AP: When 83,000 Equals 14,500

November 16th, 2005 9:43 PM

The headline, “US Has Detained 83,000 in War on Terror”, greeted me when I logged on the Internet on Wed. Nov. 16 after lunch.  I was stunned. Where were all the prisoners being held?  Was this another leak from the CIA?  I clicked on the link without thinking twice.

Surprise, Surprise – another AP story extolling the negatives from Iraq.  Another day, another negative story from the AP.

The article opens with the statement “The United States has detained more than 83,000 foreigners in the four years of the war on terror, enough to nearly fill the NFL’s largest stadium”.  Since when do we equate the war on terror and terrorists with the size of football stadiums? I have yet to see an article where the writer compared the number of Coalition soldiers and Iraqi civilians killed by the terrorists in Iraq to the capacity of a sports arena.  I was at a loss trying to understand why such a comparison was necessary or appropriate.

The second paragraph completely changed the impression that was set by the headline and the opening of the article.  The writer, Katherine Shrader, admitted that “roughly 14,500 detainees remain in US custody, primarily in Iraq.”  Wait a minute.  How does 83,000 equal out to 14,500?  It’s been a while since I took college algebra but I still remember the basics. 

Ms. Shrader used the figure for the total number of insurgents (terrorists) that had been taken prisoner to imply that the 83,000 was the current number in custody.  What a coincidence that the article came out the same day as the plethora of stories about the abused Sunnis in the Iraqi prison. The largest number in custody at one time was 13,900 on November 1, 2005.  At no time has the daily prisoner count been even close to 83,000.

About the 9th paragraph, Ms. Shrader admitted that many of those detained were freed shortly after initial questioning.  She also noted that out of 700 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, less than 500 are currently held there.

Something as simple as the wording of the headline can mean the difference between fanning the flames of hatred to reporting the facts.  Too bad Ms. Shrader opted for the flame fanning headline.