LA Times delayed publication of Afghan corpse photos at Pentagon's request

Los Angeles Times

More than 1,000 comments have been posted on the Los Angeles Times story revealing that soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division had posed with body parts of Afghan corpses. The newspaper's readers' representative has published a story noting that some readers believe the newspaper endangered soldiers by publishing two of the 18 photos it obtained.

In a live chat on, Editor Davan Maharaj said editors considered that issue and even delayed publication so that the Pentagon could protect the soldiers in the photos.

In fact, our reporter David Zucchino and I had numerous discussions with Pentagon, Army and White House officials over the course of several weeks before publishing this story. When we made the decision to publish, the Pentagon asked us to wait 24 additional hours to protect troops depicted in the photographs. We agreed to push back our publication date until the Pentagon told us they had taken the necessary precautions. In fact, we waited more than 72 hours after their request.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said at a news conference Wednesday that he had urged the newspaper not to publish the photos because "those kinds of photos are used by the enemy to incite violence, and lives have been lost by the publication of similar photos in the past," he said in Brussels.

I asked Maharaj why the editors decided to publish two of the 18 photos. He responded:

Hi Steve, the two photos published were chosen because they clearly and unambiguously depict conduct that the Army described as inappropriate. In examining the full set of images, we set aside others on grounds of taste, relevance or repetitiousness. Some were too gruesome. Others were very similar to the two images already chosen or were difficult to interpret.

The newspaper doesn't plan to publish the other photos, Maharaj said, and spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan said it will not distribute any of them because the photos don't belong to the Times.

Maharaj also described how the newspaper decided the photos, which the newspaper did not pay for, were authentic:

We questioned at length the soldier who provided the photos about where, when and under what circumstances they were taken. Independently, we verified his identity and the details of his service in Afghanistan. Through spokesmen for the Pentagon and the Army and other military sources, we confirmed that soldiers who appear in the photos were members of the 82nd Airborne Division.

We shared the images with the Pentagon, and officials there did not question their authenticity.

Our photo editors also inspected the pictures and found no indication that any of them had been altered or manipulated.

Earlier: LA Times publishes graphic front page photo of US soldiers with Afghan corpses | Related: White House "disappointed" in decision to publish photos (Associated Press)

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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