Thursday, 19 April 2012

Photos of Troops Posing with Dead Afghans - Was the Publication Irresponsible?

The LA Times, which received 18 pictures of soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division posing with dead bodies of the Taliban, published two.  The two pictures released depict two separate occasions, where this apparently occurred.  Was this part of the journalistic duty of the LA Times or was it irresponsible?

The editor of the LA Times, Davan Maharaj,was warned by the Pentagon that publishing the photos could put US troops in danger.   Despite the warning, Maharaj and the newspaper decided to use the graphic images, stating that it was part of fulfilling its mission of informing readers about the US military effort in Afghanistan.

The US military has come under criticism in Afghanistan for a video and pictures published in January showing Marines urinating on dead Taliban, the burning of the Koran at Bagram airbase, and the massacre of 17 Afghans by Staff Sergeant Bales during a rampage in Kandahar province.  Add to that the killing of civilians during night raids and you have the perfect storm for the Taliban.

General Allen, U.S. military commander in Afghanistan called the behaviour entirely inconsistent with the values of the American-led coalition, while in Kabul US ambassador Ryan Crocker called the actions of those involved "morally repugnant." 

A Pentagon spokesman said that the Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, "strongly rejects" the conduct of the 82nd Airborne Division soldiers who featured in the photos.

"Anyone found responsible for this inhuman conduct will be held accountable in accordance with our military justice system," he said.

The US military has pledged that there would be an investigation but expressed disappointment that the LA Times had published the pictures.

Leon Panetta, who is attending a NATO ministers conference in Brussels, said that he strongly condemns the actions of the soldiers, but portrayed them as immature reactions to battlefield stress.

“This is war, and I know war is ugly and is violent,” Panetta said. “I know young people sometimes caught up in the moment make some very foolish decisions.”
“I am not excusing that behavior,” he added
The war in Afghanistan is in a  critical phase.  The Taliban has been emboldened with events that have occurred lately and can use these latest pictures as a propaganda tool, demonstrating to the public that U.S. troops are not there to help them.   Fueling the fire only puts the lives of  the remaining U.S. and NATO troops in danger.

Are the pictures repugnant?  Of course they are.  Recent events also indicate that there is some sort of disciplinary breakdown within the military, which almost seems like deja vous and Vietnam all over again.   There needs to be an examination of what stress these multiple tour put on troops.  These incidents are a symptom of a bigger problem.

The Pentagon and the Administration should have been made aware of this incident to ensue it deals with it.  As far as the pictures go "Discretion is the better part of valour."  While the LA Times could have monitored Pentagon actions, it should have held back with the publication of these pictures.


  1. I've never been in the military, but it seems to me that better training at the beginning of service would help stop much of this unfortunate behavior.

  2. A big part is training, but like a horse you can lead it to water but you can't make it drink. My guess is that this has a lot to do with repetitive tours.

    We can all be armchair quarterbacks, but we don't see is that young kid is plugged away from home into so me foreign place that he or she is totally unfamiliar with, where someone wants to kill him daily. For my money tours are too long, mental health assessments are all but non-existent before sending someone on a second tour.

    The opposite is true when you return from your war tour. You get tossed back into society and are expected to readjust right now. It's just not going to happen.