Google Bullies, Censors Alternative News Sources Over Abu Ghraib Photos

Editor’s note: This exact situation occurred with A Sheep No More back in March 2014. Google Adsense suspended ad revenue for publishing the horrific torture photos of Abu Ghraib. I had to take 2 long days and go through every photo on the website just in case Google Adsense could come back with a “cancelation” by deeming something else inappropriate. The photos posted were provided by one of the most caring, ethical and determined activists whose publication, Underground America by Christopher Rice, may be something you would like to subscribe to (MANY of the torture photos can be viewed from Christopher’s website and can be seen here).

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MintPress News and AntiWar.com have both been targeted by Google AdSense with threats to kill ad revenue for publishing the infamous photos of Abu Ghraib detainee torture by American troops. Many are left wondering if this is an attempt to control the narrative on the war in Iraq.

MINNEAPOLIS — On March 12 Google AdSense contacted MintPress News threatening to disable our Google Ads if we did not remove gruesome and now infamous photos of American soldiers torturing Iraqis in the Abu Ghraib prison.

Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr.  punching one of several handcuffed detainees lying on the floor in late 2003 at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq.   Google has been targeting independent media outlets that publish the Abu Ghraib photos, threatening to cut off vital ad revenue that keep many smaller newsrooms afloat.

Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr. punching one of several handcuffed detainees lying on the floor in late 2003 at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq. Google has been targeting independent media outlets that publish the Abu Ghraib photos, threatening to cut off vital ad revenue that keep many smaller newsrooms afloat.

These same photos have been published by hundreds of news organizations across the world since they surfaced over a decade ago, including AntiWar.com, which recently had its Google AdSense account restored after it was suspended for not removing the same Abu Ghraib photos. The Abu Ghraib photos published on MintPress appeared alongside this December blog post, originally published by The Anti-Media, detailing classified evidence that American soldiers had raped young Iraqi boys in front of their mothers at Abu Ghraib.

The original uncensored photo that prompted Google's take down demand.

The original uncensored photo that prompted Google’s take down demand.

Abu Ghraib Censored

The original uncensored photo that prompted Google’s take down demand.


But this was not the first time MintPress was contacted by Google AdSense. We received a similar email on Nov. 14, 2014, warning us to remove an Associated Press photo taken in Syria.

FILE - In this Sunday, March 11, 2012 file photo, a man carries a boy who was severely wounded during heavy fighting between Syrian rebels and Syrian Army forces in Idlib, north Syria. More than two years into Syria's civil war, the once highly-centralized authoritarian state has effectively split into three distinct parts, each boasting its own flags, security agencies and judicial system. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File) A man carries a boy who was severely wounded during heavy fighting between Syrian rebels and Syrian Army forces in Idlib, north Syria, March 11, 2012. This photo was ordered to be removed by Google for violation of their Ad Sense policies on violence. Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP.


The photo shows a man holding a young boy who had been badly wounded in an area where fighting had erupted between Syrian government forces and rebels — nearly two months after the U.S. military began its airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Syria. We had published the image in January 2014 alongside an Associate Press article breaking down the civilian death toll of the Syrian civil war.

Google AdSense explained that the photo was graphic in such a way that it violated the program’s terms of service. MintPress relys on donations to fund our mission, and ad revenue is used to cover the shortfalls of that funding.

Both messages read as follows:

The first letter was dated November 11, 2014:

Letter from Google 1

The second letter was dated March 12, 2015:

Google letter 2


One week after we were demanded to remove the Abu Ghraib photos, a federal district court judge ​announced that he will no longer accept the U.S. government’s secrecy arguments about the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. The case was brought in response to Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by the ACLU for records related to detainee treatment and deaths while in U.S. custody and abroad since Sept. 11, 2001.

The judge ruled that the government must release thousands of photographs of detainee abuse and torture in Afghanistan and Iraq, including photos depicting inhumane treatment at Abu Ghraib prison.

Google’s role in cementing a narrative

MintPress complied with both instances of Google’s unfair and seemingly Orwellian demands to censor us. We had complied with the first take-down request as of Nov. 14, when we removed and replaced the “violating” content.

In response to the most recent warning, we opted to blur the Abu Ghraib photo in question, as well as several others that we independently determined to be in “violation” of Google AdSense’s ambiguous and vague terms of service. This approach allows us to retain the important photos, without the threat of loss of revenue.

In forcing independent media outlets like MintPress to remove the photos from Abu Ghraib from their websites, we believe Google is attempting to control the narrative of the Iraq War and the crimes committed against the Iraqi people for the sake of oil and war profiteering interests.

Google has shown both a desire and a propensity to cooperate closely with the establishment corporate community that influences federal government decisions in complying with unconstitutional requests to access the personal data of American citizens. Google’s seemingly strategic enforcement of its AdSense policies seems to be yet another instance in which the web giant is behaving to appease the corporate establishment that drives our nation to war.

Further, Google AdSense’s threats targeted our ad revenue over photos of war crimes committed by our military during the Iraq War and of the exacerbation of the Syrian civil war through the United States’ involvement in arming Syrian rebels. This sets a disturbing precedent for journalists trying to do the very job our corporate media has failed to do in working to inform the public about the gruesome realities of failed U.S. foreign policy driven by corporate interests for war profiteering.

Indeed, it wasn’t long ago that corporate media was falsely peddling the “weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq” narrative, and we sincerely hope that Google, with the vital role it plays in serving the news and information needs of the American people, is not following suit.

The war on independent media targets funding

As an independent watchdog news organization, it is our duty to keep the public informed about U.S. foreign policy issues, no matter how difficult they may be to process. Despite the fact that we complied with Google’s demands, we feel we have been directly targeted because of our status as independent media and our stance on challenging the corporate establishment’s narrative of our wars.

Yet this is not the first time our newsroom’s funding sources have been targeted for our coverage of U.S. meddling in the conflicts of other nations. Nearly two years ago, MintPress found itself in the midst of an organized bullying and smear campaign led by corporate newsrooms like BuzzFeed and others to discredit MintPress’ reporting by focusing on our funding sources after we broke several stories on al-Qaida-linked rebels fomenting a chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, Syria, to drive the U.S. into war with the Syrian government.

SYRIA-WMD

MUST SEE: Collateral Damage: Exposing War Crimes is Treasonous!

We believe there is a deliberate effort to silence independent voices by targeting our lifeline — our funding and revenue, the one channel that keeps our business running — in order to discredit our newsroom and dismiss our reporting.

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