JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
Afghans look on from a lit hut at dusk in Kabul on April 18, 2012.
Times readers were greeted with a disturbing image on this morning’s front page: a U.S. soldier posing with the severed hand of a dead Afghan insurgent, with more body parts strewn in the background. Things got more macabre on page 4: a group of soldiers, along with Afghan police, grin and mug for the camera while holding up the severed limbs of a suicide bomber.
The photos, taken in 2010, were two of 18 delivered to the Times by an anonymous member of the 82nd Airborne Division, which had been tasked with identifying the remains. After obtaining fingerprints, they began posing for pictures with the severed hands, legs and other body parts of the dead Afghan.
The soldier who gave the pictures to a Times reporter told him that he wanted the world to see the decline in leadership and discipline in U.S. military that, he feels, threatens the safety of our troops. Despite a request from the Pentagon not to run them, Times Editor Davan Marajan said that “after careful consideration,” publishing the photos “would fulfill our obligation to readers to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan.” The Pentagon has pledged to launch a full investigation into the incident, which comes on the heels of another such embarrassment: a video released several months ago of U.S. soldiers urinating on the corpses of Taliban soldiers.
News outlets in other countries are traditionally less squeamish than Americans about running horrific war images. But depicting soldiers showing a blatant disrespect for the dead adds another dimension to the conflict.
Did the Times go too far in publishing the photos? Do you agree that, disturbing as they are, such pictures are necessary to our understanding of the story? As a reader, how do these horrific images sit with you?