The Associated Press' decision to release a photo last week of a dying U.S. Marine in Afghanistan was met by strong words from American Legion National Commander Clarence Hill. "Outrageously irresponsible" is how the leader of the nation's largest veterans organization characterized the decision.
"The lack of compassion and common decency shown by the Associated Press in releasing this photograph is stunning," said Hill, a retired Navy captain. "Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard is a hero who gave his life for his country. His family is understandably offended. I have asked The American Legion state commander in Maine to reach out to his family. Indeed, everybody in The American Legion stands with his family."
The photo shows Bernard bleeding after being struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in a Taliban ambush Aug. 14. Before the photograph was publicly released, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asked Thomas Curley, AP's president and chief executive officer, to refrain from transmitting the image.
"Out of respect for his family's wishes, I ask you in the strongest of terms to reconsider your decision. I do not make this request lightly ... The issue here is not law, policy or constitutional right, but judgment and common decency."
"Secretary Gates was right," Hill added. "The issue is judgment and common decency. There is some information, some actions that occur, that are simply too private, too personal and too tragic to be intentionally broadcast into the homes of millions. For families with loved ones overseas, the fear of what might happen to them is a near-constant companion. This photo not only keeps open the wounds of war for the Bernard family, but it also increases the fear for the families of those who are still facing the reality of sudden death every day."
Hill called for a review by DoD of the rules governing embedded media. "This should never have occurred in the first place, nor should it be allowed to occur again," Hill said. "Ironically, when I visited Camp Delta at Guantanamo, the photographer was prohibited from taking images showing the faces of detained terrorists. Yet photographers are allowed to shoot photographs of fallen American heroes. Where is the common sense? Where is the common decency?"