If we have learned one thing over the years it is that nothing emboldens our enemies and complicates the job of our troops than the release of grisly images, whether of torture at Abu Ghraib or of Marines urinating on a corpse in Afghanistan. The acts themselves are reprehensible and should be punished. But should the photos of what happened then be published in ways that will undoubtedly enflame passions against our troops and place innocent men and women, who had nothing to do with the acts in question, into greater jeopardy?
The Los Angeles Times apparently believes the answer is “yes”; hence its article this morning printing a series of photos of the grisly remains of Taliban suicide bombers taken in 2010 by a few soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division’s Second Brigade. As the article itself, by distinguished war correspondent David Zucchino, notes:
U.S. military officials asked the Times not to publish any of the pictures.
Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said the conduct depicted “most certainly does not represent the character and the professionalism of the great majority of our troops in Afghanistan…. Nevertheless, this imagery — more than two years old — now has the potential to indict them all in the minds of local Afghans, inciting violence and perhaps causing needless casualties.”
The risk of needless casualties is especially great because the very battalion responsible for the picture taking is now deployed once again in southern Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the Times decided to publish anyway, explaining its decision as follows: “After careful consideration, we decided that publishing a small but representative selection of the photos would fulfill our obligation to readers to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan, including the allegation that the images reflect a breakdown in unit discipline that was endangering U.S. troops.”
I fail to see what public good is served by publishing the pictures. The same news could have been made public by an unillustrated article. Unfortunately, this publication will unfairly sully the conduct of–and quite possibly jeopardize the lives of–U.S. troops who have, on the whole, conformed to the highest standards of conduct, which is more than can be said for their enemies. In this kind of conflict, I might add–pitting troops of an established democracy defending a nascent democracy against theocratic savages–”impartiality” in news coverage is hardly the highest ideal. American journalists, who routinely embed with American military units, need to give greater concern to protecting those units against needless attacks.