The same media hacks that brought us countless images of Spc. Lynndie England doing her best John Dillinger imitation with an Iraqi prisoner while covering the Abu Ghraib scandal have suddenly gone mute on the release last week by US military officials of a graphic al-Qaeda torture manual that provides illustrations and instructions on how to use hammers, blow torches and meat cleavers to extract information from their victims in Iraq. This deliberate silence has been occurring as US forces are scouring Iraq looking for two US soldiers who presumably are being subject to the very tortures described in that manual and the body of one of their colleagues was discovered exhibiting signs of that same torture.
The manual was recovered earlier in the month when US soldiers conducted a raid on an al-Qaeda site northeast of Karmah. Freed during the raid were four men and a 13-year old boy -- all of whom showed evident signs of torture. According to the military press release, the five individuals said that they had been beaten with chains, cables and hoses by foreign Arab fighters, presumably waging "defensive jihad" against innocent Iraqis. The illustrated torture manual was recovered on a computer found at the location.
But as Noel Sheppard of Newsbusters noted in a short item last week ("Will Media Report Al-Qaeda Torture Manual with Same Zeal as Abu Ghraib?") and a follow-up post on Friday ("Media Totally Ignore Al-Qaeda Torture Manual"), the media establishment has barely noticed the story even though it features attention-grabbing images even more shocking than the Abu Ghraib abuses. Sheppard asked, "With this in mind, given the media's fascination with what American soldiers were doing at Abu Ghraib, is it safe to assume that the same level of attention will be given to what our enemy is doing? Or, would that be too much like journalism?"
To their credit, CNN made a brief mentioned of the discovery of the torture manual and the release of the Al-Qaeda captives in a May 23rd segment on "The Situation Room". That was followed on Friday by a short article on the Fox News website, which was subsequently noticed by Gary Carney at the USA Today blog. CNN elaborated on the story again over the weekend, reporting that 42 al-Qaeda torture victims had been freed by US troops. But a search of the websites of the three major TV networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- as well as the major daily national newspapers -- the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and the LA Times -- finds not a single mention of the al-Qaeda torture manual.
Notwithstanding the slight coverage of this story by CNN, Fox News and USA Today, virtually every element surrounding this story is an indictment on the increasingly irrelevant Fourth Estate. The public was first made aware of this story and given access to the cartoon images of the torture manual by The Smoking Gun. That report was then linked to by the nemesis of the old media, the Drudge Report, and then picked up by most of the major conservative blogs and publications. But virtually no one would have known the story existed if we had to rely on the media establishment.
This raises an important question: what stories did the American people miss during the decades-long media establishment hegemony and how would our country have responded if it had been fully informed? There may be no way of every knowing.
The media establishment can't claim ignorance about this story. The May 21st military press release that first made this information available was published by the Combined Press Information Center in the Baghdad Green Zone, where virtually all Iraq-based US journalists operate out of. And the issue of the torture manual was raised during a well-attended Pentagon press conference last Thursday with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Peter Pace. Only one question was asked about the subject, however, with no subsequent follow-up (the transcript doesn't indicate which journalist asked the question).
The indictment over the silence on this story doesn't stop just at the US media establishment. As details slowly leaked out last week, the Center for Public Integrity, which promotes itself as "Investigative Journalism in the Public Interest", published an article last week by Michael Bilton of the "International Consortium of Investigative Journalists" entitled, "US Treatment of Detainees Deplored", where he expresses such outrages as the waterboarding of al-Qaeda operations chief, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, and revisiting the Abu Ghraib scandal.
A check of the Amnesty International website directory for Iraq also finds no mention whatsoever of al-Qaeda's torture networks and methods. But a report from last year, "Beyond Abu Ghraib," identifies the primary culprit of torture and abuse in Iraq -- the US armed forces: "As Amnesty International has reported elsewhere, many of the abuses occurring today are committed by armed groups opposed to the US-led Multinational Force (MNF) and the Iraqi government that it underpins."
The foreign press has also joined the conspiracy of silence on the al-Qaeda torture story. Two weeks ago, the BBC published a hand-wringing article, "US detainee mentally tortured", about the horrors described by Majid Khan, an al-Qaeda operative imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay who was planning to conduct terrorist operations inside the US.
And what exactly were the horrible conditions and "mental tortures" that Mr. Khan was subject to? I'll let the Beeb tell you:
Mr Khan complained about how US guards had taken away pictures of his daughter, given him new glasses with the wrong prescription, shaved his beard off, forcibly fed him when he went on hunger strike, and denied him the opportunity for recreation.
This led him to attempt to chew through his artery twice, Mr Khan said.
Later, Mr Khan produced a list of further examples of psychological torture, which included the provision of "cheap, branded, unscented soap", the prison newsletter, noisy fans and half-inflated balls in the recreation room that "hardly bounce".
Unscented soap and half-inflated basketballs. Oh, the humanity! Someone call John Murtha! But gouging out eyeballs, drilling into skulls and blow torches applied directly to human skin by Mr. Khan's al-Qaeda associates have thus far been too unimportant for the BBC to mention.
The events over the past week surrounding this story are indicative of why so many Americans are turning to alternative news outlets for reporting and commentary and why media establishment newsrooms are slashing staff to cut costs. But rather than cover the real important stories, such as the grotesque examples of the craven depravity of our sworn terrorist enemies, the Fourth Estate feels compelled to stick to their ideology and political bias than adjust to the information age -- all while the truly independent and investigative media runs circles around them.
The silence of the lame continues.
By Patrick Poole