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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

L.A. Times Publishes Controversial Military Photos

The photos show U.S. soldiers posing with dead Afghans.

Photos of U.S. soldiers posing with dead Afghan insurgents published Wednesday have sparked major controversy surrounding military discipline and behavior overseas.

The photos, published by the LA Times, showed a soldier smiling with the hand of a dead insurgent on his shoulder, and another with soldiers smiling and posing holding the legs of a corpse. 

According to the LA Times, these photos were taken in 2010 and were obtained by an unnamed soldier who served in the 82nd Airborne Division in a province south of Kabul.

The solider supplied the photos, “to draw attention to the safety risk of a breakdown in leadership and discipline that he believed compromised the safety of the troops,” the LA Times reported.

“We verified the authenticity of the photos through interviews with the soldier who provided the photos, with Pentagon officials, and with commanders from the unit,” said LA Times spokesperson Nancy Sullivan.

Despite a request from the Pentagon to refrain from publishing the photos, the LA Times released two of the 18 photos supplied on their website.

The article quoted newspaper editor Davan Maharaj who said, "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."

“This is not who we are, and it’s certainly not who we represent when it come to the great majority of men and women in uniform who are serving there,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said to reporters in Brussels, Belgium.

The White House said the conduct depicted in these images is “reprehensible.” Spokesman Jay Carrey does not know if President Obama has seen the images personally but said the President believes this event needs to be investigated and those responsible should be held accountable.

The military is also leading its own investigation.

These photos come as another blow to the military shortly after the release of photos of soldiers urinating on bodies sparked serious backlash.

In February, riots responding to U.S. soldiers accidentally burning Korans killed 30 Afghans and six Americans.

In March, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly killed 17 Afghan villagers in the middle of the night in Southern Afghanistan. He has since been charged and is currently in military custody.

“We believe there is real potential for backlash, or we wouldn't have tried to urge the Times not to publish,” said Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman working in Kabul.

To view the images on the LA Times website, click here.


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