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?