Warning: I’ve posted a photograph by Zoriah Miller here that is a graphic black and white image of men killed in the suicide bombing in Fallujah on June 26. I’ve posted it because I’m not sure why we have the right or the ability to decide, in political terms, that our countries should go to war if we are unwilling to witness the results. However, I understand that this may be too upsetting for some people, who may already be perfectly well able to understand or imagine. So this warning is given to enable readers of this blog to make their own choice.
Freedom of speech is an honoured and protected principle in the US. Unless it involves an embedded American journalist in Iraq photographing the aftermath of a suicide bombing in Fallujah on June 26 2008:
U.S. journalist Zoriah Miller says he was censored by the U.S. military in the Iraqi city of Fallujah after photographing Marines who died in a suicide bombing.
On Jun. 26, a suicide bomber attacked a city council meeting in Fallujah, 69 kms west of Baghdad, between local tribal sheikhs and military officials.
Three Marines, Cpl. Marcus Preudhomme, Capt. Philip Dykeman, and Lt. Col. Max Galeai, were assigned to 2d Battalion, 3d Marines, 3rd Marine Division, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
The explosion also killed two interpreters and 20 Iraqis, including the mayor of the nearby town of Karmah, two prominent sheikhs and their sons, and another sheikh and his brother. All were members of the local “awakening council,” one of the U.S.-backed militias that have taken up arms against al Qaeda in Iraq, according to U.S. and Iraqi authorities.
Miller was embedded with Marines on a patrol one block from the attack when it occurred. He had originally turned down the option of going to report on the city council meeting that was bombed.
Miller ran with the Marines he was with to the scene of the attack. “As I ran I saw human pieces…a skull cap with hair, bone shards,” he told IPS during a telephone interview from the so-called Green Zone in Baghdad. “When we arrived at the building it was chaotic. There were Iraqis, police and civilians running around screaming. Bodies were being pulled out of the building.”
“I went in and there were over 20 people’s remains all over the place,” Miller continued, “Of the Marines I jogged in with, someone started to vomit. Others were standing around, not knowing what to do. It was completely surreal.”
“At that moment I realised this was far beyond anything I’d experienced, and I realised I wanted to focus and make sure I could capture what it felt like, and the visual horror,” Miller explained.
“I thought, ‘Nobody in the U.S. has any idea what it means when they hear that 20 people died in a suicide bombing.’ I want people to be able to associate those numbers with the scene and the actual loss of human life. And to show why soldiers are suffering from PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder],” Miller told IPS.
Miller posted his photographs, none of which contained identifiable images of American soldiers, on his blog. After refusing to remove the photographs when requested to do so by Marine Public Affairs Officers, his “embed” contract was terminated and, after some delay, he was flown out of Iraq.
The letter he was given stated reasons for his dismissal as “you photographed the remains of U.S. soldiers”, “you posted these images along with detailed commentary”, and “by posting the images and your commentary you violated 14 H and O of the news media agreement you signed”.
In addition, the letter, which Miller read to IPS, stated, “By providing detailed information of the effectiveness of the attack and the response of U.S. forces to it, you have put all U.S. forces in Iraq at greater risk for harm.”
Miller feels the reason for his dismissal is otherwise.
“The bottom line is that the thing they cited as the reason for my dismissal was ‘information the enemy could use against you’. They realised, probably from keeping track of my blog, that I was not showing identifiable features of a soldier…and they couldn’t find a reason to kick me out. Because it was a high ranking person who got killed, they were all fired up.”
Miller concluded, “Up to that point they said it was because I showed pictures of bodies with pieces of uniform and boots. The letter, though, doesn’t mention that at all. I checked the document I had about ground rules for media embeds, and I followed them.”
I’m certainly no military expert, but I would have thought that, if Mr. Miller’s photographs really represented a threat to US troops, the brass would have found a way to remove them, rather than removing Mr. Miller. More of Zoriah Miller’s work can be seen here.