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Irresponsible Photo-Editorializing from the AP

Fifty-two percent of Americans now believe that torture is at least sometimes justified to obtain intelligence from terrorist suspects, according to a new AP poll, representing a 14-point jump from 2005.  This statistic is striking because it underscores Vice President Cheney’s triumph over President Obama in the latest round of national security debates, and it also shows majority support for the loaded term “torture.”  If the poll asked a similar question, replacing “torture” with “enhanced interrogation methods” or “harsh techniques” (which would more accurately characterize previous American tactics), an even larger majority would undoubtedly indicate its support.

The trouble with the Associated Press article linked above isn’t the content of the story, as far as I can tell.  It’s the accompanying photograph:

This infamous photo depicts Sgt. Charles Graner, one of the most disgraceful actors in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, posing ghoulishly over a dead Iraqi.  In 2005, he was court-martialed and sentenced to ten years in prison for his conduct.  It has absolutely nothing to do with Guantanamo Bay prison or the controversial EITs employed by the CIA–the actual subjects of the AP poll.

So what, exactly, is the AP trying to insinuate here?  Their own survey’s main finding (much to their chagrin, to be sure) is that despite persistent demagoguery from the president and the media, Americans still recognize that protecting the homeland isn’t always a simple, sanitized process.  So they decided to dredge up an old photograph–representing the very worst of the military’s few bad apples–and attached it to this story. 

The not-so-subtle message: Most Americans give a (tentative) thumbs-up to EITs (in select cases, to help save innocent lives).  This public sentiment is unacceptable and callous, and must be reversed.  The best way to do so is to muddy the water with a damaging photo of one sadistic soldier giving the thumbs-up to a corpse.

In other words, this photo is a utterly misleading, and journalistically indefensible, non-sequitur.  Its prominent placement within this news story amounts to the continuation of what Cheney described as a “sometimes willful attempt to conflate what happened at Abu Ghraib prison with the top secret program of enhanced interrogations.” 

The photo should be pulled.

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