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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Publishing Grisly Photos

Our chapter on foreign policy and national security notes that photos of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison intensified opposition to the Iraq War.  A comparable incident has come of the war in Afghanistan, as The New York Times reports:
The grisly photographs of American soldiers posing with the body parts of Afghan insurgents during a 2010 deployment in Afghanistan were the source of a dispute between The Los Angeles Times and the Pentagon lasting weeks.
Two of the 18 photographs given to the paper were published Wednesday by The Times over fierce objections by military officials who said that the photographs could incite violence. The officials had asked The Times not to publish any of the photographs, a fact that the defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, reiterated on Wednesday as the images spread across the Internet.
“The reason for that is those kinds of photos are used by the enemy to incite violence, and lives have been lost as the result of the publication of similar photos,” Mr. Panetta said at a news conference.

But the newspaper’s editors said that the photographs were newsworthy. “We considered this very carefully,” the newspaper’s editor, Davan Maharaj, said in a Web chat with readers. “At the end of the day, our job is to publish information that our readers need to make informed decisions. We have a particular duty to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan. On balance, in this case, we 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.”
Here is LA Times online discussion, along with Twitter responses.

The LA Times adds:
There were no immediate reports of violence in Afghanistan in response to the photos. ManyAfghans, especially those in rural areas, do not have Internet access or electricity. The country's main evening news broadcasts did not show the photos.