Torture and abuse by American military personnel at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, as it turns out, is old news. CNN in January had quoted a Pentagon official's report that "soldiers reportedly posed for photographs with partially unclothed Iraqi prisoners." Two months later, the network reported that charges had been filed.

So why didn't the news hit public attention until late April? "There were no horrifying pictures of the kind revealed by 60 Minutes II" and other news outlets, explains The Washington Post press critic Howard Kurtz.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made the same observation in his testimony before the Senate. "The words that there were abuses, that it was cruel, that it was inhumane, all of which is true … you read that and it's one thing. You see the photographs, and you get a sense of it, and you cannot help but be outraged."

In the case of Abu Ghraib, photographs didn't just make the story—they were the story. The mistreatment was reportedly not orchestrated for interrogation but for the guards' entertainment. Photographing the abuse was integral to the abuse itself.

Christian leaders and others have noted the pornographic nature of the images, and the role pornography has played in training Americans for precisely this behavior. When kids raised on porn "become MPs in a prison in Iraq, they don't pull out the fingernails or set off loud radios to harass prisoners," said Prison Fellowship's Charles Colson. "Instead they strip them and make them pose in pretend sex acts—just like pornography. And then they film it— incredible."

Others argued that the abuse photos were themselves pornography unfit for news publications, but the consensus seems to be that they shine light on important truths. ...

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