American Legion spitting nails over photo of dying Marine

The American Legion has issued a blistering statement about the Associated Press decision to publish a photo of a dying Marine over the objections of the Marine’s family. I received this directly from the Legion earlier this afternoon:

INDIANAPOLIS (September 4, 2009) – “Outrageously irresponsible,” is how the leader of the nation’s largest veterans organization characterized the Associated Press’s decision to release a photo of a dying U.S. Marine taken in Afghanistan.

“The lack of compassion and common decency shown by the Associated Press in releasing this photograph is stunning,” said American Legion National Commander Clarence E. Hill, a retired Navy captain. “Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard is a hero who gave his life for his country. His family is understandably offended. I have asked the American Legion state commander in Maine to reach out to his family. Indeed everybody in The American Legion stands with his family.”

The photo shows Bernard bleeding after being struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in a Taliban ambush Aug. 14. Before the photograph was publicly released, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asked Thomas Curley, AP’s president and chief executive officer to refrain from transmitting the image. “Out of respect for his family’s wishes, I ask you in the strongest of terms to reconsider your decision. I do not make this request lightly…The issue here is not law, policy or constitutional right – but judgment and common decency.”

“Secretary Gates was right,” Hill added. “The issue is judgment and common decency. There is some information, some actions that occur, that are simply too private, too personal, and too tragic to be intentionally broadcast into the homes of millions. For families with loved ones overseas, the fear of what might happen to them is a near constant companion. This photo not only keeps open the wounds of war for the Bernard family, but it also increases the fear for the families of those who are still facing the reality of sudden death every day.”

Hill called for a review by the Department of Defense of the rules governing embedded media. “This should never have occurred in the first place, nor should it be allowed to occur again,” Hill said. “Ironically, when I visited Camp Delta at Guantanamo, the photographer was prohibited from taking images showing the faces of detained terrorists. Yet, photographers are allowed to shoot photographs of fallen American heroes? Where is the common sense? Where is the common decency?”

With a membership of 2.6-million wartime veterans, The American Legion was founded in 1919 on the four pillars of a strong national security, veterans affairs, Americanism, and patriotic youth programs.

I’m not sure I can put this any better, although I recommend reading Mudville Gazette’s take on the matter. Politico has a comprehensive report about the Pentagon’s outrage, and it should be noted that Politico did not run the picture with the story:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is objecting “in the strongest terms” to an Associated Press decision to transmit a photograph showing a mortally wounded 21-year-old Marine in his final moments of life, calling the decision “appalling” and a breach of “common decency.”

The AP reported that the Marine’s father had asked – in an interview and in a follow-up phone call — that the image, taken by an embedded photographer, not be published. The AP reported in a story that it decided to make the image public anyway because it “conveys the grimness of war and the sacrifice of young men and women fighting it.” …

Gates wrote to Thomas Curley, AP’s president and chief executive officer. “Out of respect for his family’s wishes, I ask you in the strongest of terms to reconsider your decision. I do not make this request lightly. In one of my first public statements as Secretary of Defense, I stated that the media should not be treated as the enemy, and made it a point to thank journalists for revealing problems that need to be fixed – as was the case with Walter Reed.”

“I cannot imagine the pain and suffering Lance Corporal Bernard’s death has caused his family. Why your organization would purposefully defy the family’s wishes knowing full well that it will lead to yet more anguish is beyond me. Your lack of compassion and common sense in choosing to put this image of their maimed and stricken child on the front page of multiple American newspapers is appalling. The issue here is not law, policy or constitutional right – but judgment and common decency.”

I’m not sure which is more despicable — the decision to run the photo, or their self-serving claptrap afterwards about honoring the service of men and women in the war by exploiting their death. It demonstrates truly warped thinking and values. The AP should apologize immediately and withdraw the image, although that would probably not stop its dissemination now.

Update: I wrote soldier when I should have written Marine in the headline. My apologies. I can’t believe I only got one e-mail on that, though.