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Cablegate: Iraq: Turkish Press Reaction to Abu Ghraib Abuse

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

071532Z May 04

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 002590

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE


DEPT. FOR NEA/NGA, EUR/PD AND EUR/SE


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL KPAO OPRC KMDR PHUM MARR TU IZ
SUBJECT: IRAQ: TURKISH PRESS REACTION TO ABU GHRAIB ABUSE


-------
Summary
-------


1. (SBU) Abuse of prisoners by US forces at Abu Ghraib has
dominated the Turkish press since the photos were published
last weekend. Drawing from reports in US publications, all
major papers and broadcast news channels have reported on the
abuses in detail. They have also reported fairly and
accurately on statements by senior US officials expressing
regret and outrage about events at Abu Ghraib. President
Bush's comments to Arab television May 5 were widely
excerpted in Turkish dailies. Although the media has
reported that disciplinary action has been taken against a
number of the soldiers responsible, the overall
characterization of US practices and the absence of controls
in the prison has been extremely negative. The story has
drowned out any positive coverage of the US, including on the
Cyprus issue, and has hobbled our ability to press for fair
media coverage. End Summary.


2. (SBU) Not surprisingly, editorial opinion in Turkey has
been almost uniformly scathing. Most columnists have argued
forcefully that the abuses at Abu Ghraib make a mockery of
the stated US intentions of bringing freedom and democracy to
Iraq and the wider region. Fehmi Koru, an influential voice
in Islamist circles, argued that the three justifications for
the Iraq war - WMD, Saddam's ties to 9/11, and the tyrannical
nature of Saddam's regime - have all been shown as empty.
The abuses at Abu Ghraib, he wrote, were the final blow, as
"Saddam's brutality has been shown as amateurish compared
with the brutality of the occupation forces." Many have
likened US practices to those of Saddam Hussein. Several
have gone further, comparing US abuses with Milosevic's
treatment of Muslims in Bosnia or even Hitler's Germany.
Mehmet Ocaktan, editor-in-chief at Yeni Safak, alleged that
the abuses have turned The Greater Middle East Project into
"The Greater Rape Project." The Islamist-oriented press has
portrayed the incidents as further evidence of Western
contempt for Islam. A columnist in Yeni Safak on May 7, for
example, claimed that such abuses "would never have occurred
if the prisoners were European Christians."


3. (SBU) Secular editorialists have been no less forgiving.
Ergun Babahan, editor-in-chief at Sabah, wrote that the
occupation of Iraq has turned into a "war of insanity." He
added that it will be difficult for the US to bring charges
against Saddam given the "manifestation of hypocrisy" seen in
the photographs of abuse.
------------------------------
Some Coverage in Wider Context
------------------------------


4. (SBU) Several columnists have placed the abuses
perpetrated by US forces in a wider context. Mehmet Yilmaz,
editor-in-chief of Milliyet, chastises "those who are howling
about torture by US forces in Iraq but who remained silent
during years of systematic torture in Turkey." Hasan Cemal,
another respected Milliyet columnist, condemns the actions of
US forces at Abu Ghraib, but urges readers not to lose sight
of the broader picture in Iraq. "Instability in Iraq," he
wrote, "will only serve the interests of Islamic extremists."
He then pointed out that "the soldiers in the photos do not
represent the entire US military, Fallujah does not represent
all of Iraq, and al-Sadr represents only a minority of
Shi'ites." Cengiz Candar, a columnist in Islamic-oriented
Tercuman, accused the international media of hypocrisy for
its harsh criticism of the US, "when they never made an issue
of Saddam's massacres of women and children, routine torture
and brutality, use of chemical weapons against his own
people, and sending more than 300,000 Iraqis to death and
burial in mass graves."


---------------------------
Drowning Out Pro-US Stories
---------------------------


5. (SBU) The reports of torture by US forces and the ensuing
firestorm in the press have severely damaged our credibility
and hobbled our ability to push for fair media coverage.
When Haftalik magazine published additional sensational
photos allegedly depicting US abuses against Iraqi women
prisoners but which we are virtually certain were taken from
a pornographic web site, we were unable to respond
effectively. Without finding an exact match of the photos on
a porno site, our denials are dismissed out-of-hand. Our
overall public message on Iraq is taking a big hit, and even
positive coverage of the US, particularly on the Cyprus
issue, is being drowned out in the furor caused by the Abu
Ghraib scandal.


6. (U) Baghdad minimize considered.


EDELMAN

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