One news story this week has captured my attention more than any other — and it isn’t the war in Libya or the continuing fallout from the triple disaster in Japan.
It’s the U.S. court-martial of Spc. Jeremy Morlock for the indiscriminate killings of three unarmed Afghan civilians last year. He said, “the plan was to kill people.” But that isn’t really it.
What’s grabbed my attention was how the U.S. newspapers I read avoided publishing the photos the unit took of the “disconcertingly satisfied” soldiers posing with their kills.
The New York Times wrote about how the photos could divide the Afghan and U.S. governments at a crucial time in the war, but didn’t link the photos online. The St. Paul Pioneer Press picked up the Times’ story, but no photos either. The Minneapolis Star Tribune didn’t pick the photos or the story.
The German news magazine Der Spiegel published the photos on March 20. The Times’ story said “it was not clear how Der Spiegel obtained the images.” It also said, “a military judge had prohibited the release of the photos.”
But newspapers have shown they aren’t beholden to the directives of the U.S. government with their extensive coverage of the Wikileaks documents this winter.
The Tank just read about a book that included some 1970s history about how the editor of the New York Times refused to stop publishing the Pentagon Papers after Nixon’s administration threatened the newspaper with a violation of the Espionage Act. (Ironically, that’s the same charge the Obama administration is purportedly exploring the use of with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange.)
Morlock was sentenced to 24 years in prison Wednesday. The Pioneer Press continued to cover it; the Star Tribune again had nothing. The largest newspaper in Minnesota failed to include what the Associated Press called “some of the most serious criminal allegations to come from the war in Afghanistan.”
There is a precedence, however, with main newspapers ignoring damaging photographs. In 2004, when photos of U.S. soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison went public, London’s newspapers displayed them across their front pages and continued in full color on inside pages. The Tank saw this coverage on London’s Tube. Back in the U.S. the next day, only below-the-fold follow-ups from the U.S. papers.
Why is this? If Der Spiegel has the photos, U.S. news organizations could probably get them from Der Spiegel if they credit where they came from. There has to be more here. But since we’re not in the newsrooms of the major papers, the Tank will hope for answers later.
But if you don’t want to be beholden to the sometimes limited coverage of our nation’s newspapers, click here to see the photos. They aren’t pretty, but they help tell the story and they should have been run with the articles.