Sunday, May 09, 2004

What Real Journalism Looks Like

Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker, continues to do an outstanding job of investigating Abu Ghraib. He's the one person you must read... even if you're suffering from outrage overload, as I increasingly am.

Here's what I didn't want to read today:
The dogs are barking at a man who is partly obscured from the camera’s view by the smiling soldier. Another image shows that the man, an Iraqi prisoner, is naked. His hands are clasped behind his neck and he is leaning against the door to a cell, contorted with terror, as the dogs bark a few feet away. Other photographs show the dogs straining at their leashes and snarling at the prisoner. In another, taken a few minutes later, the Iraqi is lying on the ground, writhing in pain, with a soldier sitting on top of him, knee pressed to his back. Blood is streaming from the inmate’s leg. Another photograph is a closeup of the naked prisoner, from his waist to his ankles, lying on the floor. On his right thigh is what appears to be a bite or a deep scratch. There is another, larger wound on his left leg, covered in blood.
But the Hersh article goes well beyond the recounting of atrocities, as critical as I think those are for Americans to hear. He extends the story to mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, to abusive photographs taken of John Walker Lindh, to Rumsfeld's desperate efforts to suppress "negative thinking" about the war. And there are significant new details about the investigation, including an attempt to explain why Major General Ryder's investigation of detentions in Iraq, conducted just at the time of the worst abuses in Abu Ghraib, reported that nothing was wrong.

And there's this story, which shows what might have happened if the MPs at Abu Ghraib had had competent leadership:
A company captain in a military-police unit in Baghdad told me last week that he was approached by a junior intelligence officer who requested that his M.P.s keep a group of detainees awake around the clock until they began talking. “I said, ‘No, we will not do that,’” the captain said. “The M.I. commander comes to me and says, ‘What is the problem? We’re stressed, and all we are asking you to do is to keep them awake.’ I ask, ‘How? You’ve received training on that, but my soldiers don’t know how to do it. And when you ask an eighteen-year-old kid to keep someone awake, and he doesn’t know how to do it, he’s going to get creative.’” The M.I. officer took the request to the captain’s commander, but, the captain said, “he backed me up.

“It’s all about people. The M.P.s at Abu Ghraib were failed by their commanders—both low-ranking and high,” the captain said. “The system is broken—no doubt about it. But the Army is made up of people, and we’ve got to depend on them to do the right thing.”
Hersh's article is investigative reporting at its most brilliant and wounding. Read it now.