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Covering War’s Victims: A Content Analysis of Iraq & Afghanistan War Photographs

by Andrew Roth, Zoe Huffman, Jeffrey Huling, Kevin Stolle, and Jocelyn Thomas

Sparing use of photographs is central to the management of war news. Consider two cases in point. In May 2004, photographs from Abu Ghraib of US captors abusing Iraqi detainees made torture starkly real to many US citizens. On May 7, 2004, before the Washington Post published a series of the photographs, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate and House Armed Service Committees that the images in question showed “blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman” torture of Iraqis. He worried publicly that, “If these are released to the public, obviously it’s going to make matters worse.” In September 2005, US District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ordered release of additional Abu Ghraib photographs, asserting that “the freedoms we champion are as important to our success in Iraq and Afghanistan as the guns and missiles with which our troops are armed.”

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