A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists


SDX Awards: Magazine investigative reporting, Newsweek

By Quill

Prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib shocked the world. Photographs clearly documented American soldiers mistreating Iraqi insurgents.

Newsweek traced the interrogations scandal to the highest levels of the Bush administration and offered its findings to readers in three reports, which ran May 17, May 24 and June 21.

The May 17 story, “No Good Defense,” examined Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his role in abusive interrogation practices.

Who is to blame? A half-dozen sadistic guards who think that rape is a prank? Sex-and-violence soaked American pop culture that offers up degradation as entertainment and reality shows? …

“If there’s any failure, it’s me,” said Rumsfeld to senators. “These events occurred on my watch. As Secretary of Defense, I am accountable for them, and I take full responsibility.” Rumsfeld offered his “deepest apology” to the victims of abuse and announced that they would be compensated. Would he resign? “It’s a fair question,” he replied to interrogators during a long, grim day of hearings before both the Senate and House Armed Services committees. “Since this firestorm started, I have given a good deal of thought to the question. … If I thought that I could not be effective, I certainly wouldn’t want to serve. And I have to wrestle with that.”

Newsweek’s May 24 report, “The Roots of Torture,” revealed that the tortuous interrogation methods were handed down in a decision made – and memos drafted – before 2003 by senior officials in the administration.

“As a result of this alarming daisy chain of judgments and directives, interrogation methods intended to be confined to a handful of Al Qaida suspects – and the legal justifications for such aggressive techniques – became widely disseminated for use against common prisoners in Iraq,” said Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker.

In the June 21 “A Tortured Debate,” reporters broke the news of then-attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales’s involvement in the prisoner treatment.

“The administration only revealed its secret stance on the Geneva Conventions to congressional committees and to the public because of the policies and documents that Newsweek and subsequent media outlets exposed,” said correspondent John Barry. “The Gonzales memo caused an uproar among the administration’s critics.”

Newsweek continues to regularly publish stories on the U.S. military’s involvement in Iraq.

“The reporters named names, gave dates and described the circumstances of decisions, anchoring the narrative in specific detail,” said the judges.

“At the same time, they offered bold but appropriate interpretation so that readers could understand the implications of these unfolding developments. Newsweek shed light on a dark moment in American history.”