As David and Bing have noted, the Los Angeles Times has published two highly incendiary photos of U.S. soldiers posing with the dead bodies of Taliban fighters (who, it should be noted, were actually suicide bombers; the U.S. soldiers hadn’t killed them). Secretary Panetta, among others, have argued that they shouldn’t have been published, and will put both U.S. soldiers in general, and possibly some in particular, in danger.
But the Times has stood by its decision, in both a public statement yesterday, and a chat with readers. Their statement was 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.
The photos and the story were provided to the L.A. Times by a U.S. soldier, whose position was presented thus:
These photographs were provided to us by a soldier in the unit who was himself concerned that the photos reflected dysfunction, in discipline and a breakdown in leadership that compromised the safety of the troops.
This soldier felt that publishing them would lead to changes that would make U.S. troops safer, a sentiment apparently echoed by the paper’s editorial staff. One might note, of course, that it would be possible to report the story without releasing the photos, or with the information identifying individual soldiers and their units obscured. The L.A. Times’s representatives did not address this question in the reader chat, nor did they offer an answer when I contacted them via e-mail. Of course, they have a right to report the news as they see fit, but the Pentagon’s vigorous efforts to prevent the photos’ release seems to call into question the rather outlandish assertion that they would actually make American soldiers safer by publicizing lax discipline.