Readers reacted strongly Wednesday to the publication of a Times Page 1 story headlined “U.S. Troops Posed With Body Parts of Afghan Bombers.”
As Times staff writer David Zucchino wrote: “The soldier who provided a series of 18 photos of soldiers posing with corpses to The Times did so on condition of anonymity. He served in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne’s 4th Brigade Combat Team from Ft. Bragg, N.C. He said the photos point to a breakdown in leadership and discipline that he believed compromised the safety of the troops.
“He expressed the hope that publication would help ensure that alleged security shortcomings at two U.S. bases in Afghanistan in 2010 are not repeated. The brigade, under new command but with some of the same paratroopers who served in 2010, began another tour in Afghanistan in February.... U.S. military officials asked The Times not to publish any of the pictures.”
In a statement, Times Editor Davan Maharaj said: “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.”
On Wednesday morning, Maharaj talked about the story, its photos and the background of the piece in a live chat.
Some readers questioned the decision to publish the photos.
Anne Hoffler in Richmond, Va., emailed to ask: "Because of your supposed 'obligation' to the people who buy your newspaper, my husband and his colleagues will be in even more danger in Afghanistan. Did that cross your mind?”
Jeffrey Cole of Westerville, Ohio, wondered: “What positive impact could you possibly hope for?"
Observed C. Clingerman of Woodbridge, Va.: “Yes, we all understand that you have the right to publish whatever you want because you have freedom of speech, freedom of the press ... having said that, sometimes it's not a matter of whether or not you can, it's whether or not you should. In this case, what's the purpose other than to make our military look bad?”
Not so, commented “promote_liberty" online: “This has nothing to do with Anti-Americanism or making soldiers into villains. This is the position our government is putting soldiers into. Maybe if more images like this and more coverage like this was exposed ... people would be more vocal in the anti-war movement."
"Bytebear," also online, said: “The soldier who leaked these photos is correct that the chain of command has broken down. Not just in the fact that the superior officers didn't put a stop to this behavior, but also because the whistle blower was not using the correct chain of command. He should have reported the issue to his superiors and they should have acted. This should never have been anything more than an internal incident."
Added Jason Tidwell online: “Soldiers posing with dead enemies is NOT anything new. War is war, and war is hell. All the coffee-drinking, paper-reading arm-chair quarterbacks have no idea ... what our guys truly go through on a day-to-day basis.... There is no crime or misdeed here. If you don't like it, then ask your Congress to stop the war. Until then, put yourself in a 20-year old soldier’s shoes, maybe you will understand.”
In The Times article, Capt. John F. 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.”
Kirby added: “We have taken the necessary precautions to protect our troops in the event of any backlash.”