Tim Blair


New Criterion



Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The weaker Henny Herald's case becomes, the bigger its headlines.

Last Saturday it told us it had the drop on Prime Minister Howard after his denials that he knew of the abuse of prisoners.

Today the accusations have been diverted down the hierarchy, but it's still the front-page headline.

Last Saturday it was a table of 'What the PM said' against 'What Henny says'.

Today it's 'What they said' against 'What Henny now says'.

And finally, in the course of today, the defence people concede that their people knew of some serious accusations of mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners going back to some time last year.

So what are we left with?

Defence personnel knew more than most about what was going on in Abu Ghraib, but probably not more than was in the public domain through leaks from the Red Cross and Amnesty. The gist of the Red Cross advice, in its own words in 2004, was that
"standard operating procedure" at Abu Ghraib that in some cases "might amount to torture".

Like the entire global media, including Henny and Auntie, they failed to take it seriously.

The Defence personnel can at least claim in their defence that they knew, after January 2004, that action was being taken to deal with the problems.

That they left their seniors in the dark for so long, if that is what transpires, and the fact that the Defence heads left their Ministers in the dark over Monday this week, those are matters of serious concern about which strong action should be taken.

But for all Henny's huffing and puffing, not a finger has been laid on Howard or Defence Minister Hill.

Where does that leave Henny?

Once again, her hacks are taking spiteful revenge on Major George O'Kane.

Cop this. O'Kane lectured Coalition personnel on the law of the Geneva Convention as it applies to the treatment of prisoners.

This is how Henny spun that fact:
Major O'Kane advised on interrogation techniques last August.

That is, O'Kane, who may or may not have had the kind of detail that should have been reported to Canberra and to government, is now depicted as an instigator of torture.

It is time for Henny's editors, and for hacks Allard and Wilkinson, to give up on this beat-up.

There is enough of interest in this business without the Henny spin.