The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung has an interesting article by Professor Horst Müller of the Hochschule Mittweida that is highly critical of the German press in its handling of the Iraq prison abuse scandal. "How could it happen," Müller writes, "that US forces could torture prisoners for an entire year without one major German newspaper or media outlet reporting about it?" Finding out the answer to this question became a student project at Mittweida.
The students interviewed the editors at the major publications and received familiar answers: "Not enough evidence", "Denials of the US military command", or "Not enough concrete information." Most telling was the response by Spiegel chief editor Stefan Aust :"If only we had gotten the photos..."
Particularly damning, in the view of Prof. Müller, is that human rights organizations such as Amnesty International were reporting eyewitness accounts of prison abuse as early as July 2003.
Amnesty hatte in zwei ausführlichen Reports, die am 23. Juli 2003 und am 18. März 2004 veröffentlicht wurden, auf die Zustände in den Kerkern der Besatzer im Irak deutlich hingewiesen. Sie enthielten Aussagen über Folterungen von Gefangenen durch Elektroschocks, Schlafentzug, Schlägen oder Fesselungen der Geschlechtsteile. Daß solche Praktiken keine Ausnahmefälle waren, bestätigte unter anderem ein früherer US-Marinesoldat im Februar 2004 während der Anhörung zum Tod eines Irakers im Gefangenenlager Camp Whitehorse in der Nähe von Nassiriya. Im Juni 2003 hatte dort ein US-Marinereservist den Häftling Sa‘doun Hattab, einen ehemaligen Offiziellen der Baath-Partei, zu Tode geprügelt.
But the world was not to learn about the scandalous treatment of prisoners until digital photos were leaked to CBS news in April 2004.
Prof. Müller and his students have compiled their findings in a book: Folter frei - Abu Ghraib in den Medien. And more information can be found on the Web site: www.folterfrei.de
As bad as this looks for the German press, it is ten times worse for the press in the US. Many "embedded" reporters witnessed acts of abuse and torture and did not report these since they did not want to risk their position with the coalition units. The sorry performance of the US press in the coverage of the Iraq war (and the run-up to the war) will be written about by media historians for many years.
Meanwhile hundreds of detainees continue to be held in Guantanamo, Those that have been released have spoken about two years of abuse at the hands of the US military. Why doesn't this get more prominent play in the US press? No photographs....