OPINION: Release of PoWs image is PR disaster for US

To most people the 'war on terrorism' was over the day the BBC's

John Simpson liberated Kabul. The Americans, despite the best efforts of

their airforce to lose it by consistently bombing friendly targets, had

easily won the propaganda battle, too.

In the Gulf they bombed British troop carriers - this time it was the

Red Cross. The organisations famous for sending food parcels to our boys

in PoW camps during World War II could never have imagined that they

would so soon be thrust to the centre of world attention, not for the

activities of cruel foreigners but those of the US government.

Just one photo - the one splashed on the front of most of our Sunday

papers showing the prisoners of the Afghan war - has changed the whole

world's views. The most incredible thing about the picture was that it

was an official photograph made available by the Americans


It is easy to see how someone in the US war PR department thought it

would be a good idea to release the picture to show red-neck America

just how tough they were being with these evil terrorists.

At times like this it is worth remembering that although we may call

America a civilised society, it is one of few democracies in the world

with the death penalty. It is also a country where guns are sold and

used as much as in Afghanistan.

In the US the picture showing alleged terrorists manacled hand-and-foot

will have been welcomed - and some would say understandably so given the

events of 11 September.

Anyone who has visited America and watched their TV news or read their

papers will know how little attention they pay to events outside their

country. They call their rounders final the 'World' Series and still

insist on calling their version of fancy-dress rugby, football despite

the fact that the real game of football is the world's most popular


In a sense, the fact they don't give a stuff about world opinion half

explains why the terrorist attacks on America took place to start


There may be no divisions in the US over the picture but there have been

some here. It was, however, the right-wing Mail on Sunday that led the

charge against the Americans, making The Sun's claims that this was all

a plot by 'Britain's Guardanistas', the left-wing media elite that holds

sway over the BBC and many other newspapers, ring very hollow


Jack Straw, who still thinks he can lead the Party, became so worried

about a backlash among Labour MPs that he broke with the official

Downing Street line, which was still cravenly to support the Americans,

to talk about treating the suspects 'humanely'. Straw, remember, was the

man who let military dictator Augusto Pinochet walk free - and Labour

MPs, who have a say in electing the next leader, have long memories.

The fact that this one picture has created the biggest row since 11

September shows once again just how much more important a snapped image

is than thousands of words. TV pictures or an eyewitness account would

not have had the same reaction as this one photograph.

Whoever sanctioned the release of the picture may have been thinking

only of the domestic market and clearly didn't think or care too much

about how it would play outside the US. They should have done.

The treatment of the prisoners is the biggest PR disaster so far of the

so-called 'war on tea-rooms', a war that, according to the Americans,

has no prisoners of war and therefore no need to treat them humanely.

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