals. So the soldiers seem to constantly force them to be naked in front of other people, and the soldiers seem to see this as perfectly normal. It's sickening...

The photos take on a different meaning when you consider that most of the people shown were probably not guilty of anything, some may be guilty but likely had no intelligence value, and those with intel value they ended up killing without gaining any info using the methods shown, aside from false confessions.

(... just a quick note to say I've reordered the pictures in the post to give preference to the "dog images." All else remains the same)

Okay, Carolly and Janet, I've gotta a different spin on this for you. Let's say photo #1 is NOT altered.

Let's say that after Our Fine Soldiers finished "interrogating" this guy, they had to replace the whole lower wall panel after they kicked his head through the plywood. Actually, I feel more comfortable with that explanation. I can live with that one because who wants to think that our government would do any photo "enhancements" or try to deceive us in any way? They're only trying to protect us, right? From the Terra-ists, right?

I see the Light now. We get the truth, every channel, every network, every newspaper, 24/7. We can believe everything we see and read. If it works for you, maybe it will work for me.

Regarding the third picture from the top, (the figure with the box).
What caught attention to my eyes, is the crumpled US flag (?) on the middle right side of the picture. Mostly hidden, crumpled, it reveals the hideous costs to the people of the US! Loss of the face!
How appropriate! Todays news came out with the 54-page report, summarising an investigation by five UN experts, who call on the US government "to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and to refrain from any practice amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."
How much will it be played by the mainstream media is already clear, just like the crumpled flag, it will be hidden from the public eyes or at least buffered to cause the least amount of damage to public ego.

I saw the original report here on SBS in Australia, the first time it was aired. We all knew these photos were coming - it's about bloody time they were shown so people can see what has been done 'in our name'. Freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and all that...

I can't access the feed at work, so I don't know if it's the segment in it's entirety, but if you don't here the soundtracks, you are only getting part of the story. The sound of men screaming in pain and/or fear accompanies some of these videos.

This is sadism.

BTW - watch the third report on the open mosque in Dubai. A fantastic segment. This guy offers the most comprehensive, honest and thoughtful take on the moderate Muslim view of the WOT, bin Laden and Hamas I have heard articulated anywhere in the Western media.

Which is why, no doubt, it will remain confined to a public TV station in a small Western country.

Asta: the vertical support piece in the 1st photo does seem to lack the detail it has in the 2nd photo. It just doesn't look significantly altered to me. It really just looks like fill flash. The shadows in the first picture are even lighter than the shadows in the second picture. If you look at the 1st picture, what jumps out at me are some small discolored squares of wood that seem out of place to me, but I tried matching the colors with other sections and couldn't quite match them. Indeed, perhaps the panel was reconstructed from some other photos, but none of my Photoshop tinkering has given me any conclusive evidence of such. I noticed a few strange discolored squares in the first picture that are obscured by bodies in the second picture, but I'm not sure if those are normal features of wooden panels. As far as I can tell, there's no funny-business here.

Bag: I think you are right... they are playing up the re-hash vibe to keep this story 2nd page. Hey, but maybe it's because these images are so painful to look at. I saw the links for this story for a week and I still have not gone to see. I don't need to. I'm still shook up from last time. The icons kept me up at night. I used them in my paintings, tried to understand what I should do and felt helpless. Do you guys think many other americans had similar reactions?

I know a few people said "they deserve it" but, what did most americans feel? Shame? Anger for have been made to feel shame?

I think headlining with this story would be bad for the sale of papers.

I don't think it's political as much as psychological.

VictorF who thinks writing blogs about the minute details of getting out of bed is important, and to the rest of the blind world, please, open your eyes.

Good Night, and Good Luck.

I think mugtea might be right about more and worse photos/videos. Seymour Hersch has commented there are photos of boys being raped in front of their mothers and such atrocities. Don't know anybody who wouldn't be upset at that kind of thing. Well, except maybe......

As for forcing them to be naked, as most of the Australian photos show, it betrays a very homoerotic attitude, about its pervasiveness.

lytom's point about the flag stuffed in the closet, isn't that a perfect metaphor for what is going on? Everything that flag means to most Americans is being violated at Gitmo, including the very flag. It reflects on the current leaders that they insist on an amendment to the constitution to protect the flag, but when no one is looking they defile it by their very actions more than any 'flag burner' ever did.

futurebird: I think the effect of the photos on the public, the consumers of news, would be psychological. Some will be shocked and sickened, I'm sure. But the way the photos are released, when, how many, etc., is the political side. How much will the MSM protect the administration in the way they release, or don't release, them.

I can't believe some people are trying to claim it has been photoshopped when the administration have already said they are legit. It is a good point that they are showing similar ones to water it down. Some of the new pictures are disgraceful, tbh I can't see how the seniors didn't know this was going on.

It seems like the reaction of some people is just anger that these were leaked, and resentment at Arab media for showing them - you know, free press and all that - although I don't think they showed a lot of them. There was a headline at that said something like: "Anger over the release of photos, not over the torture".

I also think the same as Hobbes - that there's no way the senior officers couldn't have known this was going on.

Bopped over to and he has the full Austrialian video up for show. Watered down in the media is correct. There is a heck of a lot that wasn't shown (note: video nsfw).

Besides showing convoluted and creative sexual humiliations and serious threats from attack dogs, the new images also show blood. Quite a lot of it. I don't remember the original images being bloody at all (and still they were disgusting). One of the new images of a blood-spattered floor reminded me of Michael's Veteran's Day post on HuffPo of the graphic NYT photo of the aftermath of a suicide bomber in a Baghdad restaurant:

The "free" American press will happily show us suicide bomber-spilled blood, but not Abu Ghraib blood. Since blood is life, if it's smeared on prison walls and all over the floor, it means *we* are the bad guys. And Americans are *never* the bad guys.

Free press. Give me a fucking break. Go look at the photos.

"Anger over the release of photos, not over the torture".

I can't say I understand how this works.

"Anger over the release of photos, not over the torture".

I can't say I understand how this works.

"Anger over the release of photos, not over the torture."

Those of us who are angry at the torture are angry because it IS torture, first, then because it is US doing it. US! The mythical good guys. We have to admit that we are culpable in the torture, we elected these guys. And it does come from the top. Otherwise, why was Cheney so adamant about stopping the ban on torture in the congress? Connect the dots.

Those who are angry at the release of the photos, cannot or will not admit their responsibility in this. They don't want to think Americans can do this so thay don't want to see it. When someone forces them to see it, they don't like it. In other words, they would rather shoot the messenger so they don't have to think about their part in this whole mess. Then they can go shopping at the mall.

futurebird, the article was referring to CNN's Pentagon spokesperson who was reporting the story as, more or less, it's not what the photos depict that's the scandal, it's the fact that these photos were taken - and that's against Army regulations!

You're right, Erin. When I wrote that, I knew I had read the article the day before, but I couldn't find it in the archives yet. Here it is:

CNN Blames the Photos, Not the Torture

that boggles my mind!

To the blogger who asked about the hoods, they are sandbags. Made of plastic woven matting, some come readymade with drawstrings to tighten. As for the leash, court testimony says it was a rifle sling, but also the dog handlers may have had such equipment on hand. Not that Grainer was on good terms with dog handlers. And in fact, this is a key point.

I posit another explaination for the dog-menacing photos being given prominent play: this tactic was NOT part of the late-shift "frat party shenannigans" led by Charles Grainer and company. This was a proven-on-paper ordered and approved at highest levels tactic devised by General Miller who was then sent by Rumsfled himself specifically to GITMO-ize Abu Ghraib as the insurgency gained steam. Any pictures of dogs menacing prisoners are much more damning to the brass than all the ones attributable to the so called "bad apples," since they can be traced back to written ORDERS with signatures on them. Note well that exactly ZERO dog handlers have made to to trial, despite photos of their faces having ben leaked.

My keyboard has been drinking.... sorry for all the mispelled words above. And to make it perfectly clear, while the activities of the few low ranking "bad apples" was somewhat freelance and off the books - there are no orders telling anyone to pile people in human pyramids, etc - the activities where condoned, suggested, rewarded and otherwise approved by Military Intelligence personnel and higher-ups. The "frat boy" comments are meant to be ironic.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

My Other Accounts

Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 07/2003