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April 5, 2012

AP Photo of Afghan Suicide Bombing: Revisiting the Censorship of Images of Wounded American Soldiers

I was exceptionally surprised to see this photo of wounded American soldiers yesterday. They were injured in a suicide bombing in Northern Afghanistan. Perhaps because it happened in a public park in Maimana, north of Kabul, the photo wasn’t subject to approval by military censors?

You might recall the controversy over Julie Jacobson’s photo of a dying Marine in 2009 that led to a much greater tightening of restriction on these images being photographed. Since the beginning of the Afghan and Iraq wars, I have only seen a few photos of injured American soldiers. This censorship was the subject of an audio slideshow we produced with NYT photographer Michael Kamber which won a Picture of the Year, International award in 2011. The concern was also the basis of a Huffington Post piece I did with Kamber (“Have We Just Seen The Last Combat Injury In Iraq?”) back in 2007. And then, you might not think we’ve been around that long but BagNews was already mindful of this censorship back in November of 2005 when I posted: “this photo — thirty-two months and 2,000+ American deaths into the campaign — is possibly the first published image of a U.S. military fatality to appear in the MSM.”

If there is anything that is shocking to me about the subject at this point, it’s that the visual censorship of these wars has been so absolute that many today actually fail to understand why such scenes would even be important or relevant to see.

If it’s horrible and troubling to see American troops injured in action, it’s the gravity of those images that transmit the reality of war and its true cost. With the government waging these wars in our name and because we’re the ones footing the bill, it’s only a photo like the one that surfaced yesterday — these images so remarkably few and far between — that lets us really see what we’re in for.

(photo: Gul Buddin Elham/Associated Press caption: American soldiers in Afghanistan tried to recover after being wounded in a suicide bombing on Wednesday in Maimana, the capital of Faryab Province, north of Kabul. At least nine people were killed, including three American soldiers, Afghan officials said.)

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