NEW YORK — The Associated Press is distributing a photo of a Marine fatally wounded in battle, choosing after a period of reflection to make public an image that conveys the grimness of war and the sacrifice of young men and women fighting it.
Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard, 21, of New Portland, Maine, was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in a Taliban ambush Aug. 14 in Helmand province of southern Afghanistan.
The image shows fellow Marines helping Bernard after he suffered severe leg injuries. He was evacuated to a field hospital, where he died on the operating table.
The picture was taken by AP photographer Julie Jacobson, who accompanied Marines on the patrol and was in the midst of the ambush during which Bernard was wounded. She had photographed Bernard on patrol earlier and subsequently covered the memorial service held by his fellow Marines after his death.
'Unpleasant and brutal' reality
"AP journalists document world events every day. Afghanistan is no exception. We feel it is our journalistic duty to show the reality of the war there, however unpleasant and brutal that sometimes is," said Santiago Lyon, the director of photography for AP.
He said Bernard's death shows "his sacrifice for his country. Our story and photos report on him and his last hours respectfully and in accordance with military regulations surrounding journalists embedded with U.S. forces."
Journalists embedded with U.S. forces in Afghanistan must sign a statement accepting a series of rules which, among other things, are designed to protect operational security and lives of the soldiers and Marines who are hosting them.
Critics also maintain some of the rules are aimed at sanitizing the war, minimizing the sacrifice and cruelty that were graphically depicted by images from the Civil War to Vietnam where such restrictions were not in place.
The rule regarding coverage of "wounded, injured, and ill personnel" states that the "governing concerns" are "patient welfare, patient privacy and next of kin/family considerations."
"Casualties may be covered by embedded media as long as the service member's identity and unit identification is protected from disclosure until OASD-PA [Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs] has officially released the name. Photography from a respectful distance or from angles at which a casualty cannot be identified is permissible; however, no recording of ramp ceremonies or remains transfers is permitted."
Images of U.S. soldiers fallen in combat have been rare in Iraq and Afghanistan, partly because it is unusual for journalists to witness them and partly because military guidelines have barred the showing of photographs until after families have been notified.
Jacobson, who was crouching under fire, took the picture from a distance with a long lens and did not interfere with Marines trying to assist Bernard.
The AP waited until after Bernard's burial in Madison, Maine, on Aug. 24 to distribute its story and the pictures. An AP reporter met with his parents, allowing them to see the images.
Bernard's father after seeing the image of his mortally wounded son said he opposed its publication, saying it was disrespectful to his son's memory. John Bernard reiterated his viewpoint in a telephone call to the AP on Wednesday.
"We understand Mr. Bernard's anguish. We believe this image is part of the history of this war. The story and photos are in themselves a respectful treatment and recognition of sacrifice," said AP senior managing editor John Daniszewski.
Editors had time to deliberate
The photo was in a package that the AP sent to its newspaper, broadcast and online subscribers Thursday morning with an "embargo," or scheduled release time, of 12:01 a.m. Friday, Sept. 4. That scheduled release time meant the stories and photos were in the hands of thousands of editors by Thursday morning, giving them the day to make their own decisions about publishing the battlefield photo.
Thursday afternoon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called AP President Tom Curley asking that the news organization respect the wishes of Bernard's father and not publish the photo. Curley and AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said they understood this was a painful issue for Bernard's family and that they were sure that factor was being considered by the editors deciding whether to publish the photo, just as it had been for the AP editors who decided to distribute it.
Jacobson, in a journal she kept, recalled Bernard's ordeal as she lay in the dirt while Marines tried to save their comrade with bullets overhead.
"The other guys kept telling him 'Bernard, you're doing fine, you're doing fine. You're gonna make it. Stay with me Bernard!'" As one Marine cradled Bernard's head, fellow Marines rushed forward with a stretcher.
Later, when she learned he had died, Jacobson thought about the pictures she had taken.
"To ignore a moment like that simply ... would have been wrong. I was recording his impending death, just as I had recorded his life moments before walking the point in the bazaar," she said. "Death is a part of life and most certainly a part of war. Isn't that why we're here? To document for now and for history the events of this war?"
Later, she showed members of his squad all the images taken that day and the Marines flipped through them on her computer one by one.
"They did stop when they came to that moment," she said. "But none of them complained or grew angry about it. They understood that it was what it was. They understand, despite that he was their friend, it was the reality of things."
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