Showing bodies was our duty - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Showing bodies was our duty

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Posted: Sunday, April 4, 2004 7:29 am | Updated: 4:30 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

The Valley’s two biggest newspapers are way out of sync on body photos.

Last summer, when Odai and Qusai Hussein bit the dust, the Tribune did not print pictures of their riddled bod ies. The Arizona Republic did.

Last week, when an Iraqi mob desecrated the corpses of four Americans, the Republic printed only a photo of their burning vehicle. The Tribune on an inside page, showed two of the charred bodies hanging from a bridge.

Naturally, I think the Republic was wrong in both cases, and we were right.

The story last summer was that Odai and Qusai were dead. It was not necessary for Americans to see bodies in order for that to sink in. Iraqis may have needed visual evidence, and that’s why the U.S military released the photos But the Tribune isn’t printed in Iraq, and our readers didn’t need to see them.

The story last week was not merely the deaths of the Americans, but the sadistic delight with which a group of men and boys abused the remains. The abuse, in turn speaks volumes about the dif ficulties inherent in the U.S occupation of Iraq. It was more than an act unto itself; it was meant as a symbol and properly construed as such.

Could the story have been conveyed with words alone? Sure. You can say that of almost every story in the paper. Yet no one will argue that a photo report isn’t an essential — often the most powerful — aspect of modern journalism.

It can be so powerful, in fact, that restraint is always a component of photojournal ism. Newspapers in general shun body photos, especially on the local level. Even images of shattered vehicles and crime scenes without the bodies can be painful for the fami lies involved.

But war is different from random accidents and crimes War results from deliberate political decisions and reflects the organized determination of a nation to achieve its aims through violence. It is the most momentous of human decisions and it can unfetter the darkest of human impuls es. Its gravity demands full appreciation of its conse quences, which ought not be glossed over on account of mere squeamishness.

That is not to say every day’s newspaper should depict the gory detritus of combat Overexposure can have the same effect as underexposure inuring us to brutal realities.

From time to time, though we are compelled to consider images so powerful they can be regarded as defining. The photo of a street-corner exe cution in Saigon is one such the image of a napalm-seared little girl in Vietnam four years later is another.

Newspapers that refused to run those photos shirked their duty to the truth. So did papers that shunned this past week’s morbid images from Fallujah. The photos of those blackened bodies dangling from a bridge spoke far more eloquently about the festering wounds of Iraq than could the now-familiar sight of yet another burning SUV.

You may not have wanted to see them. Nobody really did. They were not at all a pleasing accompaniment to Thursday morning’s breakfast.

But whether we wanted to see them or not, we needed to.

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