White House Criticizes L.A. Times For Publishing Afghan Photos Of Abuse Of Corpses By U.S. Troops

The Obama White House is again striking out at the media for a lack of self-censorship. The Los Angeles Times correctly published the photos of U.S. soldiers posing with corpses in Afghanistan. Spokesman Jay Carney reacted to the publication of photos in the Los Angeles Times of U.S. soldiers posing with corpses in Afghanistan. Such acts are viewed as violations of the law of war and gross violations of human rights. Yet, White House Spokesman Jay Carney, a former journalist, criticized the newspaper and said the President was “disappointed.. [with] the decision to publish two years after the incident.” The most recent disappointment by the President involves a core journalistic obligation to inform the public. The pictures in this case are the story and to understand the abuse — and the reaction — it was important for the readers of the L.A. Times to see the images in my view.


This is a repeat offense for American troops and leads to legitimate questions over the training and response after the prior scandal. However, once again, the Obama Administration (which has continued the Bush policies to bar the release of embarrassing photos and material) displays an unnerving intolerance for the free press and the right of the public to review evidence of government abuse.

The international and domestic law on this issue is clear. Article 15 of the First Geneva Convention states that “at all times, and particularly after an engagement… search for the dead and prevent their being despoiled.” Article 16 of the First Geneva Convention, states an obligation that parties have to return bodies of enemy dead and that “As far as military considerations allow, each Party to the conflict shall facilitate the steps taken … to protect [the killed] against … ill-treatment.” Article 17 of the First Geneva Convention deals with the mandatory rules for the burial of the battlefield dead. Article 34(1) of the 1977 Additional Protocol I provides: “The remains of persons who have died for reasons related to occupation or in detention resulting from occupation or hostilities … shall be respected.” Likewise, Article 8(2)(b)(xxi) and (c)(ii) of the 1998 ICC Statute, “[c]ommitting outrages upon personal dignity” constitutes a war crime in both international and non-international armed conflicts.

This includes our own military manuals. US Instructor’s Guide (1985) states: “In addition to the grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, the following acts are further examples of war crimes: … mutilating or mistreating dead bodies”. The US Naval Handbook (1995) provides that “mutilation and other mistreatment of the dead” are representative war crimes.

Thus, by our own definition, these acts constitute war crimes and yet the L.A. Times was supposed to withhold the pictures. How about theses pictures?

The American media released the pictures of the My Lai massacre and forced Americans to face the true image of the atrocity. It is far easier for the government to brush over such crimes as abstractions than when citizens are exposed to the actual images of abuse.

The Administration has rightly condemned the photos but should have confined such criticism to the culprits not the media.

What do you think?

34 thoughts on “White House Criticizes L.A. Times For Publishing Afghan Photos Of Abuse Of Corpses By U.S. Troops

  1. “… leads to legitimate questions over the training and response after the prior scandal.”

    More important, I think, it leads to questions about the effects on the mental health effect we create in our military people when we subject them to endlessly repeated deployments into foreign theaters of combat.

  2. Release the pictures right after you remove our troops from all areas of conflict. We should be out of Afghanistan completely.
    What Bob Kauten said!

  3. “The fear among some officials is that the latest trophy photos will be used as an excuse for further unrest in Afghanistan, similar to what happened when previous photographs were made public.

    But Maharaj said that the safety of troops was among The Times’ concerns.

    “The photographs were provided 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,” Maharaj said.

    He went on to say that the newspaper weighed the impact of publication on troop safety and that reporter David Zucchino had numerous conversations with the appropriate military officials.

    “When we made the decision to publish, the Pentagon asked us to wait 24 additional hours to protect troops depicted in the photographs,” Maharaj said. “We agreed to push back our publication date until the Pentagon told us they had taken the necessary precautions.

    “In fact, we waited more than 72 hours after their request,” he said.” Chicago Tribune

  4. Deja vu all over again. The same arguments were used in Viet Nam in the name of “protecting our troops”. We best honor and protect our troops by keeping them out of harm’s way by not engaging in purposeless wars.

  5. I echo the comment that if we don’t want these ugly incidents, don’t be involved with endless war that corrupts the soul of all involved. It’s bad enough when we HAVE to do so to defend ourselves (which has been a long time ago), but this B.S. only results in these tragedies, and the enrichment of the MI industry, of course.

  6. NATO Seeks Russian, Chinese Financial Aid for Afghan Secu
    By James G. Neuger – Apr 19, 2012 8:10 AM CT Bloomberg News

    NATO called on Russia and China to help finance Afghanistan’s security forces in order to prevent instability near their own borders as the U.S.-dominated military coalition winds down its Afghan campaign.

    In an echo of Europe’s bid for international aid to fight the euro debt crisis, the alliance made a global plea to help meet a target of $4 billion annually to train and equip Afghan soldiers and police after the allied mission ends.

    “We would welcome financial contributions from Russia, China and other countries to ensure a strong, sustainable Afghan security force beyond 2014,” Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Brussels today after a two-day meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization foreign and defense ministers.

    Financing the standalone Afghan force has taken on greater urgency as Western allies pull back the current 129,000-strong foreign contingent after more than a decade of warfare in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. A rump force will stay after 2014 to assist the Afghans.

    Rasmussen made the aid appeal to parry a request by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for regular participation by Russia in planning sessions of the 50-nation NATO-led force. While Russia hasn’t sent soldiers to Afghanistan, a country it occupied in the 1980s, it has opened supply routes for NATO.

    Lavrov, who met allied officials including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today, called for the Russian involvement after NATO invited a Russian representative to attend the Afghanistan session at an alliance summit in Chicago next month.

    Lavrov criticized what he termed NATO’s “unclear planning” and “artificial withdrawal timelines” from Afghanistan, and said Russia hasn’t made its mind up whether to send someone to Chicago. Both sides ruled out the attendance of Vladimir Putin, soon to be re-installed as Russia’s president, for scheduling reasons.

  7. Mike,

    I agree with you…. But the difference today is information is shared almost instantly…..during nam…. It took a few days to get back…… I agree kill the messenger….

  8. http://www.democracynow.org/2012/4/19/photos_of_soldiers_posing_with_afghan

    AMY GOODMAN: Anand Gopal is our guest. He’s covered Afghanistan, Egypt, other countries in the region, for various newspapers and magazines, currently working on a book about the history of the Afghan war. On Tuesday, he returned from Syria. But before we talk about Syria, Anand, this latest revelation by the Los Angeles Times of these photographs—they’re so gruesome, they would only print two, which were incredibly gruesome, and they said they were the best of them—and the attack by Leon Panetta on the L.A. Times for even printing those, your response?

    ANAND GOPAL: Well, as Hakim said, I think they shock us actually more than they shock Afghans, because, I mean, from the Afghan perspective, we’ve had troops urinating on corpses, a massacre of 17 civilians, air strikes, night raids, troops cutting off fingers for sport, and so, for Afghans, this is part and parcel of the experience of being in war. And there’s a lot of concern, I think, in Washington about us losing the Afghans with these sorts of incidents. But I think their concerns are misplaced, because we’ve already lost them, really, over all these incidents over the last few years.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: And the U.S. military—I saw some of the generals or retired generals last night basically saying, “Well, these are isolated incidents. They don’t represent the general conduct of U.S. troops.” But isn’t the reality that as any occupation drags on and an army realizes that it is in contradiction with the very people it’s supposed to be protecting, these kinds of incidents tend to escalate and grow, and it’s been seen in many other wars in the past, wars of occupation?

    ANAND GOPAL: Oh, absolutely. And they keep talking about rotten apples. But you have to wonder, how many rotten apples do you have to see before you realize that the tree itself is a problem? And this is the experience of Afghans under occupation, I think, and, as you mentioned, under other occupations. I mean, talking to troops who have been there or living with troops, I mean, they’re trained to view every single person as an enemy, and they’re trained to dehumanize the enemy. And so, these things follow from that. And you can’t really run an occupation without having this mentality, because if you start seeing Afghans as human beings, then all of a sudden you’re going to think twice before shooting at them.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, I wanted to ask you, in terms of this whole issue of the United States withdrawing in 2014, will—your sense of whether there will be a genuine withdrawal? And also, that Afghanistan had a previous experience with a foreign army withdrawing, when the Soviet army withdrew after a 10-year occupation and war, and that only ended up in an eruption of a new civil war within Afghanistan that led to the rise of the Taliban.

    ANAND GOPAL: Right, and this Status of Forces Agreement, which was just signed, speaks to this, which is essentially saying that the U.S. troops could—can stay, would—implies that they could stay in perpetuity—in other words, that the U.S. troops won’t be subject to the laws of Afghanistan. And the reason that was set up is so that we can—the U.S. can enable themselves to stay there for forever, essentially. I think a lot of the troops will probably be withdrawn, but we’ll see special forces staying on the ground. This will be the state of affairs unless something happens like they’re forced to leave by the Taliban, which I think is unlikely at this point.

  9. I am no fan of the L.A. Times take on life, but in this matter I believe they handled it exactly as they should have, i.e.

    “. . . reporter David Zucchino had numerous conversations with the appropriate military officials.”

    So I concur wholeheartedly with Stefanie & Bill, Bob & Rafflaw, Mike & Swarthmore, Troy & Dredd. Laser-beam accurate calls.

    But I’m guessing the Times’ exposing these photos would have carried more ethical weight, and likely less controversy, had they included the facts of this incident in context with the half-dozen other atrocities, by U.S. soldiers, over the past decade – from Abu Graib prison ugliness to the appalling civilian shooting rampages.

    I get on joy whatsoever when these cases hit the airwaves, in recognizing all over again, that my own beloved country is the most rapacious “civilized” society on the planet. In between shooting overseas, we shoot each other, in our gun-happy, mindless righteousness. And the fact that any citizen wearing our uniform, could ever become so mentally twisted as to hold up butchered human trophies and smile, is a testament to the damage our foreign policies inflict – even to ourselves.

    And to our leaders in Washington? You might want to keep in mind, the males in these photos will someday soon be out of the armed forces, in your neighborhoods, standing behind counters at Wal Mart & McDonald’s, smiling at your children.

    Are we as a society even a single micrometer better off today, than we were September 10, 2001?

    Not that I can see.

  10. The Administration has rightly condemned the photos but should have confined such criticism to the culprits not the media.

    I agree.

  11. Hey, how’s this sound? We start prosecuting war crimes and make it very clear to all involved that this behavior is not allowed and will be punished. I bet that’ll do more for removing American Troops from danger of local retaliation than not publishing pictures does.

    Plus, hey it’s the law.

  12. patricparamedic said:
    “And to our leaders in Washington? You might want to keep in mind, the males in these photos will someday soon be out of the armed forces, in your neighborhoods, standing behind counters at Wal Mart & McDonald’s, smiling at your children.”

    I add: …..and in your local police force too.

    Besides my new fríend from Herat says that her husband’s family from Kandahar are more or less regarded as incurable islamic hardliners. Afghanistan reminds me of America, united fully.

    Progress here? Nil.

  13. Rafflaw: “Release the pictures right after you remove our troops from all areas of conflict.”

    Good point.

  14. The fact that the media release of these photos is even a debate is a testament to the poor quality of “journalism” in this country. Whatever happended to a journalist’s DUTY to report to the people an accurate portrayal of events as they occur through disclosing facts. I can’t think of much more important context where this should be upheld than that of war.

  15. idealist707 1, April 19, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    patricparamedic said:
    “And to our leaders in Washington? You might want to keep in mind, the males in these photos will someday soon be out of the armed forces, in your neighborhoods, standing behind counters at Wal Mart & McDonald’s, smiling at your children.”

    I add: …..and in your local police force too.

    Besides my new fríend from Herat says that her husband’s family from Kandahar are more or less regarded as incurable islamic hardliners. Afghanistan reminds me of America, united fully.

    Progress here? Nil.
    ===================================================
    At best.

    War is just a shot away. Gimme shelter.

  16. I’m with Gyges.

    When you let the head of the fish commit war crimes, don’t be shocked when the body follows suit. A fish rots from the head. It’s an old Russian proverb, but it fits. And man do Bush and Cheney smell fishy.

  17. What Gyges and Gene said.

    18 Apr 2012 12:18 PM
    “How Bush And Cheney Used A Stasi School For Torture”

    http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/04/how-bush-and-cheney-used-a-stasi-school-for-torture.html

    “Isn’t there something grotesquely appropriate in that Bush and Cheney, in importing into the US the torture techniques of totalitarian regimes, used one building named in honor of the founder of the East German Stasi? They remain war criminals, and the rule of law in America remains unenforced by the Obama administration on the core issue of torture. But not all politicians are as craven as Obama on this. Here’s the current conservative prime minister of Poland, Donald Tusk:

    “Poland will not be a country anymore where politicians will arrange something under the table and it will not come to light, even if they do it hand-in-hand with the biggest empire in the world,” and “those in power must be able very effectively to safeguard the dignity of the Polish state; in other words, they must act only in accordance with their conscience, Polish law and international law.”

    Good for Poland. There is far more accountability in that new democracy than is allowed to exist in this one.”

  18. The Constitution of the United States expressly prohibits the Government from abridging the freedom of the press in any way, shape, or form. That American news organizations even bother checking with the Government before publishing whatever they want testifies to a corporate fear of freedom almost beyond lampooning.

    As I understand the Government’s ridiculous contention that it has some extra-constitutional right to exercise “prior restraint” upon the press: the Aghans don’t know what we’ve done to them — and so cannot possibly get angry about it — unless they see pictures of their dead family and neighbors in American newspapers. Afghans, please understand, cannot recognize blood-drenched human body parts and connect them with the sudden absence of their loved ones and the horrendous blast from a guided missle descending from a cricling robot drone overhead. Afghans, please understand, only know what the American government allows Americans to know. Namely, precious little of anything. So, no pictures no problems.

    Reductio-ad-absurdum aside, the American government has no fear of what Afghans or Iraqis or Pakistanis or Yemenis or Somalis think, only a terror of what Americans might think — on the rare occasions when they actually do. As in Vietnam and Iraq, “we lost the day we started and we win the day we quit.” The American people quit this crap crusade in Afghanistan years ago, yet the invested egos of our maniacal miscreant ministers cannot accept this and so will go on babbling bureaucratic bullshit until the people yank the funding plug on the whole errant enterprise. As the jaded Vietnamese bar girls used to jeer at the broke and hard-up GIs on Tu Do Street in Saigon: “No money, no honey!” America’s never-ending debacle in Southeast Asia finally ended in 1975 on just that note. Way past time for a reprise of the old refrain:

    With their tails tucked proudly ‘tween their legs,
    Advancing towards the exit march the dregs
    Of empire, whose retreat this question begs:
    No promised omelet, just the broken eggs?

    No more huge standing military. No more secrecy. The abusive and despotic American government has forfeited any claim to either.

  19. Hughes and Gene are right. If we prosecute everyone involved in torture, all the way to the top, less chicken hawks would be screaming for it!

  20. “History affords few if any examples of a free people — in such a powerful country, under no existential threat, undergoing no invasion, no armed insurrection, no natural disaster or epidemic or societal collapse — giving up their own freedoms so meekly, so mutely. Most Americans like to boast of their love of freedom, their rock-ribbed independence and their fiercely-held moral principles: yet they are happy to see the government claim — and use — the power to murder innocent people whenever it pleases while imposing an ever-spreading police state regimen on their lives and liberties. Sheep doped with Rohypnol would put up a stronger fight than these doughty patriots.” — Chris Floyd, Empire Burlesque

    For the whole article, “The Way of the Drone: Emblem for an Empire of Cowards,” see here.

    How far we’ve come from those days in 1961, my first year of high school, when I read William J. Lederer’s timeless book: A Nation of Sheep, all about the CIA and American military mucking about in Laos conniving with local drug lords and terrorizing the peasantry into not thinking kindly of anything designated “communist” by the United States government. Now an “updated” version of that same lunatic government tells our newspapers that they cannot show us pictures of our CIA and military mucking about in Afghanistan conniving with local drug lords and terrorizing the peasantry into not thinking kindly of anything designated by us as “terrorist.” Good thing that the words “Communist” and “Terrorist” don’t look or sound anything alike to Americans or a few of them might begin to notice uncomfortable connections between the dead, dismembered peasants and the maniacal American government that creates ten new “terrorists” for each foreign “bug” that it kills, maims, or renders a homeless refugee.

  21. As another indicator of “how far we’ve come,” the pictures in question reveal what American drone operators (military, CIA, and Corporate Mercenary) like to call “bug splat.” Which ought to remind us of this:

    “In early 1967 [General William] Westmoreland gave a most complicated and interesting explanation for the rationale behind the President’s “ceiling” on the number of American troops. “If,” he said, “you crowd in too many termite killers, each using a screwdriver to kill the termites, you risk collapsing the floors or the foundation. In this war, we’re using screwdrivers to kill termites because it’s a guerrilla war and we cannot use bigger weapons. We have to get the right balance of termite killers to get rid of the termites without wrecking the house.” To continue this extraordinary metaphor, the American force had managed to wreck the house without killing the termites; they had, further, managed to make the house uninhabitable for anyone except termites. In a different manner, they had made the [American-created puppet government] house unlivable as well.” — Frances Fitzgerald, Fire in the Lake: the Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam

    In Vietnam, our vaunted Visigoths killed so many termites with screwdrivers that the termites multiplied and eventually drove us out of their house that we had destroyed. At the rate the American military keeps killing all those “bugs” in Afghanistan, in no time at all the bugs will overrun Afghanistan and force us to go find some other impoverished house to wreck. Killing bugs to make more of them: the American way of “war.”

  22. Would the WH condemn pictures of atrocities by the ‘bad guys’, or use them to inflame ? Or remain mute?

    Right now it’s the warmongering of the establishment against our unheard calls for sanity. Most anything that can wake up the public is ok by me.

  23. The beginning of the “chilling effect”. What’s next? Call the editor in for a little chat? Exclude LA Times reporters from pressers, or question?. Have Holder “look into” the matter? A suit?

  24. MikeA,
    Thanks, many thanks.
    How many parodies can we create?

    A nattion which engages in corruption should be blind to it.
    The only difference between the corruption in Indonesia and here is that they speak another language.
    The only nation that the CIA has killed the president of……..sorry there are many.
    Do our politicians give courses to foreign ones?
    Has Mossad given up on CIA?

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