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LA Times defends use of Afghan photos

“At the end of the day, our job is to publish information that our readers need to make informed decisions.”

That’s how editors at The Los Angeles Times sum up their decision to publish photos from 2010 that appear to show U.S. troops posing with body parts of Afghan suicide bombers.

LATimes“We considered this very carefully,” Davan Maharaj, editor of the Los Angeles Times Media Group, said in a live chat online. (transcript here)

“We have a particular duty to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan. On balance, in this case, we felt that the public interest here was served by publishing a limited, but representative sample of these photos, along with a story explaining the circumstances under which they were taken.”

The newspaper did not publish all 18 photos they received.

Editors selected two photos for publication because “they clearly and unambiguously depict conduct that the Army described as inappropriate.”

Other images were not published because they were either repetitious or “too gruesome.”

After the LA Times published a story outlining how a unit of the 82nd airborne mugged and posed with remains when sent on two missions in 2010, the White House, Pentagon, and diplomats in Afghanistan all condemned the action depicted in the photos and launched investigations. They were also unhappy with the newspaper’s decision to publish the pictures.

The Defense Department had even asked The Times not to run the photos, out of fear that the latest photos will be used to justify further unrest in Afghanistan and around the world.

Maharaj said that the safety of troops was among The Times’ concerns, which is why they felt they had a duty to publish the images.

“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. “When we made the decision to publish, the Pentagon asked us to wait 24 additional hours to protect troops depicted in the photographs.”

The newspaper agreed to push back the publication date, and says they waited 72 hours after the Pentagon’s request.


AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

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