'Freedom' of the press

The evolution of afghan history since the end of the Afghan-soviet war is easily accessible to everyone. Viewfinder has also alluded to it enough times.

In addition to the series of errors made by the US government and the Pentagon, the US press might also reflect more about what's at stake before they decide to publish information and images that can only add to the black list and cause negative consequences.

The Los Angeles Times has chosen to publish photographs that again do no honour to the US forces in Afghanistan. The photographs date, however, from 2010.

According to an article on the subject in Le Figaro, most of the soldiers photographed (with dead Taliban jihadists) saw their comrades killed or wounded by the enemy. Maybe one could compare such images with those of avenged trophy hunters posing before the 'man-killer' lion successfully eliminated.

We all know that war brings out the best and the worst of everyone. We know that today, what would have remained relatively secret more than fifty years ago, is often revealed to many millions via Internet, or published by the international press. The latter defends 'freedom of expression'. It justifies that the publication of such images will oblige the authorities to assume their responsibilities more effectively.*

In fact the photographs were sent to the Los Angeles Times by an ex-soldier of the 82nd US Air Division. The soldier, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes that the behaviour of the troops reveals a serious flaw of discipline in high command. He hopes that the publication of the photographs (18) will prevent the repetition of such unworthy acts.

But would it not have been more responsible of the ex-soldier to have first confided the photographs and information to the Pentagon, with a letter to the effect that if the Pentagon do nothing about it, or don't confirm that they have taken the necessary measures to ascertain that such behaviour is not repeated, then the photographs will be sent to the press?

These shameful cases are isolated in comparison with the many acts of bravery and the generous initiatives to bring about greater trust and co-operation with the Afghans. Yet the whole world is only informed of the comparatively few, negative cases.

Sending such illustrated information directly to the press is potentially a political act. This information is immediately sold and shared internationally. It's used as propaganda. The result obtained by any disciplinary action against those who participated is meaningless compared to the real result obtained: virtually that of the total withdrawal of US and international forces from Afghanistan.

We already have enough visual proof of the horror of the First and Second World Wars. But imagine if digital cameras, mobile phones and Internet existed then. We would have quite different view points and ideas about the wars if this were the case.

The war against religious fanatic totalitarianism is all the more complicated when democracy itself becomes its own enemy. When the publication of photographs taken over two years ago, can cause more subsequent damage than say, a successfully co-ordinated attack of several suicide bombers killing hundreds of innocent civilians in the heart of Kabul right now.

When public opinion reaches the conclusion that Nato's presence in Afghanistan is doing more harm than good, (thanks mostly to such reports, naturally also fully exploited by the enemy) one can no longer expect young soldiers to continue to risk their lives for such a denigrated cause.

But the real question remains. What will the Taliban do, once Nato withdraws? The Taliban certainly won't withdraw. They will consider themselves victorious, similarly to the north Vietnamese after the withdrawal of the US troops from Vietnam, but even worse because the Taliban jihad is international. Will they not then be able to retake Kabul, and then perhaps even overrun Pakistan, consequently to have the whole world at their mercy?

*Even Goya, with his etchings of the horrors of the Napoleonic, Penisular war in Spain and Portugal, and in spite of publication limitations of his time, perhaps similarly, but no doubt more rightly so, contributed to the discredit and downfall of Napoleon.

Text and composite © Mirino. April, 2012

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