Abu Ghraib scandal directly to George W. Bush, even as Barack Obama remains studiously — dare I say calculatingly — detached from something far more serious

Military Scandal, Media Blackout

By —— Bio and Archives--November 14, 2011

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Let me preface the facts of this column with two disclosures: first, I have a deep and abiding respect for the United States military. With rare exception these people are and have been some of the finest Americans who have ever lived. Currently, they are asked to put their lives on the line even as they are constrained by absurdities such as the Rules of Engagement, pipe dream counter-insurgency tactics known as “winning hearts and minds,” and the political machinations of an administration more than willing to use them as pawns in a bid for re-election.

Second, I have equal amounts of contempt for a mainstream media, which is neither mainstream, nor remotely interested in reporting the truth, if it interferes with their agenda.

Here are the facts: on November 10th, a United States military court convicted Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, 26, for his participation in a “kill team” which deliberately targeted and subsequently murdered three Afghan civilians. Three co-defendants had previously pleaded guilty, and two testified against him.

One was Specialist Adam Winfield, who had alerted his parents after the first murder, telling them more were planned. Winfield’s father reportedly alerted authorities, but nothing came of it. Winfield pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the third killing after testifying at a previous hearing that he thought Gibbs would kill him if he did not take part on the atrocity. Windfield received a reduced sentence. The second man was Spc, Jeremy Morlock, who is currently serving 24 years for his part in the crime. He testified that Gibbs killed two of his victims with grenades and planted an AK-47 near a third victim in order to make it seem like the victim had been armed.

Gibbs kept fingers of his victims as trophies, claiming that he was “disassociated” during combat, further maintaining that the idea was “like keeping the antlers off a deer you’d shoot.” The soldiers posed for pictures of themselves with their victims, all of whom were killed during routine patrols of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province in 2010.

Ironically, the murders were discovered as an incidental part of a wider investigation into the 5th Stryker Brigade, deemed “out of control” by the prosecutor, for taking part in smoking hash, photographing the remains of dead Afghans and beating the soldier who reported the drug use. A total of 12 soldiers were charged in the case, including five for the murders, and seven others for less serious but related offenses. All but two have been convicted, with most of the perpetrators agreeing to deals obtained through plea bargaining.

In the Gibbs case, a five-man jury deliberated for four hours and convicted him of three counts of premeditated murder and 12 other convictions associated with the crimes. He faces life in prison, but could be paroled in as little as nine years.

Those are the facts — and I’d bet my life if I asked a hundred Americans about any of it, 99 of them wouldn’t know what the heck I was talking about. On the other hand, I’d make the same wager that if you asked a hundred Americans if they’d ever heard of something called the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, most of them would know what I’m talking about.

In fact, unless you were living under a rock at the time, you almost couldn’t help but know about it, considering the media feeding frenzy which accompanied it. Abu Ghraib happened in 2004. If you type the words “Abu Ghraib” into your Google search engine you’ll see stories as late at 2009 on the first page of results, including two Wikipedia entries noting the history of the scandal.

Now type in “Afghan kill team.” Note anything peculiar? With the exception of the Christian Science Monitor in the fifth slot, not one other major American media outlet is listed as having reported the story. And with all due respect to the CSM, one could make a reasonable argument that they are exactly in the same weight class as the NY Times, Washington Post or CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox. Apparently you need to “cross the pond” to get the dope from the British and other press outlets on an American scandal. A major American scandal.


Because a military scandal which occurred on the watch of the current president, as opposed to the previous president, doesn’t accrue to the interests of the current president, or a media bound and determined to see him re-elected. It doesn’t accrue to the interests of the more than a few journalists who did their best to link the Abu Ghraib scandal directly to George W. Bush, even as Barack Obama remains studiously — dare I say calculatingly — detached from something far more serious.

But don’t take my word for it. Pop the words “Bush responsible for Abu Ghraib” into Google, followed by “Obama responsible for Afghan kill team” and see what you think of the difference in coverage — and the tone of that coverage.

I opened this column by noting my admiration for the military, and if you think it gives me any pleasure to report a story like this, let me assure you, it doesn’t. But someone has to, and real indictment here is that you’re getting news of this from an opinion columnist. Those tasked with reporting news don’t appear to be up to the job, or the level of “let the chips fall where they may” integrity that’s supposed to accompany it — which is why I also noted my contempt for the media in the opening paragraph as well.

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Arnold Ahlert -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Arnold Ahlert was an op-ed columist with the NY Post for eight years.

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