Not a Lie, Not the Truth

One of the tactics the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld Damage Control Team (BCRDCT) is using to try to contain Torturegate is to show the world how utterly forthcoming they are — have always been — about the issue of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib facility. Rumsfeld testified, backed up by an official Pentagon timeline, that in January “the Central Command public affairs people went out and told theworld. They told everyone in the world that there were allegations of abuse and they were being investigated.” That statement set everyone running to Web and news archives to find the January release. Saturday, the LosAngeles Times reprinted the information the military actually put out on January 16, 2004:

“An investigation has been initiated into reported incidents of detainee abuse at a Coalition Forces detention facility. The release of specific information concerning the incidents could hinder the investigation, which is in its early stages. The investigation will be conducted in a thorough and professional manner. The Coalition is committed to treating all persons under its control with dignity, respect and humanity. Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the Commanding General, has reiterated this requirement to all members of CJTF-7.”

The Times’s story notes that the release — what you might call understated, given the fact someone had just presented officers with a pile of hot photographs of prisoners being abused by soldiers — was one of three released that day (the other two focused on U.S. military activities). BCRDCT did some Nexis homework before Rumsfeld hit the Hill on Friday, because one of the points mentioned to show how the authorities have done their best to bring this whole situation to light was that the media picked up on the story in January. And in fact, a Nexis search shows that the bare facts of the press release did make it into dozens of news outlets the day after the military put it out, almost always as one item in an extended digest of other developments. The Associated Press, NewYork Times and others talked to the Pentagon about the release, and came away with statements saying that the abuse allegations were”serious” and “credible.” The story got wide, but not deep, play in Canada. Two days after the release, London’s Sunday Times ran a longerstory on detainee abuse, highlighting the case of a man who had fallen into the hands of U.S. forces, then was imprisoned and beaten.

But for the most part — with notable exceptions, such as a March 3 Salon story that detailed abuses at Abu Ghraib — the story stopped for most of the media. Bottom line for now: the damage-control folks downplayed the events in January and got away with it; it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that most of the media never looked hard enough at what was there.

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