On April 18, a Los Angeles Times article by David Zucchino broke a story about U.S. paratroopers who were assigned in February 2010 to investigate reports that Afghan police had recovered the remains of an insurgent suicide bomber. They were tasked with retrieving iris scans and fingerprints. The mission turned morbid when the paratroopers posed with Afghan police with the severed lower half of the corpse.
A few months later, the same platoon was sent to investigate reports by Afghan police that a group of insurgents had accidentally blown themselves up. Again, they posed next to the remains after obtaining a few fingerprints.
After the Los Angeles Times showed the Army copies of the photos given to the newspaper by a soldier from the same division, the Army launched an investigation. But the LA Times didn’t stop there. Even though the photos had been taken two years prior, editor Davan Maharaj still made the call to publish the photographs in an April edition of the newspaper.
Why run the photos in the first place? It had been over two years and the Department of Defense and White House officials spoke out against the decision to publish the photographs.
An April 18 LA Times article by Michael Muskal states that Maharaj “felt that the public interest here was served by publishing a limited, but representative sample of these photos, along with a story explaining the circumstances under which they were taken.”
I believe the photos spoke for themselves.
In fact, Maharaj could have simply run the two photographs on the front page of the newspaper with no accompanying article and the message would have been loud and clear: many Americans are blissfully unaware of what is happening overseas.
But how unaware are we? It seems that in the past couple months more stories have been published that are in opposition to the war, or at least exposing what exactly is going on in the Middle East. In 2012 alone, video was released of U.S. Marines urinating on corpses, riots killed 30 and injured six Americans due to Quran burnings at a U.S. air base, and a U.S. Army sergeant allegedly killed 17 people in an Afghan village.
All of these stories and photographs of war are making it harder and harder for Americans to believe that we’re in Afghanistan for a good cause.
I’m not saying that these stories simply shouldn’t be reported, but I don’t believe that the photographs of the soldiers posing with body parts of suicide bombers should have ever been printed. Photographs don’t technically say anything, but as the old saying goes “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and in this case, the photographs spoke more than any article about the incident ever did. With the publication of the photos, it appears that the LA Times had an agenda to push, and these photographs did that for them.
The war has been going on since 2001, and in many people’s opinions, it’s become a stalemate. I believe these photos clearly depict the Times’ point of view by saying that the war has gone on for so long that the soldiers have lost any sense of what they’re supposed to be doing there in the first place.
President Barack Obama never released the photographs after Osama bin Laden was killed, which was a year ago this week, for fear of creating more unrest and making things worse for the troops abroad.
I feel like the LA Times decision to release these photographs falls into the same category. Even though it’s a journalist’s job to report the story, it’s also their job to keep people safe. A journalist wouldn’t print the name of a witness to a high-profile crime, so why print these photographs where the particular soldiers can be easily identified? Printing the photographs, and on the front page no less, not only increases the threat for the soldiers involved, but all U.S. troops.
Ashley Rowell is a sophomore in public relations. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.