Salon Editor on Publication of Latest Abu Ghraib Photos

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Steve Inskeep talks with Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of Salon.com, about the online magazine's decision to publish previously unreleased photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Mr. BRYAN WHITMAN (Pentagon spokesman): These are not new images. These are part of the evidence that was used in prosecuting many of these individuals, and in making adjustments to our detention operations.

MONTAGNE: That's Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman downplaying the latest release of photos from Iraq's Abu Ghraib Prison. Today, those images drew condemnation from Iraq's prime minister, who said they showed Iraqi prisoners being tortured.

INSKEEP: While the pictures may not be new to the U.S. military, they are new to the public. Previously unpublished photos appeared on Australian television this week, and now the website Salon.com says it has even more of them. The photos date back to late 2003. One shows a detainee stripped naked, except for a hood and handcuffs. Other detainees are handcuffed to bed frames with women's underwear placed on their heads.

This morning, we've called Joan Walsh, the editor-in-chief of Salon, which published these photos. Welcome to the program.

Ms. JOAN WALSH (Editor-In-Chief, “Salon Magazine”): Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Have to mention that these photos resemble images that are already published. Do they change our understanding of what happened at Abu Ghraib?

Ms. WALSH: Well, you know, I think the sheer number of images, and we went through them all day yesterday, really brings home how pervasive this torture was. And I think, you know, we do have a few images that expand our knowledge of what went on there. I think, you know, arguably, the most disturbing is one of a handcuffed soldier being sodomized with an object. And there are several scenes of sexual humiliation.

So, I think, yes, we've seen, you know, the piles of bodies, and, you know, female soldiers appearing to celebrate in front of them, et cetera. But these additional images really form a pretty searing impression of wanton and cruel abuse.

INSKEEP: Who collected these photos in the first place?

Ms. WALSH: Well, it seems as though the army did itself. And what we have, you know, we have everything that Australian TV had, and then we have a few other things. We have another, you know, several hundred images that it doesn't appear that they had. But then we also have an internal Army report. And it documents, in some cases, we have names, we have a lot of dates, we have, you know, times and even situations where these images came from. So it provides more of context than the kind of random images that we've seen to this point.

INSKEEP: Was it a hard decision to decide to publish what you had obtained?

Ms. WALSH: It was. You know, days of conversation among our editorial managers, more discussion about how to do it than whether to do it. I mean, Steve, these are the images we believe and we, the Center for Constitutional Rights told us they believe they are too, that the ALCU and the center have been fighting for, that a federal district court judge released to them, and the government appealed and got them locked up again. So, you know, these are images that many people, and especially civil libertarians believe, are an important part of the public record on the Abu Ghraib scandal.

INSKEEP: Now, you've not reported who provided you these photos, is that correct?

Ms. WALSH: We have not. We have not provided the name. You know, we feel that the person would be subject to reprisals. We have said, though, that it was a uniformed military person who worked in Abu Ghraib, and who witnessed some of these events.

INSKEEP: Did your source tell you why this person thought it was important that the public see these photographs?

Ms. WALSH: You know, I would be secondhand here. This story was the work of our fabulous investigative reporter Mark Benjamin…

INSKEEP: Okay.

Ms. WALSH: …who's really made a beat out of the concerns of Iraqi veterans. And my understanding is that this person felt that, you know, low-level enlisted folks were taking the blame for this. But, you know, the methodologies and the rationale and the, you know, orders were coming from higher above.

INSKEEP: Joan Walsh, what do you think is still unknown about the Abu Ghraib scandal?

Ms. WALSH: Well, I think it's exactly that. I think it's how high did it go up the chain of command? Whose rationale was it? How much of this was, you know, prescribed in the name of interrogation? One of the documents we have, for instance, shows that a CIA officer was involved in one of the interrogations, which has been reported, but this document proves it. And I think we need to know that the extent of CIA involvement and senior officers, senior Pentagon involvement in these practices.

INSKEEP: Ms. Walsh, thanks very much.

Ms. WALSH: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Joan Walsh is the editor-in-chief of the online magazine “Salon.”

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