Ed Morgan   Letter 08   16-May-2004   A recent war-atrocity story debunked
Daily Mirror believes fraudulent abuse photos

SORRY.. WE WERE HOAXED:  Iraqi PoW abuse pictures handed to us WERE fake
Daily Mirror


Ed Morgan
Chair, Canadian Jewish Congress (Ontario)
Faculty of Law
University of Toronto
84 Queen's Park
Toronto, ON      M5S 2C5

Ed Morgan:

In my 28-Jan-2004 letter to you, Canadian Jewish Congress Fanaticism Infects the University of Toronto, www.ukar.org/morgan/morgan02.html, I demonstrate that fictional war-atrocity stories are widely used to incite hatred in times of conflict, and that the eventual debunking of these stories incites no hatred, but rather removes a cause of hatred.  Then in my 13-Mar-2004 letter to Irwin Cotler, Who's afraid of holocaust denial?, www.ukar.org/cotler/cotler01.html, I further demonstrate that Ukrainian-holocaust (Holodomor) denial should not to be suppressed, even when primitive and irresponsible, but rather welcomed both for offering an exercise in refutation and for possibly providing grains of truth that might assist in making the Holodomor account more accurate.  In that letter to Irwin Cotler, furthermore, is demonstrated that Ken Kalturnyk's Holodomor denial incites no hatred, and is satisfactorily addressed through unofficial channels, with an outlay of no more than a few hours' labor, as contrasted with the option of calling in government intervention to silence Kalturnyk which could drag on for years, and at a cost to all parties totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps millions, much of it to be extracted from the pockets of the beleaguered Canadian taxpayer.

The purpose of the instant letter is to reinforce the above conclusions by means of an analysis of a very recent instance of a fraudulent war-atrocity story that has been debunked.

Specifically, among the examples in my 02-May-2004 letter to the Right Honourable Paul Martin, Comparing American-British with Ukrainian war crimes, www.ukar.org/martin/martin08.html, I offered Daily Mirror text and photographs of what was purported to be a British-conducted eight-hour torture, and probable killing, of an Iraqi teenager.  The story was widely credited, even by veteran journalists working in the region, like Robert Fisk who said "it's not difficult to see how some British scumbag will urinate into the face of a hooded man."  The photographs, however, proved to be fake, and when on 14-May-2004 Mirror editor Piers Morgan continued to defend them, the Mirror owners fired him.  The 15-May-2004 Mirror headline exclaimed "SORRY.. WE WERE HOAXED" with the sub-headline "Iraqi PoW abuse pictures handed to us WERE fake" and the first sentence of the story being "IT is now clear that the photographs the Mirror published of British soldiers abusing an Iraqi prisoner were fakes."  However, similar stories of war crimes committed by the British have been documented, and the Mirror continues to claim that many remain to be discovered: "The Prime Minister, Defence Secretary and Armed Forces Minister have claimed that our photos were hoaxes.  They have been vindicated.  But they have also insisted that there was no abuse which has not been dealt with and that is simply not true" Daily Mirror, 15-May-2004.

Photos Now Known to be Fraudulent With Captions Now Known to be Erroneous

British boot on Iraqi neck

GUN TO HEAD: The terrified suspect cowers as a gun is placed at his head then the rifle barrel was forced into his mouth

BLEEDING: Blood seeps through the mask of battered suspect

BUTT IN GROIN: A rifle is cruelly jabbed in the young man's groin as his eight-hour nightmare goes on

URINATED ON: A British soldier urinates on an Iraqi prisoner in a vile display of abuse. The captive was beaten and hurled from a moving truck.  Army chiefs are investigating.
Uppermost photograph is from Tom Newton Dunn, Shame of abuse by Brit troops: 'They're not fit to wear Queen's uniform', Daily Mirror 01-May-2004; caption supplied by UKAR.  Remaining photographs and captions are from Paul Byrne, Shame of abuse by Brit troops: Rogue British troops batter Iraqis in mockery of bid to win over people, Daily Mirror 01-May-2004

Although the primary responsibility for the Daily Mirror hoax must fall on the soldiers who manufactured it, secondary responsibility falls on the Mirror staff who interviewed Soldiers A and B, and had the opportunity by means of thoughtful questioning to discover the hoax.  Also deserving some blame are those who, like me, believed the Daily Mirror story and disseminated it.  They should have known that newspapers are frequent conduits of disinformation, and should have taken cognizance of suspicious incongruities and clues to inauthenticity which are evident from no more than an examination of the photographs and a reading of the accompanying text, as for example in the following instances:

  1. Identifying features.  The British photos look like they were calculated to exclude all identifying features no way to know the date, no detail comparable to the halls and cells in the American photos which would have permitted identification of a location within a building, no faces which would have permitted the identification of individuals, either perpetrators or victim.  (Perhaps, though, the hoax perpetrators failed to realize that the various marks on the floor and walls of the truck served as a fingerprint of the truck, and permitted investigators to positively identify it.  Perhaps also the hoax perpetrators failed to realize that the particular camouflage pattern observed on a uniform similarly presents a unique fingerprint of the uniform.)

  2. Chain of custody.  A photo becomes more credible if it can be documented who took it and what its chain of custody has been afterward.  The two Soldiers A and B being anonymous constituted a disruption of the chain, and should have served as a powerful signal that the photos deserved to be examined skeptically.

  3. Noise.  Torture is standardly carried out in buildings, particularly in basements, so that its sounds are not heard by the unauthorized.  However, eight hours of torture in the back of a tarpaulin-covered truck would have resulted in cries and groans and screams audible at a distance.

  4. Location of truck.  If the truck had been parked on an Iraqi street during the eight hours of torture, it would have attracted a crowd.  It must have been, rather, in the parking lot of a British military base, in which case the cries and groans would have been audible to many people in the base, and the coming and going around the truck would have attracted attention.

  5. Heat.  The events were said to have taken place in the back of a truck to escape the heat: "Because it was so hot we put him in the back of a four-tonner truck which has a canopy over it."  What is meant, presumably, is that the canopy provided shade from the sun.  However, shade in the open where there is ventilation, as under a tree or an umbrella, is one thing; shade in the back of a truck where there is little ventilation and the heat is trapped and can build up, is quite another.  The enclosed back of a stationary truck sitting under a tropical sun is undoubtedly hellishly hot.  Also incongruous may be the wearing of hats and jackets in stifling heat when not on patrol.

  6. Dark.  The victim's shirt being unsullied, and only a single blood spot being visible on the hood, could have resulted from the photographs being taken in the earliest stages of the ordeal.  However, the seeking-shade hypothesis suggests that the earliest stages would have taken place in daylight, whereas the photos give the impression of night.

  7. Thrown off a bridge.  The Daily Mirror article that I cited said "It is also alleged a video was found of prisoners being thrown off a bridge."  A first impression might be that since Americans threw Vietnamese out of helicopters, it is not so hard to believe that the British were throwing Iraqis off a bridge.  However, there are two big differences.  First, the bridge might be expected to lack privacy a typical bridge would have foot and vehicular traffic on it, and events on the bridge could be visible and photographed or filmed from both shores.  Second, a person thrown from a helicopter is almost certain to be killed, which is not necessarily the case from a bridge the lower the bridge above water, the more likely is survival, but do the areas under British control have any high bridges?  Finally, if a video exists, why did the Mirror not publish stills from it?

  8. Protective postures expected.  If among the earliest injuries was a gun-butt blow to the mouth which caused bleeding to create the wet spot on the hood, then one would expect the victim would assume a protective position curled up on the ground, and not continue sitting where he could readily receive a similar blow.  Similarly, if the victim's groin is under attack, one would expect him to keep his knees together.

  9. Black and white photos.  As color photos are preferred by recreational and amateur photographers, and as color film is more widely available, and inexpensive digital cameras may be unable to photograph in black and white, it is peculiar that these photos are in black and white.  A possible explanation is that black and white relieves forgers of the difficulty of trying to approximate a red that would pass as blood, and a yellow that would pass as urine.

  10. No harm proven.  No real injury is shown.  The wet spot on the hood may not be blood, and may not even be red.  What looks like a stream of urine may be squirted from a balloon inside the soldier's pants, and may not even be yellow, and in any case appears aimed toward the victim's waist and not toward his face.  The poke with the rifle butt is aimed from above where it would impact the pubic bone, and thus cause less pain and damage than if it had aimed from below to hit the testicles and in any case, the butt looks more like it's being placed in position for the photograph than being jabbed.  No marks on the victim are visible to substantiate the claim that "As we took him back he was getting a beating.  He was hit with batons on the knees, fingers, toes, elbows, and head."

  11. The prisoner's shirt.  Certainly it's possible for an Iraqi teenager to be wearing a shirt displaying the Iraqi flag across the front.  It's also possible that the hoaxers wanted to send the viewers of their photos a strong reminder of the nationality of the hooded individual.  Actually, this is the pre-January-1991 Iraqi flag.  The current flag, if the CIA web site is correct, inscribes in Arabic the words ALLAHU AKBAR (God is Great) between the three stars.  Might it be the case that the version of the shirt sold in the UK is more likely to omit ALLAHU AKBAR than the version sold in Iraq?

  12. The prisoner's pants and underpants.  If humiliation were intended, then the prisoner should have been naked, and removing the pants alone seems incongruous.  Perhaps, then, the victim's pants were removed because they were identifiable as of British manufacture, and no Iraqi-manufactured pants were on hand.  And do Iraqi teenagers wear dark underpants?  Perhaps the underpants have been doctored to appear black so as to hide distinctive stitching visible on white underwear that could have identified it as being of British manufacture as well.

  13. Shifting wet spot.  In the photograph labelled BLEEDING, the wet spot on the bag appears to be somewhat to the right (from the prisoner's point of view) of the center of the bag (with left-right direction defined by the roll at the top of the bag); whereas in the photograph labelled URINATED ON, the wet spot is clearly to the left (from the prisoner's point of view) of center.

In short, all who disseminated these discredited photographs had reason to doubt them, and so all bear a measure of responsibility for whatever success the hoax enjoyed.  The breadth of the photographs' initial acceptance suggests that competent scrutiny of photographic evidence is in short supply, as has already been suggested in the following four letters to United States Holocaust Memorial Council chair, Irving Greenberg:

www.ukar.org/waitin01.html   04-Sep-2000   What is the meaning of the Waiting in Line photograph?
www.ukar.org/waitin02.html   29-Jan-2001   Further misuse of the Waiting in Line photograph
www.ukar.org/greenb03.html   15-Feb-2001   Forged in a hurry
www.ukar.org/greenb04.html   11-Mar-2001   Tkachuk fails to recognize Marchenko

And ... where's the hatred?  The handful of individuals who actually manufactured the hoax will certainly undergo a loss of trust, and perhaps considerable resentment, but if they are British, then the British people collectively will not be hated (they were the victims of the hoax along with the rest of the world), and if the hoaxers were Christian, then Christians collectively will not be hated (they too were merely the victims of the hoax).  And those who exposed the hoax won't be hated either they will be admired for having rid the world of a lie, for having rid the world of an unjustified ground for hating the Queen's Lancashire Regiment.  In short, the original fraud probably incited Muslim hatred of the British, and the debunking of the fraud removed a cause of that hatred.  The only imaginable remaining emotion is resentment directed at the handful of perpetrators, and although the law is sure to treat them severely, some Britons may tend to view them as having employed improper means to advance the laudable end of winning British withdrawal from Iraq.  And all these are exactly the sorts of conclusions that I arrived at after reviewing several historical situations in my Canadian Jewish Congress Fanaticism Infects the University of Toronto letter to you.

Upon discovery that a war-atrocity story is a hoax, at least the following three reactions are possible.

From the point of view of the holder of a belief that is challenged, the most productive path is to renounce any claim to infallibility, and to accomodate belief to new evidence.  That is what the Daily Mirror owners did.  Editor Piers Morgan's alternative of clinging to a lie is not a winning strategy.  One of the many lies that the Canadian Jewish Congress would do well to stop clinging to is Len Rudner's lie that the government of Israel did not suppress exculpatory evidence in the John Demjanjuk trial.  As for CJC advocacy of the doctrine that the State has the right to determine historical truth and to punish deviation from it, I would have to agree with Noam Chomsky in recognizing such advocacy as Stalinist-fascist.

Lubomyr Prytulak