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new embed restrictions for Afghanistan: no KIA

This in from CPJ:

The agreement journalists must sign to become embedded with a military unit in Afghanistan now includes a prohibition against any photographic or video coverage of U.S. troops killed in action, according to a copy of the latest agreement<http://www.rcfp.org/newsitems/docs/20091009_123004_september_guidelines.pdf>.

As recently as July, the ground rules<http://www.rcfp.org/newsitems/docs/20091009_122934_july_guidelines.pdf> journalists agreed to in order to receive a media badge at Regional Command East stated that “media will not be prohibited from covering casualties” as long as the images were not released prior to Department of Defense officials notifying the service member’s next of kin.

A new version of ground rules released in September states that “media will not be allowed to photograph or record video of U.S. personnel killed in action” and can only publish written reports of casualties after a DOD announcement has been made.

The debate over the publication of photographs of troops killed in action was reignited in September when the Associated Press published a picture of a fatally wounded Marine. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote a letter of protest<http://militarytimes.com/static/projects/pages/090409_secdef_curley_letter.pdf> to AP President Tom Curley about the photo, and the new policy was released soon afterward.

excerpt from new embed contract:

11. Media will not be allowed to photograph or record video of U.S. personnel killed in action. Written
coverage of all killed and wounded is also prohibited unless the following conditions are adhered to:
a. Names or identifiable written/oral descriptions of wounded service members will not be released
without the service member’s prior written consent. If the service member later becomes a KIA,
Rule 10(b) applies.
b. DOD will release names of KIAs. In respect for family members, names or identifying oral/written
reporting of individuals “killed in action” will not be released prior to notification of next of kin
Regional Command – East
15 September 2009
Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan

by teru kuwayama at 2009-10-13 17:02:08 UTC Palo Alto, California , United States | Bookmark | | Report spam→

That’s completely insane. Worse than the draconian embed agreement in ’07. Shocking.

by [former member] | 13 Oct 2009 17:10 | Washington DC, United States | | Report spam→
Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good PR campaign, I always say.

These people fight and die on the principles of the United States. While it seems reasonable to want to show respect for them and avoid dragging their families through unnecessary pain, I think it goes against everything this country should stand for by letting this tripe pass for policy.

Even the RCE understands that if we show pictures of the slaughterhouse, other animals might not want to go through the gate.

We are losing real, actual people over there daily (certainly to include Afghans). It does all of them a disservice to pretend that it’s not happening.

by Will Seberger | 13 Oct 2009 18:10 | Tucson, Arizona, United States | | Report spam→
Ridiculous. Control the message, that’s the military way. Don’t care if they screw it up (e.g., Pat Tillman), anything to protect some officer’s career. Easiest way is to make reporting on the screwups more difficult. Make a wrong turn and get several of your troops killed, no pics only words permitted (which MIGHT get read by the few people who are reading print these days….)

by [former member] | 13 Oct 2009 19:10 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
This doesn’t surprise me but I am shocked. They do realize that at least allowing this, with the waiting for NOK, is a good thing in the long run right?

by Bill Putnam | 13 Oct 2009 20:10 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
Bill, I have always thought the embeds were viewed by the Pentagon as a way to get what amounts to low-cost advertising, (and as you have stated for the commanders in the field, a way to make their own point, or plug some campaign.) The cost of the spots that the Army normally runs on TV is absolutely staggering, much, much less than subsidizing anyone who wants to embed and make still images that are for the most part showing soldiers doing what they do.

Allowing KIA shots totally undermines the corporate value of that expenditure.

The APs refusal to honor Gates request to suppress the shot of the mortally wounded soldier last month just confirmed that they need more control in the field, so here you are.

But this is an issue that we have to address, do we want a military that looks to Blackwater, or whatever they call themselves, as a model? Do we want a military that emulates the NFL?

Everyone has a right to do what they want to do, and within the parameters that the military has set there has been some great work done in embeds, but I would have a tremendous amount of respect for the journalist who says enough is enough and opts out. And I would hope that major news organizations might consider this also….simply saying, we can’t work this way, we are not about this, and we need to try ad do this story some other, really any other way.

Just sayin’ cause the next step is probably a Getty contract and extreme difficulty for everyone else— it wouldn’t surprise me one bit. If it works for the NBA

by [former member] | 13 Oct 2009 21:10 (ed. Oct 13 2009) | | Report spam→
think it’s worth sharing these words, from a USMC public affairs officer who served in Afghanistan:

“Embeds are now forbidden to photograph Americans killed in action. They will never see those who make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom and liberty for this nation.”

by teru kuwayama | 13 Oct 2009 21:10 | Palo Alto, California, United States | | Report spam→
what is sad about this is that the average soldier on the ground is happy to have a journalist there to tell the story, the good and the bad.

by chad hunt | 13 Oct 2009 23:10 | new york city, United States | | Report spam→
one the one hand this restriction is crap. on the other i can see how it is important to the “marketing strategy” of war.
eventhough i agree personally that the restricion is crap, i’ll take any assignment anyone want to walk away from. im just too damn hungry to get my foot in some door.

by ronnie pettit | 13 Oct 2009 23:10 | Atlanta, United States | | Report spam→
The “media will not be allowed to photograph or record video of U.S. personnel killed in action” and can only publish written reports of casualties after a DOD announcement has been made” rule has been in effect “unofficially” for quite some time, but as with all things, there are different interpretations to every “rule”.

Photography of KIA’s is not permitted by the upper command, but what I’ve encountered is that a KIA’s fellow soldiers want a record of their own, and actually are very much against the “no shoot” policy as it disrespects their ultimate sacrifice as a meaningless loss.

New embeds will be under the screws to follow the new rules exactly, but those of use who have been attached over time have already learned the “unofficial” protocol, and how to work [with] the system.

The USA wants a “clean” war on terror, they’re the good guys, right?

by George “Funky’ Brown | 14 Oct 2009 00:10 | Kirkuk, Iraq | | Report spam→
from a marine, on a related thread on facebook:

“I think the country must weigh the blood of their service members with the cause under which they send them to combat. While at war, a free country should know what is going on over there. Each voter in this country is responsible for each death of war, because each voter sent them into that area.

Allowing each family to have the right to chime in might be a middle ground.

Heidi, I hate looking at ‘that’ photo. It makes me feel a number of emotions and none of them are pleasant. That doesn’t change the fact that we live in a free society with a duty to transparency. …

PS; if i end up back in combat and die you can go ahead and take as many photos of you want of my dead body."

by teru kuwayama | 14 Oct 2009 03:10 (ed. Oct 14 2009) | Palo Alto, California, United States | | Report spam→
Controlling the message/media has been the military way ever since Vietnam. The Gulf war was a classic example where political and military leaders were able shape public opinion according to their own terms via strict media censorship. The less you know the better, and its no different today.

by [former member] | 14 Oct 2009 03:10 (ed. Oct 14 2009) | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
so, ronnie, you’re ready to make compromises on ethics just for the sake of your career ? congratulations ! that’s the spirit !

by [former member] | 14 Oct 2009 16:10 | | Report spam→
“so, ronnie, you’re ready to make compromises on ethics just for the sake of your career ? congratulations ! that’s the spirit !”

no. sir. that is not what i am saying. ethics involve choice. this not personal choice to photgraph or not, this is not about ethics of any photographer. this is about if you want to play on thier filed you have to follow thier rules. if we don’t like the rules, then we can go into the battlefield on our own and do what we want at our risk.

what i am saying is that given the state of economy, the journalism industry, for every person that will refuse to take an assignment becuase they cannot accept the terms there is someone like me…begging for opportunity, that will take it, deal with the rules, and fill a vacancy. has nothing to do with ethics. i’m hungry.

by ronnie pettit | 14 Oct 2009 16:10 | Atlanta, United States | | Report spam→
This is precisely the ingredient in the soup into which Chris Anderson is spitting……

by [former member] | 14 Oct 2009 16:10 | | Report spam→
i think we all would agree that from a universal perspective of telling the ugly truth about war…this is bullcrap. however it is also unrealistic at best to expect the military to protect you while you produce images and stories that undermine their corporate marketing strategy. telling the tue story of the sacrifice of our troops may have to come from another point of view than the embeds. should it be told? of course!

by ronnie pettit | 14 Oct 2009 17:10 | Atlanta, United States | | Report spam→
just had an interesting conversation with a stateside public affairs officer, and I’m hearing that the no-KIA rule is not coming down from the DoD – apparently it’s an in-country move, perhaps coming from Bagram – the embed contract in question here is from RC East – so would be curious to hear from anyone with recent experience in RC South.

by teru kuwayama | 15 Oct 2009 04:10 | Palo Alto, California, United States | | Report spam→
The first amendment says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

But hey, it’s Afghanistan, not the US, so I guess it doesn’t count.

by Mikethehack | 15 Oct 2009 09:10 | Way up my own ass, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
The embed document has been changed again, this time with a bit more favorable language. Here is the new wording:

“14. Media will not be prohibited from viewing or filming casualties; however, casualty photographs showing recognizable face, nametag or other identifying feature or item will not be published. In respect to our family members, names, video, identifiable written/oral descriptions or identifiable photographs of wounded service members will not be released without the service member’s prior written consent. If the service member dies of his wounds, next-of-kin reporting rules then apply. Media should contact the PAO for release advice.”

Check out the story at NPPA – http://nppa.org/news_and_events/news/2009/10/embed2.html

by Bob Carey | 16 Oct 2009 02:10 | Boiling Springs, NC, United States | | Report spam→
Here at the US Embassy Kabul we have not seen any guidance on this new document. I am headed down to RC South tomorrow to FOB Leatherneck and will see what they are saying.

by [former member] | 16 Oct 2009 14:10 | Kabul, Afghanistan | | Report spam→
Its been rescinded….

by [former member] | 16 Oct 2009 15:10 | | Report spam→

by [former member] | 16 Oct 2009 17:10 | New York City, United States | | Report spam→
PDN is getting a bit creative with the timeline on this story:

“RC East’s photo ban went largely unnoticed until October 9, when the rule change was reported by the blog of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. PDN confirmed the report Wednesday and the story quickly spread to other outlets.”

Perhaps the only accurate part of that narrative is that RCFP first reported the story on Oct 9th. On Oct 13th, the Committee to Protect Journalists circulated RCFP’s story in an email memo, which was posted here on LS the same day.

PDN “confirmed” the story on Oct 14th – although it’s unclear what they actually confirmed, since RCPF published the legal fineprint on the US military’s embed contract a week earlier. More clearly, it’s a bit of a stretch to imply that PDN’s reporting “spread to other outlets” when it seems more likely that the opposite was the case.

On a more positive, and a more significant note, I think credit should be given to the US military, which quickly reversed the KIA ban. From my personal reading of the situation, the ban appears to have been the work of an over-zealous PAO in one regional command in Afghanistan, not a top-down directive from the Pentagon.

When I first talked to my friends in military public affairs, I assumed that the directive had come from SecDef Robert Gates, who had recently made public objections to the release of an AP photo of a USMC KIA in Afghanistan – and they reminded me that it was actually Gates who had sealed the move to end the ban on coffin photos at Dover.

Regardless of the details, what’s valuable about this incident is that it underscores the fact that the US military isn’t a monolithic organization with a single set of opinions, political affiliations, or beliefs. The debate over the balance between public information and sensitivity to the families of casualties is an open and valid question, but it would be very short-sighted to frame it as a media-vs-military dichotomy – there’s obviously a range of opinions on both ends.

For the record, it’s worth stating – embedded journalists tend to get hit from both sides of the political spectrum – some people think we’re dirt-hunting parasites waiting for a bleed-and-lead photograph of a dead soldier/marine – others think we’re propaganda tools unofficially working for the US military. The truth is more nuanced, but I think it’s accurate to say that there’s few people more critical of the restrictions on reporting, or more supportive of the troops, than the camera-carrying grunts who are embedded with them.

by teru kuwayama | 17 Oct 2009 23:10 | Palo Alto, California, United States | | Report spam→
This came up in a talk yesterday between Tim Page, Michael Coyne, Jack Picone and David Dare Parker hosted at the Australian Center for Photography.

Mike Bowers who chaired the conversation made the very astute observation that the Australian Defence Forces pretty much won’t let anyone embed with them and if they do they get dragged around to where there is no chance of seeing any of the real operations. He said at least American’s respect the freedom of speech enough to allow people to report on what is happening to the troops. KIA or not I doubt there are many photos of Australian troops in the kinds of situations we frequently see American troops in.

So while the restrictions on embeds can be difficult spare a thought for the Australian families that don’t know what kind of danger their kin are in when they go to Afghanistan…They only work it out when they are shipped home in a body bag… And even then I believe there are all sorts of rules about photographing repatriations here…

Media here are always treated like scum by everybody…

by lisa hogben | 18 Oct 2009 00:10 | Sydney, Australia | | Report spam→
Lisa, Is the near ban on embeds/media for Australian forces due to the nature of the units deployed there? I read the biggest part of your country’s deployment is special operations. They tend not to like embeds/media around and that could explain the lack of coverage. Or is the lack of coverage just typical of the Australian military?

by Bill Putnam | 18 Oct 2009 01:10 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
“…I think it’s accurate to say that there’s few people more critical of the restrictions on reporting, or more supportive of the troops, than the camera-carrying grunts who are embedded with them.”

Of course, because its a win-win – the photographers get to embellish their ‘hardcore’ credentials, and the DOD gets to flood the audience with images which only show the suffering of their team.

The ongoing and massive civilian slaughter (mostly caused by aerial bombing in Afghanistan) has gone almost totally undocumented.

The ‘free press’ argument for ‘open’ coverage of troop activity already starts from the idea that their presence is legitimate. The only issue for debate is how much access is granted to justify that legitimacy.

The root argument – whether they should be there at all, and why – is rarely if ever raised.

How many images do we need to prove that prosecuting a war in Afghanistan is difficult and dangerous?

But difficult and dangerous for whom?

You just need to look at the statistics to realise that civilians are taking the brunt.

But who the fuck can be bothered to ‘embed’ with them?

by [former member] | 18 Oct 2009 05:10 | Singapore, Singapore | | Report spam→
" the photographers get to embellish their ‘hardcore’ credentials, and the DOD gets to flood the audience with images which only show the suffering of their team."

Sion, that’s pretty unfair. Sure many journalists are in the war game to prop up their hard core cred, but not everyone. So check yourself on your mass judgment. And the DOD or MOD is not typically interested in making their troops look like victims. Quite the opposite, hence the topic of the thread and the stiff embed rules about covering US/UK casualties.
As for victims of arial bombing and other civilian deaths caused by ISAF forces in Afghanistan, every journalist I know covering the country is very interested in covering such topics, and some are in the right place at the right time to do so.
Obviously you are not considering the extreme danger for journalists and their drivers and translators to work freely throughout the country. If you dont remember, recently NYT reporter Stephen Farrell and his translator/colleague Sultan Munadi were recently kindapped while trying to cover civilian deaths south of Kabul. Sultan was killed during their rescue. Many local translators have been killed working in dangerous areas away from western military. The point is it’s just too dangerous to go roaming around many areas in Afghanistan without an army behind you these days. Dangerous for reporters, and a virtual death sentence to our drivers/translators. Didn’t used to be like that all the time, but sure as hell is now.
Civilians always take the brunt in war. Always. Either by design or negligence or accident. It’s not that we can’t be bothered to “embed” with civilians, it’s just that we will get kidnapped or fucking killed.
So leave your self righteous back seat driving out of this, or get off your ass and go fucking do it yourself. Go for it Sion, go wander around Logar or Helmand on your own waiting for a bomb to drop or for Talibs to behead civilians.Go see how far you get. You’ll get dead is what you’ll get, or a nice long holiday in some Pakistani shit hole complete with a torture spa and behind the scene ransom deals that will only encourage your captors to do it again and again and again. And your translator, who has become your friend will have his head cut off, probably right in front of you. Let me know how it goes for you. If you survive, you will have a real top notch “hard core rep.”

by [former member] | 18 Oct 2009 06:10 | OAKLAND, United States | | Report spam→
“Didn’t used to be like that all the time, but sure as hell is now.”

Absolutely. And so its a reasonable question to ask what has changed.

In the early months of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, it was still possible to work independently of the military, as I did in 2001 in Afghanistan and 2003 in Iraq, even though the risks were still high and indeed, several journalists were killed.

So what has changed to make it virtually impossible to report independently now? One of the reasons is journalists being continually seen operating under the wing of a force that is laying waste to the surrounding area.

Frankly, in the eyes of the locals burying their dead and other locals with a vested interest in making the invaders piss off back home, the peacenik credentials of the journo is of little import.

It’s now gone too far for that.

Journalists seen to be operating closely with ‘the enemy’ are seen as legitimate targets and are treated accordingly – and that goes for BOTH sides. Bomb a radio station, kill a journo – same difference.

After all, that was the motivation which caused US forces to target the Al-Jazeera offices in Baghdad during the invasion, and throw people like Sami Al-Hajj into Guantanamo for six years.

The intent of all belligerents is precisely to discourage communication outside their propaganda sphere. So you end up with Jihad-Tube on one hand, Embed-Vision on the other. So the extremes squeeze out the middle – which is just where most people happen to be killed.

And that’s where we are. Mission Accomplished!

I’m being unfair?

You mean as unfair as the embedded shills who have pissed on the notion of independence by striding around in the open air wearing military fatigues, surrounded by armed men who have just comprehensively fucked everything up?

If you were an Afghan or Iraqi local checking out that cosy scene, what would YOU think?

You gonna shake me by the hand after your ‘mates’ have killed my family? What message do you think your presence ultimately sends, and what reaction do you honestly expect it to engender? Flower petals at your feet?

As to you asking why I don’t get off my ass and do it my fucking self, it’s a legitimate question, and simply answered. I did my modest share in Afghanistan and Iraq, without selling my independence to the Pentagon or MOD.

But I stopped after it became obvious to me that my professional colleagues over-eagerness to wear khaki had put a target on my back, and that of any local fixer working for me.

The ultimate judgement on the embedding system in photojournalism ought to be gauging the general publics knowledge of both wars and their consequences from a photographic perspective.

People may disagree, but I would say on the whole the general public is mostly either ignorant or disinterested, despite a constant hosepipe of embedded images hitting their eyeballs for nearly eight years.

Instead of scratching our heads as to how the most photographed wars in history can be met with such indifference, perhaps we should turn that notion on its head – and ask if that was the exact outcome desired…and by what means it was brought about.

by [former member] | 18 Oct 2009 12:10 | Singapore, Singapore | | Report spam→
“How many images do we need to prove that prosecuting a war in Afghanistan is difficult and dangerous?”

We might need a few more, since it’s only fairly recently that US military leaders have begun to openly speak about the fact that things are going south in Central Asia – and making moves to shift the approach there.

That said, I have yet to see anything remotely “hardcore” about the vast majority of embedded journalists I’ve met – generally speaking, these are the last people you’d want on your side in a bar fight, and most of them probably get scared to death walking through dodgy neighborhoods in their own cities.

As Eros just spelled out, most journalists report as embeds because it’s the safest route through places like Afghanistan and Iraq, not out of any instinct for heroism. And as Sion mentions, there’s quite a few of them who just morons who get a thrill from dressing up like soldiers.

I’d still disagree with the view that embedded reporting only serves as some kind of unofficial propaganda machine for some dark, evil, military-industrial complex, and that the Pentagon happily welcomes our gullible efforts to produce low-cost recruiting images for them.

I’d also disagree with the idea that the general public just doesn’t care, or isn’t interested in what’s happening in Afghanistan or Iraq, although I don’t disagree that the US media has done a sorry-ass of reporting over there.

Pretty clearly, some smart people at the DoD set up our current system (with the new brand name “embedded journalism”) for OIF, recognizing that a lot of journalists are uncritical, gutless, and not very bright – and that they’d self-censor so efficiently that the government didn’t need to bother doing it for them. As the cakewalk dragged on into the long war, the embedding regulations have grown increasingly restrictive, and I’d guess that there’s quite a few people in DC who’d rather just turn it off entirely. Apparently, there’s some in the media who’d like the same thing, but that would seem like a classic example of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

The current embedding regulations are a ways off from the Vietnam glory days we hear about, but it’s a lot better than the deal we got for Desert Storm – and whether or not anyone agrees with me, I give credit to whoever it was who rolled back the no-KIA rule, and I’ll restate my opinion that the incident shows that the US military doesn’t operate on a single set of beliefs.

On our end, it would be pretty simplistic to frame the question as embedded vs independent as if it’s only one or the other. My last embed was a year ago in Helmand, and I’ve been back to Afghanistan and Pakistan three times since, so I’m certainly not choosing a single approach – horseback, helicopters, or hitchhiking – I’ll take any ride available.

“So what has changed to make it virtually impossible to report independently now?”

First, I’d suggest that it isn’t impossible to do independent reporting – it’s just a lot more difficult, dangerous, and expensive – especially for independent/freelance reporters, so a lot of them choose the path of least resistance. Understandably, a lot them are even more reluctant to risk their lives when there’s not much of a commercial market for serious reporting.

I’d also suggest that the uptic in danger isn’t because embedded journalists are wearing khaki, or because we’ve been identified by the local population as overly sympathetic to the “invasion”. It’s because the conventional media is no longer considered especially relevant in the information war that both sides are fighting. Both the US military and the insurgency are running their own media operations, and they’ve both adapted to new media spectrum far more effectively than we have.

That’s the irony of the embedding story – the military learned far more about the media than we learned from them – and that’s why it’s the conventional media that’s losing the information war.



by teru kuwayama | 18 Oct 2009 16:10 | Palo Alto, California, United States | | Report spam→
The chicken or the egg?

by [former member] | 18 Oct 2009 16:10 (ed. Oct 18 2009) | | Report spam→
cosy scene? Don’t be so flip. There is nothing cosy about being blown up because you are riding in a vehicle with the target (US military.) That is no fun. I wish I could roll around Afghanistan photographing as I do in other countries. But I just fucking can’t. Too dangerous, and as Teru pointed out, too little return. And I am not so full of shit to think that I am out there saving the world, so it’s just not worth it to be kidnapped, raped or killed. Nor Am I willing to risk another man’s life (translator) for the selfishness of my photographic mission.
I mostly disagree with the notion that, because of the embed system and because western journalists have been seen marching around in Camo with US troops, that we have been made a target. We have been made a target because we are Westerners. There used to be a time when French and Canadiens could weasel out of trouble because they were not American or British. No longer. And it is not because of the embed program. It is because in many areas of Afghanistan and the Arab world, these wars are viewed as a Christian vs Muslim conflict. Groups like Al Queda (for lack of a better name,) kill civilians all the time, and they view this as legit targeting, especially if they are western. 911 started before the modern US embed program. Western civilians killed to prompt a western military response. We were fair game long before the official embed program. And as Teru suggested, traditional media is of little value these days to guerrilla groups, so our status as potential propaganda tool is trumped by our status as Infidel, or walking ransom. IMO the biggist issue is that most of these so called ideological guerrilla forces are just criminals who recognize the value of a Western hostage. And that is the main danger. Embeds have nothing t do with that, except when we are on embed, we dont get kidnapped.
I totally agree that the situation has gone too far for the press to be seen as nuetral and not a target. Possibly for some of the reasons you suggest, but I think blaming the embed system is ignoring the larger fact that these wars have turned people’s attitudes into an us vs. them situation because of much larger forces at work, mainly the ease into which humans everywhere revert to seeing in black and white when things get to complicated and confused to comprhend with rational thought.

by [former member] | 18 Oct 2009 20:10 (ed. Oct 18 2009) | OAKLAND, United States | | Report spam→
Now a word on “Embed shills parading in the open air in camo.”
ANd this is not just for Sion, but everybody who is critical of embedding.
Embedding exists in every war. It is not a new concept, but rather a way of gaining access to subjects.
Sion, are you calling Larry Burroughs or Michael Herr "embed shills?’ Because they were sure as shit “embedded.” They just didnt sign a piece of paper that says the same thing as our piece of paper we sign today, and they didn’t have as much restriction as we do now, but an embed it was. They traveled with the American military, just like we do now.
When I worked in Colombia with FARC guerrillas or AUC paramilitary, I was “embedded.” I traveled with them, and followed their rules. When I worked with gangs in El Salvador, I traveled with them and followed their rules.
The main difference is, that I did not sign a piece of paper, and that if I had broken their rules in the field, I would have been killed, not merely disembeded.
When my father worked with guerrillas and army in EL Salvador……guess what? A goddamed embed.
To gain access we must work out some kind of “contract” with our subjects, whether it be a legally binding piece of paper or otherwise. The US military says I cant film the faces of wounded or killed soldiers. The gang leader I worked with told me I could not film any of the gangsters doing anything illegal. The paramilitary in Colombia or the FARC would kill me if they saw me filming them doing something they didn’t like. That’s the way the game works so often when you’re working with serious people. So everyone stop pretending that the modern military Embed system is some new and unique design to control a message.
I dont like the restrictions. I think many of them are complete bullshit. I wish I could go all over the world and photograph what ever I want. But it just aint so.
Pull out of your tunnel vision. There is a lot to be learned on an embed, and a lot to be reported, many things that drive the DOD and the MOD a little crazy. But those who refuse to embed on their high horse just don’t truly understand the possibilities because you are too busy enjoying your complete freedom as a totally independent journalist doing real reporting without any kind of control. Wake up from your dream. Everything is controlled somewhere down the line.
Now excuse me while I go wash my camouflage pants, because it IS way beyond the point to say “journalists dont shoot,” and I personally like to make myself a target that’s hard to see. May as well not be the one the sniper shoots at as far as I’m concerned.
Wait, “journalist dont shoot”… that reminds me of a joke the Salvadoran hacks used to tell during their EMBEDS with the guerillas.

“A soldier returned to base and exitedly told his commander "mi capitan, today I killed four “Aminopleez.”
“What is an an “Aminopleez?” asked the commander.
“I don’t know exactly sir, but they were four Gringos with cameras holding up their hands shouting " a me no….please."
The guerrillas would laugh their asses off, and then say "you are cool Gringos, you can come back and “embed” with us any time you want."

by [former member] | 18 Oct 2009 20:10 (ed. Oct 19 2009) | OAKLAND, United States | | Report spam→
One more thing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Balazs Gardi made some very powerful pictures of civilians suffering from air strikes while embedded with US Army in Kunar Afghanistan.
If he were not embedded he would never have had the opportunity to make those pictures. The embed is as much a helicopter ride to a specific area as it is a mission of devious propaganda carried out by unwitting pawns of the DOD.
Yeah, that was fucking sarcasm.

by [former member] | 18 Oct 2009 21:10 | OAKLAND, United States | | Report spam→
Look we all want to be critical……but at some point being too critical, without qualifying the remarks is not constructive. Do I think there are issues with embeds and what results from them….damn straight I do. But at the same time we need to give photographers the benefit of the doubt…….because for the most part they too share our viewpoints about aspects of this war which are under-reported and miss-understood, and attacking their credibility (calling photojournalism a fraud for example) just undermines what is a shared goal, to try and present a meaningful commentary for the public, for the world.

Eros is out there getting his ass shot out, and putting his life on the line. His dad got killed doing the same thing. I really think we need to give him the respect of knowing how to do his job under very difficult circumstances…..

by [former member] | 18 Oct 2009 23:10 (ed. Oct 19 2009) | | Report spam→
Thank you Andy.
I try my best, many of us do

by [former member] | 19 Oct 2009 01:10 | OAKLAND, United States | | Report spam→
Life would be pretty boring if we only talked to people who agreed with us – and when people are saying shit that pisses you off, that’s about the only time you can really be confident that they’re actually being honest with you.

I more than appreciate whatever Sion, Andy, etc, care to say regardless of whether I agree with them.

Eros, I assure you, is far too laid back, and also far too heavily armed to lose any sleep over a political debate on the internet. Neither of us qualify as “peaceniks”, but I don’t think that makes us propagandists either.

and speaking of embedding not being anything new – I was working off a Sonoma hangover at the Jack London museum this afternoon, and came across his press credentials from the Mexican revolution:

“The bearer Mr Jack London, whose photograph and signature are hereto attached, is hereby accredited to the Commanding General, troops at Vera Cruz, Mexico, United States Army as news correspondent of Collier’s Weekly with permission to accompany said troops in the field, subject to the Regulations governing Correspondents with Troops in the Field and the orders of the commander of said troops.

This pass entitles the correspondent to passage on military railways and, when accomodations are available, on Army transports, with the privileges of a commissioned officer, including purchase of substinence, forage and indispensable supplies when they can be spared."

signed, Lindley M. Garrison, Secretary of War
Headquarters US Expeditionary Forces
Vera Cruz Mexico May 14, 1914

by teru kuwayama | 19 Oct 2009 04:10 (ed. Oct 19 2009) | Palo Alto, California, United States | | Report spam→
and yes – Balazs Gardi was embedded with the 173rd Airborne in the Korengall Valley when he photographed dead and wounded civilians in a tiny village called Yaka China – as well as several American soldiers who were killed during the operation. Elizabeth Rubin, also embedded with the same unit, wrote one of the better pieces of reporting to come out of Afghanistan, entitled “Captain Kearney’s Quagmire”. It was hardly a piece of NATO propaganda, and public affairs shut down access to the Korengal for almost a year after it was published. On the ground in the Korengal Valley, the 173rd invited Balazs to come back, and unsuccessfully tried to convince public affairs to grant him another embed.

by teru kuwayama | 19 Oct 2009 04:10 (ed. Oct 19 2009) | Palo Alto, California, United States | | Report spam→
In 1899 Winston Churchill was a correspondent for the Morning Post, for all intents and purposes embedded with the British forces in South Africa during the Second Boer War. he never mentions any desire at all to tell teh “other side of the story”. He hitched a ride on a military train that was to reconnoitre the tracks, the train was ambushed and he was captured. Although it was not on him at the time, he reports occasionally carrying a Mauser Broomhandle pistol – and wishing that he could shoot his captor. Long story short, he escaped from custody and went on into history.
Edit: The above is offered purely as an interesting FYI on the history of embedding and not intended to be a commentary on what embedding should or shouldn’t be.

by BignoseTW | 19 Oct 2009 05:10 (ed. Oct 19 2009) | Taipei, Taiwan | | Report spam→
damn. what an education and access to insights. they should be charging a fee and giving college credit just to read this thread. i’m gunna go make some popcorn. i love it. all the people i hang out with care about is college football and people magazine.
there’s gotta be some kinda way outta here.

by ronnie pettit | 19 Oct 2009 12:10 | Kennesaw, Georgia, United States | | Report spam→

by eva mbk | 19 Oct 2009 12:10 | Tuscany, Italy | | Report spam→
Like I said Andy, nobody is disputing that trudging around Afghanistan is difficult and dangerous for soldiers and journalists alike. It’s just that I’d expect most journalists to continually ask why they’re trudging there at all – soldiers and journalists – and what purpose they serve. Just being there, or your ‘motivation’ is simply not justification enough. The question is what you’re producing and what message it’s sending out about the nature of the wars, wars which are killing civilians in staggering numbers.

A coupla days away from this post and I come back to find the scent of testosterone is in the air. After reading all the thrilling tales of pistol packin’ embed journo derring do, I was half expecting to find a post starting with:

“When I was in…’Naaaaaam…”

So lets start there, as the mainstream idea that press reporting ‘at the sharp end’ in Vietnam helped end that war, has become an ideal that’s motivated many journalists, and Im sure many have signed up for an embed with that vague idea in mind.

But the idea that the press helped stop the Vietnam war is a pernicious lie. The overwhelming majority of the mainstream press at the time, wholeheartedly supported it.

Most of the work in Vietnam at the time was either an acceptance of the context of the war itself – that it was by definition ‘legitimate’, and so therefore the massive civilian slaughter was an excusable ‘mistake’, or simply an account of what someone called

‘the angst of the invader’.

Phillip Knightley:

“…Most correspondents, despite what Washington thought about them, were just as interested in seeing the United States win the war as was the Pentagon. What the correspondents questioned was not American policy, but the tactics used to implement that policy”

There were a very small number of notable exceptions of course, like Martha Gellhorn (who had to get her articles published in the UK), and Philip Jones Griffiths, but they were small beer compared to the massive amount of pro-war reporting.

So in answer to Eros’s question – yes, at the time they were working, I would class both Larry Burrows and Michael Herr as embedded shills. Their status as voices of broad ‘anti-war’ sentiment (if any) has been developed in later years by the myth factory.

One test of how effective the myth factory has been, is to ask anyone if they can tell you the Vietnam War death toll. Most (if they know at all) will quote a figure in the region of 50,000…which is US military deaths.

The close to genocidal level of the millions of civilian deaths in Indochina and continuing deaths from chemical weapons and unexploded munitions isn’t even on their radar. What IS on their radar is the mainstream view that America ‘lost’ that war, which again, is nonsense – it was lost militarily, but won, and won big, economically – which was the point of it in the first place.

A largely nationalist development model was destroyed and for decades, multinational businesses have wallowed in profits from the defeated regions cheap labour.

So the ‘excusable mistake/invader angst’ journalism angle has proved to be a very effective censorship model, and I would argue it comprises the tone and content of most embedded journalism coming from Iraq and Afghanistan.

No doubt in 30 years time we’ll all be thinking their reporting helped ‘end the wars’ there…assuming they’re over by then.

The formal/informal embedding accounts above from South Africa, Central America and Mexico are all about conflicts rooted in imperialism in one way or another, and the historical role of ‘embedding’ in helping to legitimise thievery and pillage by strong nations is well worth a look.

Teru – Jack London’s Mexican revolution articles were all pro-US military. He referred to Villa and Zapata as ‘half breeds’ and claimed most Mexicans opposed the revolution (alienating many of his friends in the process, as up to this point London had been a committed Socialist).

US Marine General Smedley Butler was posted to Vera Cruz and who knows? Maybe he bumped into Jack London. Butler had a rip-roaring military career and was the most decorated Marine of the day. You’d assume his name would be legendary, but he’s virtually unknown because when he retired, he wrote a pamphlet (and later memoirs) entitled ‘War is a Racket’:


in which he views most of his 33 year military career as simply enforcing US business interests. The pamphlet is well worth a read, for a military opinion which now would be regarded as bordering on treason, even though I’d argue his decades-old view is often a clearer analysis of whats in the newspapers today, than you’ll get from most of the embedded shills writing in them.

Of course there will always be the ‘my country right or wrong, our cause is just – so fuck you’ crew, who have rarely been in the self-examination business. So if you’re an unapologetic warmonger, the current embed system is manna from Heaven.

But I’m talking about the people Andy described above. so-called ‘liberal’ opinion (for want of a better term)…and ironically, the warmongers are at least, less self deluding about their embedding motivations. I guess most mainstream journalists and photographers would say they’re motivated by some kind of vague humanitarian, anti-war idea, but seem quite able to accomodate a bizarre doublethink that you can hold those views, and hate war in general, but somehow sympathise with, and present the sole viewpoint of, the biggest and most organised killers in the conflict.

For those people, I have a question – how restrictive would the embed rules have to be, how far would you be willing to accomodate, before you realised your material is helping to fuel a completely false idea of the wars motives and how its being conducted?

Would you go as far as Jack London?

Maybe as far as Winston Churchill?

How about as far as Leni Rhiefenstahl?

by [former member] | 21 Oct 2009 09:10 (ed. Oct 21 2009) | Singapore, Singapore | | Report spam→
Bill I am fairly certain its actually the nature of the beast. Though in saying that I was invited along to photograph border activity in Oecussi and West Timor by a very strung out lieutenant once… an invitation unfortunately I couldn’t take up on at the time.

The ADF like all bodies in Australia are consistently hard to get inside to do any coverage, but having said that I haven’t got first hand experience in Afghanistan.

Its telling though that one of the most important photos taken of the conflict was shot by Australian Stephen Dupont whilst on an Amercian embed. That was the one of the burning of Taliban bodies which sucessfully got US policy changed in the handling and repatriation of enemy dead.

by lisa hogben | 21 Oct 2009 10:10 | Sydney, Australia | | Report spam→
Sion. You are waaaay too smart for me. I have no idea what you are trying to say.
Maybe you should go back on the GreenPeace boat and save some whales.
Whales are definitely worth saving. :)
peace and love, down with the man

by [former member] | 21 Oct 2009 18:10 (ed. Oct 21 2009) | OAKLAND, United States | | Report spam→
Oh yeah I forgot to ask Sion,
were Eddie Adams and Tim Page embed shills too?
Because if they were, I shall gladly include my self as an embed shill. What company to keep.
What about Sean Flynn? (one of my personal hero embed shills)
The list is long, pretty much goes on and on.
Let us all collectively apologize to Sion for not letting him work in Afghanistan anymore. It is all our fault because we chose to embed. All of us from the grave and those yet to be borne. It’s our fault, sorry we fucked up your program Sion.

I was just looking at some of your pictures. Are you a sand-box anarchist shill?

by [former member] | 21 Oct 2009 19:10 | OAKLAND, United States | | Report spam→
Sion I’m starting to identify small parts of you’re writings as making sense in the frame of this discussion.

It is not the job of the photojournalist to decide whether a war is just or un just. That is the job of the public. A journalist cannot also be an activist or an advocate or a propagandist. Obviously you feel that all of us are the latter.

Sion says:
“A largely nationalist development model was destroyed and for decades, multinational businesses have wallowed in profits from the defeated regions cheap labour.”

Sion, where do you think your camera was made? And by whom? Your Jeans? Your Shoes? All the little parts that help make the airplanes you fly around in? And where do you think the airline companies get their fuel?

You are obviously a deep thinker. But maybe you done thunk yourself into a hole.

thats all for now.
I was serious about the whales

by [former member] | 21 Oct 2009 19:10 | OAKLAND, United States | | Report spam→
“I’d expect most journalists to continually ask why they’re trudging there at all – soldiers and journalists – and what purpose they serve. Just being there, or your ‘motivation’ is simply not justification enough. The question is what you’re producing and what message it’s sending out about the nature of the wars, wars which are killing civilians in staggering numbers”

Very much agreed – although, on a statistical note, civilians in Afghanistan are probably being killed in far less staggering numbers than they have been in the past.

“…Most correspondents, despite what Washington thought about them, were just as interested in seeing the United States win the war as was the Pentagon. What the correspondents questioned was not American policy, but the tactics used to implement that policy”

In very broad strokes, that would probably describe my position – although it’s still an open question as to how we define winning, and what our policy and strategy actually are – and I most certainly have questions about the tactics.

“No doubt in 30 years time we’ll all be thinking their reporting helped ‘end the wars’ there…assuming they’re over by then.”

30 years is probably a relatively conservative estimate on how long the US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan might last. British military officers are fairly open with citing that timeframe, based on their experience with insurgency in Northern Ireland. Americans are far less comfortable with the idea, but the military bases we’re building in Afghanistan don’t look remotely temporary. We’ve still got residual forces across Europe and Asia dating back to WW2, and I’d venture that very few of those countries actually want the Americans to go home.

In any case, in 30 years, if Afghanistan and Pakistan are anywhere near as stable as Cambodia and Vietnam are today, we’ll probably consider the campaign a wild success. The US media won’t be able to claim much credit for driving US policy, since it’s been largely reactive to this point – but that doesn’t sound like an argument for totally checking out. On the contrary, I think it’s time for us, as a profession, to actually start doing our jobs. And I happen to believe that some of the people in this conversation can have a much more significant role to play in where this goes next.

I don’t start with the presupposition that US military intervention is an inherently bad thing. I don’t claim that we’ve done well in Afghanistan, but to paraphrase David Petraeus – every army gets it wrong at first, what matters is who learns the fastest.

Get-the-hell-out-and-leave-them-alone is a convenient, and emotionally attractive notion – but I’d be sincerely interested to hear the theories on what the exfil and the endstate are going to look like.

I don’t qualify as a pacifist, nor am I motivated by “some kind of vague humanitarian, anti-war idea”. I’m more interested in the specifics, and the “anti-war” label sounds like a meaningless cop-out.

My grandmother was burned alive in her front yard in US airstrike. Eros’s father was killed in El Salvador, most likely shot with a US weapon. So if you’re talking about us, you might need a descriptive framework slightly more complex than “my-country-right-or-wrong warmongers”.

Regarding Jack London, I don’t know anything about his war reporting, although I certainly liked his novels about dogs. I was somewhat amused to learn that he was once a committed socialist, as I noticed he had quite a nice estate in northern California, as well as a 40 foot yacht with 3 staterooms. Revolutionaries can be funny that way, I’ve noticed.

“how restrictive would the embed rules have to be, how far would you be willing to accomodate, before you realised your material is helping to fuel a completely false idea of the wars motives and how its being conducted?”

Actually, the US media was probably at its most compliant and uncritical at the beginning of OIF, back when the embed rules were the least restrictive. We’re not in disagreement that embedding provides a very limited view – and it’s a problem when that view is seen by journalists who’ve never had another perspective. But US/NATO military operations are not an insignificant factor in the future of Afghanistan, and it would be extremely short-sighted to just pretend that they don’t exist, just because you don’t like the fact they exist.

Being angry at the United States, Donald Rumsfeld, and the embedded media is an understandable reaction to a messed up situation. It’s not especially helpful, however, to a 20 year old NCO who was in junior high school when the war started, and now finds himself trying to sort it out on the Pakistani border. Very clearly the people in the military aren’t the only casualties of this conflict, nor is the military without blame for the years of denial and disinformation, or the “strategic patience” that got us to this point – they can share that blame with us – but I’m much more interested in where we go from here.

all best, T

by teru kuwayama | 21 Oct 2009 21:10 (ed. Oct 21 2009) | Palo Alto, California, United States | | Report spam→
Brother E – I gotta correct you on one point – Eddie Adams actually was a war-mongering shill, and he was totally dismayed when his photograph became an anti-war icon.

I met him once before he died, and he was a complete asshole.

by teru kuwayama | 21 Oct 2009 21:10 | Palo Alto, California, United States | | Report spam→
My boy Teru is wicked smaht.

Eddie Adams eh, never met the dude. Too bad about that.
I’ll scratch him off the list of embedded non shills if you say so.

I do have a feeling that Sean Flynn wasn’t exactly in it for the “journalism.” but it dont make him a lackey for the grocer’s machine. This is the part of Sion’s all over the place criticism that pisses me off. It smacks of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.”
We are all out there working and adventuring for various reasons. But when someone accuses me of being a propagandist it brings me out of my laid back california ways.
As for my father, yes, killed by a US supplied 556 fired from a US supplied M-16, fired by a Salvadoran soldier payed for by, yup….US tax dollars.

by [former member] | 22 Oct 2009 00:10 (ed. Oct 22 2009) | OAKLAND, United States | | Report spam→
Eros wish you could have been there last Saturday. Tim Page and Michael Coyne discussed Sean Flynn’s role in Vietnam. I had never really seen his work before but it is very sensitive and beautiful but lets face it I don’t think many of those Vietnam guys were in it for academic reason’s.

Tim Page, discussed the adrenaline rush of those days quite frankly but then he also stepped on a mine to go and help drag a GI into a helicopter. Go figure.

Its a strange job this photojournalism. When you hear on one hand ‘Please let the world know our story’ and then on the other ‘You media are scum’ our own personal feelings lie somewhere in between.

Conflicted? Yes, well we of the western democratized world are, aren’t we?

by lisa hogben | 22 Oct 2009 00:10 | Sydney, Australia | | Report spam→
This argument is both academic and practical for me as I’ve seen both sides of this fence as an Army photog/public affairs guy and later as a civilian photog.

Most of my time in Iraq as a civilian was spent embedded with various units but mostly with a particular brigade from the 101st Airborne. I did try one month to do unilateral work — February 2006 — but realized quickly what a stoopid idea it was to be a big fat white guy in Baggers with a red beard. But I digress.

Part of my job while in uniform was to facilitate media. In Baggers, down at lovely FOB Falcon, I answered emails, wrote up pressers, and arranged embeds. It was a great job even if I didnt agree with the war. That said I was a professional and kept my opinion to my self about the politics in DC and the Green Zone. But I talked fairly openly with my buddies in the media about the situaton on the ground. My buddies understood that whatever I said was OTR (which I totally believe in, btw)and they never quoted me or whatevs. I was outside the wire enough to have an on-the-ground understanding of how and where the war was going, and they knew that. Most of the embeds we had were very professional and understood Joe and Jane had no control over what happened and never asked them questions above their pay grade. That doesnt say shill. It says professionalism. The 20-year old sergeant T mentioned is out there. I know many of them, we’re friends. Does that make me a shill?

While embedded as a civilian, I never professed to know much or even care about what was happening in DC or the IZ. To me those places weren’t real because they were not in my immediate left and right limit. What was, however, was how Joe and Jane, all young but very hard kids, were reacting to their immediate situation. Does that make me a shill because I didnt write about echelons above reality?

So now we have these newly re-revised rules. By definition they are strikingly stoopid. Not only did they go against our Constutional values, they spoke volumes to the world (insert any group here) that we change the rules even if they go against our professed values of freedom. Sounds lofty, sure, but I’m taking the long view of this one.

There were questionable dis-embeddings my first trip to Baggers. I didnt agree with those decisions at all. I was disembedded from a unit in Mosul in October 2005, my first unit as a civilian. It was questionable but whatev, it worked out in the end. I found a unit (that particular unit) and they understood I wasnt out to get anyone and let me be. Does simply telling the ground level story make me a shill?

Do I want the US to “win?” Sure I do. I am an American. Who doesn’t want their country to do well in all facets of the big game? sure, we have royally fugged up in Afghanistan and that’s partly playing a role in our current discussion. But we’re (the military and civilen effort over there )learning from our mistakes and thats the important part. Up until these rules, the fact we’re being honest about our lapses in judgement could be considered a good thing. Do those statements make me a shill?

My point is this: just because we’re journos or snappers doesnt mean we dont want our country to do well. We can definitely do a better job of it and the embed program allow us to discuss and inform people (whatever the country) of those efforts.

by Bill Putnam | 22 Oct 2009 03:10 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
great thread….great read….

no time to really stop by and read this thread in the last couple of weeks…so until tonight, totally missed it…im glad i burned the last 30 minutes reading….it’s what still makes LS essential and invaluable! :)))….

i’m happy T mentioned Addams…had the same experience when i meant him when i was a young one trying to write about vietnam….

as a non conflictphotographer/writer, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this, including the arguments and misunderstandings…we’re ALL invested in this and need to grapple with it….this thread, for many reasons, should be at the top…btw, i’ve forwarded to some folks overseas….

but since Teru and Eros have done a better job at articulating (and pounding) thoughts here, i’ll take a back step and leave something else…something that should always remain a part of the discussion of afghanistan (as well as death and war and what this all means) and that’s poetry….

please keep the discussion going….and Teru, great investigative find (the London ID): Stanford’s done you good brother!…i just hope you’re not too big now for Oakland ;)))…but im sure Eros’ keep u in check, if not your little one too…

some old school, from an old cat singing farsi…

Who makes these changes?
I shoot an arrow right.
It lands left.
I ride after a deer and find myself
chased by a hog.
I plot to get what I want
and end up in prison.
I dig pits to trap others
and fall in.

I should be suspicious
of what I want.


by [former member] | 22 Oct 2009 21:10 (ed. Oct 22 2009) | toronto, Canada | | Report spam→
Bill Putnam – well written my friend.

by chad hunt | 22 Oct 2009 21:10 | new york city, United States | | Report spam→
Ok so maybe this isn’t exactly a new thought but why isn’t there a universal set of rules drawn up by DoD and applied to any theater allowing embeds?

by Bill Putnam | 22 Oct 2009 21:10 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
Thanks, Chad.

by Bill Putnam | 22 Oct 2009 22:10 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
In any case, in 30 years, if Afghanistan and Pakistan are anywhere near as stable as Cambodia and Vietnam are today, we’ll probably consider the campaign a wild success."

This sums up exactly the attitude I’ve described above. A view thats considered the norm.

Of course this view very much depends on what ‘stable’ means, and who you mean by ‘we’. Journalists and especially embedded journalists, have utterly failed to answer these basic questions. In fact, they’ve rarely even tried to ask them.

Vietnam and Cambodia are now ‘stable’ because their people were put through a meatgrinder. Whether they could have been ‘stable’ in their own way, and not become ‘stable’ by means of mass murder, or ‘stable’ in a way which benefitted the killers and thieves, we can never know. It should be noted that it was Vietnamese military intervention and not American force, which eventually got rid of the Khmer Rouge.

The consensus journalism view seems to be that any definitions of ‘success’ and ‘stability’ should be viewed through the model that ‘we’ have constructed. Because of course ‘we’ and ‘we’ alone have the God-given right to manipulate and destroy other nations. This is drilled into the minds of many of ‘we’ journalists as a given, and any mass murders ‘we’ commit are regrettable mistakes for a greater good…which of course ‘we’ define as and when it suits us.

So there was a time when ‘we’ thought ‘stability’ was keeping the Taliban sweet:


“You show me one reporter, one commentator, one member of Congress who thought we should invade Afghanistan before September 11 and I’ll buy you dinner in the best restaurant in New York City.” (Sandy Berger, National Security Advisor To Pres. Clinton)

But that went sour. So now ‘stability’ is to be defined another way.

Funnily enough, the enemies ‘we’ decry often happen to be states choosing to pursue ‘stability’ and ‘success’ on THEIR terms, not ours. As someone put it: “States remain sovereign entities and must make their peace with themselves.” I’d disagree up to the point that states begin to descend into genocidal civil war, but of course when that’s happened in the last few decades, ‘we’ largely let them get on with it.

“Do I want the US to “win?” Sure I do. I am an American. Who doesn’t want their country to do well in all facets of the big game? sure, we have royally fugged up in Afghanistan…But we’re (the military and civilen effort over there )learning from our mistakes and thats the important part. Up until these rules, the fact we’re being honest about our lapses in judgement could be considered a good thing.”

Um…I guess so. Apart from the reasons given above – and the inconvenient civilian dead, whose numbers now exceed Saddams grand total in Iraq, as well as being greater than those killed in the Rwandan genocide. I’m wondering – at what point will their staggering numbers cease to be a ‘lapse in judgement’?

“Most of the embeds we had were very professional and understood Joe and Jane had no control over what happened and never asked them questions above their pay grade. That doesnt say shill. It says professionalism.”

I’m afraid Bill, it says ‘Nuremberg Defence’.

As Teru says, my sandbox-anarcho-save-the-whale-back-seat-driver opinions are “not especially helpful, however, to a 20 year old NCO who was in junior high school when the war started, and now finds himself trying to sort it out on the Pakistani border.”

I guess not, but incrementally more helpful than helping to legitimise, and therefore prolong, his presence there. Perhaps if he’d had earlier access to a broader range of opinion on the war, than the embed image hosepipe recruitment process, he might have not signed up at all.

Motivations are many and varied. Like the posters here, my family background has contributed to the way I see the world. But thats the starting point, and is largely irrelevant to how I behave now, and what the effect of that behaviour is. I am now solely responsible for that.

As Eros states, I’m very much implicated in the ‘grocers machine’ everytime I make a purchase – like everyone else. The question is – how deep is your implication? And can you be bothered to even question it at all? That basic journalistic curiosity after all, can be one of the first steps to limiting your exposure to, and implication in, the grocers machine. On balance, I’d say I still have a very, very long way to go.

I once was a very much embedded shill with Greenpeace. Never campaigned to save the whale, but helped out on campaigns against dirty coal, rainforest destruction and nuclear weapons. My modest attempt to bung up the grocers machine and mitigate my implication in it, if ya like.

God knows Greenpeace has made mistakes, but I’m happy to say none of the people working there ever blew up anybody’s wedding party.

In my opinion the military embed program has helped move photojournalism’s reputation towards the dustbin by collaborating with an ongoing moral disgrace, hobbled the attempts of independent journalists to cover the story freely and is helping to grossly misinform the public.

Embedding has in many ways however, become one of the ruling models of the form today – that a ‘photojournalist’ is someone who embeds with armies (witness the many young photographers on LS asking for embed application info) or some organisation or another – political parties during election campaigns, corporations (to shore up declining magazine revenue), NGO’s etc…

I guess I’m getting old, and frankly wouldn’t even class myself as a ‘photojournalist’ anymore. Injury and the grocers machine have largely put paid to that. But for any newer photographers out there, I’ll depart this discussion with the view of a photojournalist who pursued an alternative model, and one that’s increasingly out of fashion these days.

Danny Lyon:

“I am now 67 and I still like to stay away from work that makes me want to vomit if I look in the mirror. If this simple rule played even a minor role in the world business community, we would not be in the mess that we are now in.

I naturally blame the media for the disaster that this country has created for itself. I have never personally been able to understand how the people that directly contribute to bolstering up and supporting a criminal government and political positions that bring misery to other human beings can live with themselves.

The list of people in the media who “are the problem”, not “part of the solution”, as they used to put it in the 60s, is endless. And if you ask why intelligent and educated people would sink so low, the obvious answer is of course money.

Money has corrupted virtually every field in this country. But in addition to money these people seek fame, which ultimately amounts to the high esteem they are held in by the people around them, and even by people like us.

Though we cannot do much to diminish the money they receive, we can make it clear, and must make it clear, that these are people we do not esteem."

by [former member] | 23 Oct 2009 07:10 | Singapore, Singapore | | Report spam→
“the inconvenient civilian dead, whose numbers now exceed Saddams grand total in Iraq” – where are you getting your numbers from ?

by [former member] | 23 Oct 2009 08:10 | | Report spam→
also, and this isn’t to defend the embed process which i’d much rather work outside of (and have until this year, albeit not in afghanistan – where i believe we’ve got evidence it was possible until relatively recently, and many have done it), but i’d like to remind everyone that two of the watershed moments in public opinion in big american wars came from pictures taken by soldiers. Viet-Nam had My Laï, where the photographs of US atrocities were made by Ronald Haeberle, an army photographer (with none less than David Douglas Duncan trying to get the papers to put a lid on them because he thought they were phoney, but i digress), and in the current Global Endless war on Terrorism and or the Promotion of Freedom, Democracy and Puppies (them muslims hate dogs, gotta promote puppies) with Abu Ghraib…

by [former member] | 23 Oct 2009 10:10 | | Report spam→
Eros said, “It is not the job of the photojournalist to decide whether a war is just or un just. That is the job of the public. A journalist cannot also be an activist or an advocate or a propagandist.”

Che Guevara was a photojournalist, arguably the first Gonzo Photojournalist with the exception of Peter Parker who made his living by photographing himself fighting crime while wearing spandex.

Tobacco probably would’ve killed Che had he not been killed by US backed forces.

by P. Money | 23 Oct 2009 15:10 | | Report spam→
Teru said, “Regarding Jack London, I don’t know anything about his war reporting, although I certainly liked his novels about dogs. I was somewhat amused to learn that he was once a committed socialist, as I noticed he had quite a nice estate in northern California, as well as a 40 foot yacht with 3 staterooms. Revolutionaries can be funny that way, I’ve noticed.”

Che Guevara shot with a Leica, he also wore a Rolex.

by P. Money | 23 Oct 2009 15:10 | | Report spam→
Che came from a rich and privledged family (as most revolutionary LEADERS do). His daddy probably bought the rolex after he graduated colegio. As for the Leica, probably a gift from some high end Jack London type that came to EMBED with the Cuban guerrillas.

Sion, it was I who called you a back seat driver, sand-box anarchist shill (that was a joke to show how rediculous you sound,) not Teru. You did a great job of jumping over many holes we pointed out in your argument. Maybe I am just too simple, but your rhetoric clouds your talking points. Come up with more real life scenarios, and not so much intellectual theory and impressive academic banter. Really man, I’m a high school drop out, sometimes one must attempt to reach the common people too.

by [former member] | 23 Oct 2009 18:10 | OAKLAND, United States | | Report spam→
Man, this is one of the very best Lightstalkers thread ever!

I agree with Teru and Eros here (full disclosure: yes, they are my friends) and I find Sion’s rhetoric over the top even if I do understand where he is coming from (having once been a lowly Greenpeace foot soldier myself twenty years ago) and if I can, I’m going try to bridge the gap between the two arguments, which is perhaps smaller than it first seems:

Eros, you say that “It is not the job of the photojournalist to decide whether a war is just or unjust. That is the job of the public. A journalist cannot also be an activist or an advocate or a propagandist.” — and I would agree, but ONLY AT FIRST — you arrive the first time anywhere with no first-hand knowledge or experience, however much book learning and study you may have conscientiously researched before.

So, yes, you should have as open and unbiased and sensitive a mind as possible. BUT, and this is a big but, even as you keep that in mind, as you cover a situation longer and longer, INEVITABLY you begin to make assessments and judgments as best as you can, following your particular, individual, moral compass. To not do so would be inhuman, and impossible. The more you see, photograph, and document, the more you know, the more you think, and feel. You can and should still be fair, objective, professional. But inside your mind there are a million thoughts and emotions going on.

It cannot be any other way.

So then, what comes of this? I am not saying that we should be propagandists, quite the contrary. But you look at someone like Philip Jones Griffiths, who was as professional and dedicated and fair as anyone, yet he DID become an ADVOCATE. “Vietnam Inc.” is one of the most powerful books to emerge from that war, and it does not pretend to be anything other than critical of the American military-industrial complex. But that is the BIG picture. In the devil of the details, you see that he photographed everybody: civilians, military, with individuality, with empathy for that moment. And “Vietnam Inc.” was his personal vision. His photographs were of course published in many other contexts, some of them probably “pro-war,” I dare say.

And yes, he was “embedded” much of the time. How else do you get on board an aircraft carrier?

So, what is the difference between “advocacy” and “propaganda”?
I think what matters is to what degree you are still keeping that initial openness and sensitivity in mind, that you still have the ability to look at both sides with nuance, even if you’ve basically come to form some strong opinions.

In Kosovo and Bosnia there was a consensus that Milosevic’s Serbian regime was fundamentally responsible for those terrible wars, and that no matter what moral equivalence you come with, Srebrenica, Racak, WERE Serbian war crimes that were perpetrated upon the unarmed, the civilians. But that didn’t stop us from covering the Serbian side also as best as we could. Wherever the access was possible, on either side, we would go.

The same thing was true just a couple of months ago with the Uighur Xinjiang crisis for me. I’m an American, but ethnically Chinese — so Uighurs eyed me suspiciously on the streets — and at the same time even from a few days there I could see that the Chinese government’s heavy-handed treatment of the Uighurs was a big part of the problem. Nonetheless, one day I found myself within the Chinese riot police lines; a few days later, I was in the Uighur villages near Kashgar. Our coverage HAS to be as aggressive as possible in getting all sides of the story…but that should also help us realize and recognize causes and effects, and make informed and complex judgments.

We are embedded the moment we join any group of people doing anything, whether it’s for ten minutes or ten years. You join a bunch of teenagers skateboarding down at the train station, photograph them, share a drink or a meal, or even just make a few photos as you watch them; you’re embedded. Because you are sharing the same physical space, you are there implicitly or explicitly with their permission. This may last even just a few seconds, but there it is. Because if they tell you, “no pictures” or “go away,” obviously you’re not welcome: no embed. If they don’t, they accept you: embed.

The current US military system is deeply flawed. In 2005 I had to embed with a unit for a day in Baghdad just to have lunch with a friend who was already embedded with them. How insane was that? But some access is better than no access, with that little access you can always push and negotiate for more access. This is an unpleasant game in our bureaucratic and litigious society.

And the minute that we CAN work unembedded again in places like Iraq or Afghanistan, if that ever happens, or course we will. There is absolutely no doubt of that in my mind. But as Eros pointed out, at the moment it is simply, objectively and by any rational calculation, WAY too dangerous to drive around by yourself anywhere near the areas of battle. We have lost too many friends and colleagues to come to any other conclusion about that.

by [former member] | 24 Oct 2009 13:10 | Peiping, China | | Report spam→
I totally hear what your saying about becoming emotionally involved and opinionated and not letting it creep into your coverage. The problem irises however when “journalists” only work on topics that they have strong opinions about, and it happens a lot. That is where advocacy begins to push out the journalism. Parts of the story are omitted to further a point of view, from FOX news to Michael Moore, same thing. (I’m not saying big paper and magazine journalists don’t do this, but not so much in my experience.) Advocacy journalists, or activist journalists tend to start out “unfair and unbalanced” on either side of the political spectrum. My problem is with activists, right or left, who begin a project under the disguise of journalist, and in the end become propagandists.
Developing opinions after years of field work is quite another thing, as I imagine Phillip Jones Griffiths did. The question is, was PJG motivated to travel to Vietnam knowing that he would create the ideas and imagery that would later create Vietnam INC? I don’t know his personal history, but I would hope that somewhere along the way he began to compose the opinions that would be represented in his book, and not have pre conceived them before working there. I cannot imagine that it was a case of the latter.

Today, we are flooded with far too much, easily accesable information giving people a very filtered sense of understanding, because they can read about a situation, study a situation, and then think they understand a situation. Bullshit. I, a reasonably intelligent man, go to these places and don’t understand shit. How can academics or non participating intellectuals have a fraction of a clue from reading alone?
My own personal experience with Iraq and Afghanistan is this: the more time I spend on the ground, (be it embedded or otherwise,) the more information I collect, the more confused I become. Sometime I just don’t know what the fuck is going on at all. Sometimes I have a feeling that I am starting to understand, then the next day something happens that takes me back to step one. The only thing that is sure, is that there is very little room for the concepts of right or wrong in a wide angle view. There are shades of gray. People are people. Self serving, operating on instinct in the end. Fuck the other guy if it means saving yourself. All animals play by these rules. It’s only natural.

I appreciate that you understand the real life “contract” of embedding be it with armed groups or skateboard crews. I totally agree with your thoughts on the matter. Just can’t understand why others do not.

by [former member] | 24 Oct 2009 20:10 (ed. Oct 25 2009) | OAKLAND, United States | | Report spam→
There’s a difference between Nihilistic Journalism and Humanistic Journalism,
just as there’s a difference between Smart Journalism and Stupid Journalism.

There exists a similar difference between good, bad, evil – with bad being a shade of gray.

Global Journalism is inherently more humanistic and Universal,
whereas American Journalism on the whole, is not.

PJG was a genius, also not American. He was no dummy.

Everybody’s made good points but Sion definitely deserves more respect on this matter.
Sion and PJG, both geniuses, both war photographers, both Brits. Give the man a break.

by P. Money | 24 Oct 2009 20:10 | | Report spam→
thank you, Alan, for your enlightened comments. “Embed” with doesnt automatically mean “in bed” with; and I think youve spoken well to the entire nature of the photographer/photographed relationship.

by [former member] | 24 Oct 2009 20:10 | Salt Lake CIty, Utah, United States | | Report spam→
I will give nobody a break that glibly accuses good journalists of being “Embed Shills.”

by [former member] | 24 Oct 2009 23:10 (ed. Oct 24 2009) | OAKLAND, United States | | Report spam→
“whereas American Journalism on the whole is not.” hahaha Dude, Patrick, that was probably one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read.
Thanks for the laugh. Seriously, can you provide a little evidence of that broad generalization of “American Journalism?” I mean considering the topic of this thread, its wildly off subject and pretty off the mark as a whole. It’s almost as subjective as Sion’s statement that embeds are “shills.” But that’s just me and my non-humanistic and non-universal American Journalist self. Peace!

by Bill Putnam | 25 Oct 2009 00:10 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
Bill, do you by any chance read international news? I’ve been reading international news ever since the advent of Google News.

Do you have any concept of how ass-backwards and Republican American news is compared to international news? I.e. The Financial Times vs. The Wall Street Journal?

Ever read any old BBC coverage about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or just the Washington Post?

Do you happen to vote Republican Bill, or do you live in a cave man?

Global Journalism is to Democrat
whereas American Journalism is to Republican.

by P. Money | 25 Oct 2009 01:10 | | Report spam→
Patrick, you’re making Sion sound moderate here. Generalizations on American and international news outlets are just that, generalizations. You can no more put the New York Times and Fox News in the same category as you can the BBC and Al-Jazeera. Or, where I happen to be at the moment, Xinhua with Hong Kong’s Apple Daily. Each and every news organization is different, even if they seem similar on some levels. As someone who has worked for a lot of them over the years, I can attest to that — even editors of different desks within the same newspaper often have very different desires — so to lump all of them together is extremely unfair.

Eros, you’re right of course about political activists of both the right and the left using the guise of journalism to advance their own agendas, I guess I was restricting my comments more to people who we know are already coming from a certain set of vague, but nonetheless shared standards; professionalism. We’ve all seen plenty who are not; and I hate to say this, but TV seems to be a lot more guilty of this than print. Part of it is probably the larger footprint of a traditional TV news crew, you have the reporter, camera, sound, producer, all of whom have to very clumsily navigate a situation whereas we photographers more quietly insinuate ourselves into places. Also the reality that TV serves a mass audience, there is a lot of elitist condescension on their part as to what the public wants and is willing to pay for…

About those shades of grey, though: There are times, even if only within your own mind, that we do start feeling great outrage and emotional anguish over what we photograph and observe.

In Iraq, on one day you might photograph the aftermath of a suicide bombing in which large numbers of completely unarmed civilians are killed by the insurgency. Then, the next day, you might accompany American troops as they kick down doors in a raid and create plenty of resentment and anger where that might not have been true before, where you see American air power and firepower demolish houses with one hit in the middle of a firefight. Obviously a “fair” fight would result in a lot more casualties among the American infantry; technology gets used instead. Nonetheless it looks pretty “unfair” and “one-sided,” though of course that’s the same case with the suicide bomber.

So being a witness to the impact of both sides, such as it were, those shades of grey get very, very muddy. In my own case I’ve come to fundamentally believe that part of our job is to always be on the side of the underdog, the victims, the wrongfully hurt, whoever that might be, even as we know that the very definition changes literally from moment to moment. But still, you can tell when someone is suffering. No unarmed person deserves to be killed or maimed; no matter which side they are on. That might seem like a very old-fashioned and quaint idea in a time when wars have no front lines and no clearly demarcated battlefields, but it is an ancient concept and one that retains its meaning in my own moral understanding of war, and of the world.

That doesn’t mean that as a photographer I have any real power to do anything about it; it certainly doesn’t mean that I consciously pick and choose what I photograph, although of course we all do. It does mean that I am aware that if my photos are seen or published, that the viewer will have a reaction — often not my own reaction — but that there will be an impact. And in this sense I have no problem becoming an advocate. Nor do I have any qualms about voicing my own opinions, I do this all the time now here on LS and in the blogosphere, I don’t think that contradicts the complicated ambivalence of the real world that we photograph.

by [former member] | 25 Oct 2009 04:10 | Peiping, China | | Report spam→
Patrick, I still stand by my statement as that broad generalization is one of the dumbest things I’ve read.

But yes, I do read the BBC. I read the FT, the Washington Post and occasionally the WSJ. Much my reading of American Journalism is indeed international coverage. (Good on ya for reading since Google News was invented. Should I be jealous?) And I have some idea of how American journalism works because I am (albiet on hiatus to finish my degree).

Frankly, I find BBC or any Euro outlets’ coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the definition of one-sided journalism. Of course someone who professes and loudly announces their “humanism” will fall back on the conflict that is that horse. Got another “humanistic” example for the group?

No, I dont vote Republican. I dont vote Democrat. If you must know, mate, I dont vote at all. And I dont live in a cave. You must, apparently, because you make such dumb statements as Global Journalism is Democrat and American Journalism is Republican.

by Bill Putnam | 25 Oct 2009 04:10 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
“Vietnam and Cambodia are now ‘stable’ because their people were put through a meatgrinder. Whether they could have been ‘stable’ in their own way, and not become ‘stable’ by means of mass murder, or ‘stable’ in a way which benefitted the killers and thieves, we can never know. It should be noted that it was Vietnamese military intervention and not American force, which eventually got rid of the Khmer Rouge.”

It should also be noted that in the interim period between the US withdrawal from Southeast Asia, and the “eventual” Vietnamese military intervention, something like 20% of the Cambodian population was starved or slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge. It’s generally considered one of the worst genocidal catastrophies in human history.

That’s the humanitarian-pacifist paradox in Afghanistan – If the US withdraws, and the country turns into a Central Asian killing field, (as it did when the Soviet army withdrew and the US turned its back), who are we expecting to intervene?

Vietnam isn’t coming to the rescue, and Afghanistan is a bit far inland for the Rainbow Warrior to evacuate the women and children who are staring into the jaws of the wolves.

By historical standards, Afghanistan is also pretty far offshore for US and Royal Marines, but they showed up to give it a shot, so they have my respect for trying. Whether or not they’re succeeding, or even on the right track, is a totally open question, but I’d welcome anyone with brighter ideas to lay them on the table.

But be real about it – “Americans out” is a slogan, not a solution – It’s not irrational as the expression of a desired endstate, but it isn’t a plan or a strategy to get there. Nor does it offer much guidance on the logistics and the timeline of extracting over 100,000 military personnel, their gear and weapons, and dismantling the superbases and outposts that are scattered across Afghanistan – and it says nothing about what comes next.

So here’s the thing – we could go around in circles for the next 30 years, quoting and re-quoting each other, and trying to score rhetorical points in some kind of war-dork debate that doesn’t have any right answers, but that would be a waste of a pretty remarkable collection of experiences and perspectives.

On this internet thread, we’ve got opinions, outlooks, and hindsights from people who’ve had eyes-on, boots-on experience ranging from San Salvador and Sarajevo to Baghdad and Bamian, from inside and outside the military structure, and obviously, from a range of political and personal views. We’ve also got people who haven’t been “over there”, but still care enough to do the headwork, and some of them can actually remember the Vietnam war themselves.

So what do we do? Escalate? Abandon?

In total sincerity, I’d love to hear “alternative models”, especially since General McChrystal has requested at least 40,000 additional troops, and every single one of them is expected to cost the US taxpayers a million dollars a year.

On that note, Barney Rubin sent this out today -


by teru kuwayama | 25 Oct 2009 04:10 | Palo Alto, California, United States | | Report spam→
dang. that was busy 4:10 zulu.

by teru kuwayama | 25 Oct 2009 05:10 | Palo Alto, California, United States | | Report spam→
Hello Everyone,

thank you for an extremely interesting reading. I’d have a question – and I’m NOT trying to be sarcastic NOR am I trying to pick a fight, I’d really be interested to know – how does the difference between independent and non-independent journalism show in your working experience, in your work field? What has been the (better, your personal) turning point? I mean can you give me some concrete examples of how it was before?


by Laura Larmo | 25 Oct 2009 10:10 | Milano, Italy | | Report spam→
what do you mean by “independent” and “non-independent”?

staff vs. freelance? on assignment vs. no assignment? embedded vs. unilateral?

by [former member] | 25 Oct 2009 11:10 | Peiping, China | | Report spam→
I saw Sion use the word “independent” (“So what has changed to make it virtually impossible to report independently now?” 18 Oct 2009 12:10). Let’s put it this way: It seems to me (reading the posts above) journalists feel themselves restricted in their work nowadays, in comparison to the past; if you, too, feel like that, why? How has your work, or rather, the final result of your work changed?

by Laura Larmo | 25 Oct 2009 11:10 | Milano, Italy | | Report spam→
The answer to that question is pretty obvious: The insurgency in Iraq and the Taliban/Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan have proven again and again over the past eight years that they consider foreign journalists to be fair targets. And by foreign I don’t just mean American or European. Arab, Iranian, Turkish, and other journalists have been kidnapped and killed reporting these wars.

In previous wars, for the most part, journalists were accepted as being, if not impartial, at least useful tools to get your message out. That is absolutely not how it works today. Some of the reasons have been outlined in previous posts above: Jihadists have their own websites, in effect, their own media, so they don’t need the mainstream outlets as they once would have. Also, it is an ideological and religious war for many of them; anyone, even other Muslims, who don’t agree with them are the enemy. And unlike the 20th century opponents of the West, such as Communists and Nazis, they don’t have any actual nation-state, uniformed armies, or any of the other formalized apparatus from which to fight.

All of which has led to a situation where driving around on your own in many areas of Iraq or Afghanistan is simply not possible without extreme risk. Even very experienced and cautious journalists have run into truly awful situations which would have been very rare and almost unheard of ten or fifteen years ago. It began getting bad with the Algerian civil war and the collapse of Somalia, in the 1990s, and has gotten a whole lot worse now. This is not to say that it wasn’t always dangerous; of course it was. But with the exception of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, who murdered foreign journalists, it is hard to find historical antecedents for the current climate.

Most journalists and photographers have, at some point, been arrested or detained or harassed while doing their jobs. It is part of dark reality of the profession. But to be threatened to the degree that we are today, this makes getting access to the other side virtually impossible unless you are kidnapped and manage to survive. And that, I think we can all agree, is no desirable way of getting any story.

So that is how the “final results of our work” have changed. Most of us would take access with the Taliban if we thought for one moment that we would be able to work without the threat of kidnapping or murder. In past wars we did it all the time, with Palestinians, with the guerrilla groups in Central America, with the ANC in South Africa, with any number of insurgents, guerrillas, national liberation armies, take your pick of the label.

Or even if you might not be able to get that access to the other side, at least we could live and work relatively freely. Access to the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong was very, very hard unless you went on a Jane Fonda type guided tour, but at least you could eat and drink and walk down the street in Saigon. You can still do that in Kabul, but I wouldn’t do it in Baghdad or Basra, surge or no surge.

Do not think that you could get away with it even if you spoke perfect Arabic or Pashto — nevertheless you are still a target just be virtue of being who you are, a foreign journalist — this is the hard, bitter, frustrating truth.

by [former member] | 25 Oct 2009 16:10 | Peiping, China | | Report spam→
Good points by Alan. If the goal is terror, cutting off the head of a journalist is probably a good tactic to get your point across, as the kidnappers of Daniel Pearl correctly intuited.

by [former member] | 25 Oct 2009 16:10 | | Report spam→
Thank you Alan. The danger point you are talking about in today’s wars was of course clear also to me already (as I also read some time ago in this article, pages 5&6; actually I don’t remember if it was someone on LS to bring it up: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/magazine/16suicide-t.html?_r=1&ref=world). Perhaps I was thinking more of the embed-aspect; how – if – “your own side” is restricting you (besides the original point of this thread, yes-or-no-KIAs).

by Laura Larmo | 25 Oct 2009 16:10 | Milano, Italy | | Report spam→
Here’s the thing, Laura, there is no other way of covering “your own side” when it’s so dangerous just to walk or drive around.

In 2003 during the Iraq invasion, I rented a car at the Kuwait City airport, put 100 liters of gasoline on the roof rack, bought a lot of canned food and bottled water, and drove across the border to the front. American and British units were surprised to see those of us who did this, but of course they accepted us and let us work as we observed them.

In the narrow sense, this is not “embedding,” because I had my own transport and could control my own movements. (but of course in a broad sense, the nights I spent with the British Army outside Basra and with the US Marines in Naseriya, that was temporary embedding.) So I was free to drive around, anywhere I wanted to, leave any time I wanted to. This was more or less true in Iraq until 2004. Then journalists began getting kidnapped and killed as we’ve already discussed.

By the time I went back to Baghdad in 2005, on assignment for a major newspaper, of all things we were embedding with ourselves — in that we felt it necessary to have armed security guards and a fortified compound — from which every foray into the city (which was getting wracked by suicide bombings each and every day) required a plan and many people to implement it. I tried to cover the daily bombings as closely as I could, rushing to them, to the hospitals afterward. More than once I found myself in tense situations where the crowds were very hostile and threatening. There is no way that I could have done any of that on my own in my own car or on foot alone.

I never embedded that much, only a few times for a few days at most each time. But considering that I had my own satellite phone and laptop computer, no matter what the regulations might be, at any time I could have transmitted anything I wanted. With all the discussion over these new regulations and the brouhaha over the AP photo of the KIA, as far as I know the US military still allows you to bring your own communications equipment.

So if you break the rules, or even if you don’t, but they get mad at you, they may kick you off the embed. But institutional memory is short. This is the funny thing about a democracy at war. One unit’s attitude towards you is going to be different from another’s. You could say, OK, but you’re still being forced to sign some pretty restricting papers…but at the hard moment of whether or not you’re going to transmit images you know may be controversial, you still get to make that decision. It’s ultimately your own call.

(People who are there or have been there more recently: Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

Of course in an ideal world there should be no restrictions, except for obvious ones like not publishing knowledge of an impending operation that would render real intelligence assistance to the other side. Anything less than that does constitute censorship. But so is not publishing a rape victim’s name, or a child’s that is a victim of a crime. So there is acceptable censorship and unacceptable censorship.

Even the revised rules still seem unacceptable to me. Because even though we might still get to make the ultimate decision as to whether or not to transmit and publish, we’re being placed in a situation where that decision can have consequences.

by [former member] | 25 Oct 2009 17:10 | Peiping, China | | Report spam→
Thank you Alan. Again, very interesting reading, all of this.

by Laura Larmo | 25 Oct 2009 17:10 | Milano, Italy | | Report spam→
breaking news from PDN – Bagram is just going to love this – the homo-erotic embed:


by teru kuwayama | 25 Oct 2009 23:10 (ed. Oct 26 2009) | Palo Alto, California, United States | | Report spam→
Eros, I quoted several people in my replies so my sarcasm (if thats how you took it) wasn’t aimed at anyone in particular. And thanks for the compliment Patrick, but like Eros, I never went to university either, so am unlikely to get any genius grants anytime soon.

I’d also be very unlikely to be classed as a ‘war photographer’ either, but I’m a lot more comfortable with that.

Matthias – there are several estimates for deaths under Saddam – between 100,000 and 300,000. Again in Iraq, estimates vary. The Lancet quotes 600,000, others say beyond a million.

But do feel free to state any order of magnitude that doesn’t sicken you and I’ll happily quote that.

“Americans out” may be a slogan, not a solution, but it is no worse or incoherent a strategy than the one which got them in there.

If the solution is ‘escalate or abandon’, I’d say from the civilians perspective that both escalation and abandonment would seem to be the SOP.

I’ve stated my argument, so will bow out after this, but one last ‘real world’ example for Eros as to where some of my scepticism comes from.

During the US invasion of Iraq, I chose to enter the country as a ‘unilateral’ from the North, via Kurdistan. Lots of journalists were running out to buy NBC suits and go on chemical warfare defence courses (given by the military or PMC’s), because of course, Saddam had used chemical weapons before, and in Kurdistan to boot.

Frankly I couldn’t see the point, as anyone with a basic level of journalistic curiosity would have realised Saddam simply didnt have any chemicals anymore. As we know now, the WMD causus belli was frankly, horseshit.

I daresay if more journalists back then had spent a bit less time recycling Pentagon press releases and believing their own propaganda, they wouldn’t have had to cough up (excuse pun) money to carry all that useless chemical crap.

And who knows? Things might have turned out differently today, and some of them might still be alive.

Including some friends and colleagues of mine.

by [former member] | 26 Oct 2009 03:10 | Singapore, Singapore | | Report spam→
“I daresay if more journalists back then had spent a bit less time recycling Pentagon press releases and believing their own propaganda, they wouldn’t have had to cough up (excuse pun) money to carry all that useless chemical crap”

and that story applies to we who embed being pawns of the DOD how exactly?
nice try Sion, but not good enough to support your insults.

I am however, impressed that you came in through the north. that must have been a pain in the ass, and I’m glad there were reporters who gained that type of vantage point. But I’m also impressed with those who rode in with the military (some of them anyway,), also a pain in the ass and critical to seeing a large picture. But you make it sound like you think you are better than they for taking a different route (personally I don’t care what you think of yourself, just letting you know how it sounds.)
Yes Sion, and I think Alan touched on this, There were a lot of journalists, especially network TV journalists, who deserve your criticism as they covered Iraq probably as their first war assignment to make a name for themselves and collect lots of cool barstool war stories and yes , I agree, UNWITTING ASSETS of the DOD. But man, the network TV ding dongs, war action heroes, cartoon character name droppers and the rest of us are all different stories. But you can’t seem to see the difference, which leads me to believe that you just don’t know what you are talking about when you critique the modern embed in’s and out’s and are now spouting off bullshit based on your very valid opinions of how much of the crusading international press (PAY ATTENTION PATRICK YEN, I SAID INTERNATIONAL PRESS) behaved in the early stages of the Iraq invasion. No doubt, as Afghanistan is finally recieving (for better or worse) full on press attention, we will see a bunch of in-experienced career excelerating journalists from all different medias and countries, doing some really dumb shit, and reporting in some really dumb ways. But it aint me brother, nor is it the responsible and thoughtful people I have the pleasure to call my friends and colleagues who regularly embed. So save your soapbox for those who deserve it and don’t paint broad pictures of situations of which you have no first hand knowledge.
Sion, you don’t have to be formally educated to be a genius, so don’t discount yourself so quickly. Oh wait, discounting people quickly seems to be your SOP at this moment in time, so never mind.

Mr. Patrick Yen, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Really man, you make no sense at all.

by [former member] | 26 Oct 2009 16:10 (ed. Oct 26 2009) | OAKLAND, United States | | Report spam→
Sion -

No worse or no more incoherent than the strategy that got us to this point is a pretty low benchmark to set for yourself.

Debunking the WMD mythology would have been a good project for 2003, but it’s almost 2010, and there’s not too many people left who pretend that that the invasion of Iraq was a good move.

Going forward, the options for Afghanistan are most certainly not limited to “escalate or abandon” – and arguably, the clearest voice for a “different model” is Stanley McChrystal.

Whether or not his different model is a better move is a subject that should be intensely examined – especially by people who have actually been on the ground, outside the wire/bubble, and who care about the people of Afghanistan.

“Bowing out” is what the United States has been doing to those people for decades. You were there before, so you can guess what it’s going to look like again.

Stick it out with us – none of us are geniuses or war photographers either – those tags are for children, and eight years into this thing, with buried friends all around, we’re all too old for that nonsense.

ps. Alan – welcome to the SCAR group – it’s in alpha, not even beta, but looking forward to your 2 Afghanis.

by teru kuwayama | 26 Oct 2009 18:10 | Palo Alto, California, United States | | Report spam→
T – not to get too OT here. What’s the SCAR group?

by Bill Putnam | 26 Oct 2009 18:10 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
Teru, 2002 actually.

Bush went on the telly in Ohio 10/07/02 (gee, wonder why) and none of the major news networks carried the speech live except Fox……Bush rolled out the pretense for the invasion, which contained “facts” that anyone who had stepped into a third world country would have problems with.


The war was win/win. Win the election and spend billions, and spend the money by the truckful as millions in cash was brought into Iraq on palates, reportedly 100 million dollars of Iraqi owned US dollars for starters. Can’t use plastic.

Cost plus no bid contracts for Halliburton, the same contracts that saw hundreds of millions evaporate in the Gulf Coast right after Katrina, for example the Shaw Group project to “tag” all the houses in the Lower Nine and determine if they were of historical note…all built in the 1940s concrete slab design, in other words, of course not.

What makes me crazy is that there is no accountability here……we are covering the war but another story (Phillip Jones Griffiths is whispering in my ear) is the money….how much can be spent, who gets it, and whatever else happens, so beit.

A few like Eros have looked at this, and I hope folks keep looking at this and hard, because I know the powers that be don’t want that. Anyone embed with Blackwater for example…..hell no, of course not.

The drones that Blackwater are running out of Pakistan for example that get flown from Virginia…..cost plus? Can you imagine what the price tag is on that? For killing Mehsud. for example, 200,000.000? You could buy all the Mehsud’s for that kind of money.

Of course tell me if I am wrong…

by [former member] | 26 Oct 2009 18:10 (ed. Oct 27 2009) | | Report spam→
I do not think that the cost of the drones is what we have to be most worried about.
If you haven’t seen this yet, I think that this TED presentation is definitely worth watching:
I’ll agree any day that the presentation is not the most balanced, but it remains very informative.
By the look of it, it won’t be very long before the folks in the Pentagon can provide a steady – yet
carefully edited – stream of images.
If rules for embedded journalists are a 1.0 thing, looks like 2.0 will be about embedded systems.
Have you already given some though as to how this is going to change the battle space/news space and your reporting?
It does not look like we are talking SciFi here. Are we?

by Olivier Boulot | 27 Oct 2009 06:10 | Paris, France | | Report spam→

Panoptic Singularity, here we come!

by P. Money | 27 Oct 2009 14:10 | | Report spam→
Certainly no embeds in this paramilitary army run by the CIA….


by [former member] | 28 Oct 2009 01:10 | | Report spam→
very dark, and in my opinion one of the main achilles heels of the modern military machine, especially for counter insurgency warfare .
on the one hand, I can see the benefit of drones providing aerial imagery and protecting isolated positions from being overrun, and hitting legit targets by total surprise. on the other hand, I witnessed a British unit that fired 9 smart rockets at a four man mortar team in one day. At $80,000 a piece, it seems that money could have bought an assload of reconstruction projects, much more likely to win hearts and minds than the flying thunder of Javelin rockets.
there is so much to talk about on this topic.
this topic and video deserve it’s own thread.
I especially like the conclusion of dude’s presentation.
“It is us who are wired for war, not the technology”
Men love war. That is a natural fact. And losing sucks. I do think that we trap ourselves with our own devises, excuse the pun, when we take killing literally out of our hands. We did the same thing with our hunters, replacing the bow or riffle with automated meat factories and safeways. And now we have no connection with the land, or the animals we eat.
And we instinctivly yearn for our roots as hunters and gatherers but we don’t realize it and it fucks us up.
Well we are also warriors at heart, and if you make war an automated practice, well, like the dude said…..heavy ptsd and emotional and moral confusion far beyond what we already experience.

I wonder, do all the tech geeks no what they are creating?

by [former member] | 28 Oct 2009 15:10 (ed. Oct 28 2009) | OAKLAND, United States | | Report spam→
Eros, I understand that it should be dealt with separately, but I just could not help toss it in, since there is already so many qualified people to talk about it in the thread.

Anyway, I just created a split:

by Olivier Boulot | 28 Oct 2009 16:10 (ed. Oct 28 2009) | Paris, France | | Report spam→
Andy -

On Mehsud – you would be wrong – at least according to the local adage: “you can’t buy an Afghan, but for a lot of money, you can rent one for a short time”.

Generally, the Bush administration has been faulted for taking the “nation building lite” approach – ie – subcontracting security out to warlords – and paying off FATA tribal leaders to keep a lid on their territories is a long standing practice going back to the British empire – whether or not it’s been a good one is another debate.

I’m not sure what the 200M number you cite is, but it would be a relatively small figure in AfPak economics – the US military price tag for the Afghanistan mission comes in at about $55 billion a year. McChrystal’s troop increase could bump that up by another $40 billion per. That doesn’t even include NATO partners, State/USAID, NGOs, etc – but the rough math for US military spending alone would break down to about $300 a month for every man woman and child in Afghanistan. That’s far higher than the monthly salary of an ANA soldier – (although it’s about what the Taliban pays their footsoldiers) – but suffice to say it’s a lot of Afghanis.

If you’re interested in the money – cost-plus contracting, PMC’s, etc – the most direct route to seeing what it looks like is through the embedding system – over the years, mostly through fairly garden variety embeds, I’ve traveled with DIA, CIA, other OGAs of various stripes, Blackwater, etc…as well as with Treasury teams transporting 20 million dollar payloads of US currency . On the superbases, the embed experience also includes 3 squares a day courtesy of contracting giants like KBR and Supreme and a first hand view of the globalized super-economy of transnational catering and third-party national workforces.

Official embeds with CIA funded paramilitary groups might be wishful, but in general, if you keep your eyes and your mind open, you will be surprised at what you will see and what people will share with you. Perhaps the greatest limitation of the embedding program is the journalists, who, in many cases, have no idea what they’re looking at.

On that note, there’s very little “news” in the NYT article about Karzai’s brother. This has effectively been common knowledge for years. What it does underscore is just how far from favor Hamid Karzai has fallen, as “current and former American officials” begin to float the story to reporters, and ratchet up the process of maneuvering him off center stage.

Olivier – you would probably find the book War and Anti-War interesting – written by Alvin and Heidi Toffler around the time of the first Gulf War, essentially as a consulting project for the US military – and basically as an application of their “Third Wave” concepts to modern warfare. The future of drone, cyber, and augmented human warfare, as well as the role of private military contracting were among the subjects they explored. As Singer points out, these subjects are no longer future, but present.

From our perspective, it underscores how painfully “Second wave” photography and journalism remain, with it’s practitioners still deeply embedded in the 20th century.

Bill – SCAR is a prototype LS group, still very buggy – but your 2 saddams would also be very welcome. Basically a “central front” reading list, so COIN geeks are always welcome.


best, y’all. T

by teru kuwayama | 28 Oct 2009 16:10 | Palo Alto, California, United States | | Report spam→
On the subject of subcontracting security to warlords and local militias by US/NATO forces:


by teru kuwayama | 29 Oct 2009 16:10 | Palo Alto, California, United States | | Report spam→
Thanks Teru, thats quite a story mark…….I suppose all the payments are in cash too.

by [former member] | 29 Oct 2009 18:10 | | Report spam→
Thanks to Sion for stating what I believe in: ‘Embed with the civilians’ or document ‘the people’. From my limited experience of meeting Afghans, I found them friendly, genuine, family-orientated, physically-strong and ‘earthy people’ who understand themselves, know what they are and what they want…

Thanks also to Sion for sharing some statistics on Iraq. Under Saddam, between 100,000 and 300,000 killed and then the war took that figure to up to a million? Is this correct/right?

by Jenny Lynn Walker | 01 Nov 2009 05:11 | On the Road, Nepal | | Report spam→
Jenny, how many times do we have to go around this?

Try “embedding” yourself with the “people” in Helmand Province or Ghost or the Korengal Valley or any of these areas where the Taliban have reasserted control and from which the US is trying to dislodge them. Do you honestly believe that you will survive on your own longer than a few hours or days at most? What do you think that journalists like David Rohde, Melissa Fung, Stephen Farrell, and countless others, were trying to do? Just go for a joyride in the countryside and seek out the nearest Taliban and said, “Kidnap me, please?”

No, they were doing their jobs, exactly what we would all like to be able to do, to work freely and to cover the essential story of what happens to civilians and non-combatants. But when the other side attacks, kills, and kidnaps us with impunity, then I think you have to admit that you simply cannot do this on your own, no matter how much you want to.

Afghanistan and Iraq ARE different than previous wars. The level of violence directed against journalists IS unprecedented. How many times do you have to go to the funerals of your friends, write letters to their loved ones, feel the gnawing feeling in your stomach when you learn that another colleague has been kidnapped, for you to believe this?

Or do you just think that anyone who says this is an apologist for the US government or some flack for corporate interests, or some kind of neo-colonialist or neo-imperialist? I assure you that this NOT the case. But reality has to be acknowledged, and the reality right now is that working on your own in the areas we are talking about in Afghanistan is not possible without taking truly inordinate risks.

Regarding Iraq, it is both pointless and impossible to argue the numbers. VIOLENT civilian deaths in Iraq since the beginning of the war are roughly 100,000. If you start calculating lives shortened by war because of the lack of medical services and livelihood, then you get to a much higher figure of course. But you would have to do the same calculation for Saddam’s regime. Even if you leave out the casualties of the 8-year long Iran-Iraq War, your base count of 100-300,000 is only those killed in the Shia and Kurdish uprisings of 1991, the 20 years of civil war with the Kurds before that, and the political executions both within and outside the Baath Party. Once you start figuring in the larger toll of the impact of the sanctions, of the overall collapse of Iraqi society in the decades of Saddam’s rule, then you would, again, get a much higher number.

None of this is to excuse the American war or stupid, destructive US policies and tactics. It does show, however, how there is more than enough blame to go around on all sides of the Iraqi tragedy, and that yes, the US added to rather than reduced the suffering of the Iraqi people.

Those shades of grey: the longer you do this, as Eros said above, the more you see that there is no monopoly on evil.

by [former member] | 01 Nov 2009 06:11 | Peiping, China | | Report spam→

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