July 27, 2008
The Case of Expelled EmbedBy David Paulin
In the latest instance of the military's uneasy relationship in Iraq with the news media, U.S. Marine commanders expelled an embedded photojournalist for doing something they considered unforgivable -- snapping grisly photos of dead Marines, and posting them on his website.
The case of photojournalist Zoriah Miller, a 32-year-old American freelancer, has roiled U.S. Marines in Western Iraq for more than a month. Yet the mainstream media has largely ignored the controversy - until that is, a lengthy article in Saturday's New York Times, "4,000 U.S. Deaths and Just a Handful of Public Images ." While it strove to be circumspect about the issues at play, the Times failed to answer an important question: Who is Zoriah Miller?
The answer explains much about why America's military leaders are not interested in returning to the anything-goes days of media coverage that existed during the Vietnam War. And it explains why Marine commanders in Iraq do not relish the idea of Miller ever again accompanying American troops anywhere in the world.
Miller, a freelancer who uses his first name professionally, had been in Iraq nearly one year when he was expelled. He ran afoul of Marine commanders because of two photos of three dead Marines he published on his website. Initially, Marine commanders ordered Miller to remove the photos. He invited their full wrath with his response.
He refused to obey them.
Immediately, outraged commanders revoked the veteran photojournalist's media credentials. They ordered him aboard the next flight to Baghdad's Green Zone, saying he no longer was welcome in Marine-controlled Western Iraq. In a letter to the veteran photojournalist officially expelling him, Marine Gen. John F. Kelly -- commander of multi-national forces in Western Iraq -- wrote: "By your actions, I have lost confidence in your trustworthiness and your ability to follow the rules vital for protecting U.S. forces assigned to the Iraqi Theater of Operations."
He added, "I have reason to believe that you present a threat all all Multi National Forces-West personnel and installations." A copy of Gen. Kelly's lengthy and detailed July 3 letter, citing specific embed rules Miller allegedly violated, was provided to the American Thinker after a query was made for this story. The general said the photojournalist's detailed blog commentary and graphic photos about the aftermath of a suicide bombing, had provided the enemy with a valuable after-action report of the attack blamed on Al-Qaida.
In his letter, Gen. Kelly said Miller's photo essay offered the terror group valuable intelligence about the effectiveness of their attack and the Marines' response time.
Miller said two armed guards accompanied him as he awaited his flight. The guards were apparently for his own protection. Presumably, some Marines were in ugly moods on learning the photojournalist had posted photos to his website of dead Marines, two veteran officers and an enlisted man.
On his website, Miller has written at length about the arbitrary treatment he says he suffered, and he's defended his conduct. Specifically, he's accused Marine commanders of censorship and ignoring established rules for embedded reporters, rules concerning what a photojournalist may or may not publish. He's also portrayed himself as an idealist -- one with an anti-war message.
Recently, Miller returned from Baghdad to his native Colorado, having failed to get his embed credentials reinstated while in Baghdad, where he apparently visited the U.S. Embassy. He claims to have gotten a sympathetic hearing from unnamed officials about his efforts to reinstate his credentials.
As to those two photos of three dead Marines, they're still displayed at his website: Zoriah.com. And now thanks to the Times' story, they're displayed on the paper's website. Editors, presumably, believed that publishing them was necessary to tell the story of Zoriah Miller vs. the U.S. Marines -- and to highlight Miller's claims of alleged military censorship. Yet curiously, the Times has never been the sort of paper to publish similar grisly photos of people who died in violent car wrecks or gunshot wounds. It's a matter of good taste for the Times; and yet this same consideration is not extended to soldiers killed in Iraq.
What exactly did Miller publish? His two close-up photos show Marines whose bodies seem mutilated beyond recognition. One shows a Marine lying face up, his face disfigured. Miller, noting he was sensitive to the Marines' families, said on his blog that the soldiers were are too disfigured for even their families to recognize. And in line with embed rules, he noted, he digitally removed the Marines' name tags from the photos. He suggested the photos were "dignified" and "artistic."
Some of Miller's Iraq photos are indeed powerful and interesting. But his photos of three dead Marines resemble the tasteless photos found at some ghoulish Internet sites. Now, the Times has stooped to the same level ostensibly for the sake of its high-minded journalism.
Miller says he's baffled by the angry reaction his photos provoked among Marines. "You're a war photographer, but once you take a picture of what war is like then you get into trouble," he complained at Camp Fallujah, shortly after losing his media credentials. He was quoted in a July 6 article in the Ventura County Star, "Blogger kicked out of Iraq province for war photos," written by an embedded reporter for the California daily paper, Scott Hadly.
Miller's photos of the dead Marines were part of a graphic photo essay and written account he posted describing the aftermath of a suicide bombing on June 26 in the city of Garma, near Fallujah. The bomber blew himself up at a city council meeting that included shieks and local leaders. At least 20 people died and more than 100 were injured. The Marines killed in the blast were on hand to transfer control of Anbar Provence to Iraqi military forces. The province had been hotbed for the insurgency until the Marines enforced their will on the region.
Before publishing the photos, Miller, in his defense, said he waited until the families of the Marines had been notified of their deaths. Indeed, it was out of consideration for them, he said, that he even provided ample warnings on his website about photos being displayed there of dead Marines. Yet despite his concern, he apparently had no such reservations when granting the Times permission to publish the photos.
Miller's photo essay includes a number of graphic color shots of the dead and dying. One bizarre close-up shows a human hand on the ground above a small pool of blood. The dead included Garma's mayor and a tribal chief.
As to those dead Marines, Miller didn't mention their names, and neither did the Times. They were from the Hawaii-based 3rd Marine Division: Battalion commander Lt. Col Max A. Galeai, 42, of Pago Pago, American Samoa; Marine Capt. Philip J. Dykeman, 38, of Brockport, N.Y.; and Cpl. Marcus W. Preudhomme, 23, an administrative assistant from North Miami Beach, Fla.
The Marines died outright in the powerful blast. Miller, moments later, arrived at the gruesome scene with a group of Marines he'd been accompanying; they were from the same division as the dead Marines. One of them vomited, Miller related. Quickly, the Marines set about restoring order: securing the area, helping the wounded, and even collecting body parts. Miller went to work too: He feverishly snapped off photos. Luckily for Miller, he'd reportedly opted to go out with the Marine patrol rather than accepting an invitation to the event.
Regarding his expulsion, Miller contends he followed the military's rules for embedded media members to the letter. Photojournalists, he says, are in fact allowed to photograph and publish photos of dead servicemen under certain circumstances. In his defense, he cited specific sections of the embed rules to support his case.
Why publish grisly close-ups of dead Marines? "I just feel this war has become so sanitized that it was important to show," Miller told the Ventura County Star. He's repeated those comments in the Times' story, and during recent interviews with Editor & Publisher, a magazine covering the newspaper industry.
Miller, however, had other motivations, too -- though they were not mentioned by the Times and Editor & Publisher, which are sympathetic to his cause. Publishing the photos, Miller explained, was justified to show "the reality of the Iraq War." And he offered some political reasons, too: At his website, he urges visitors who are "offended by the graphic images" to "please do something to stop the political situations and foreign policy that facilitate these atrocities." Just what might Miller mean by political situations and foreign policies? He did not explain. But it's clear he has a political agenda, based on other statements at his website, which the Times did not bother to cite.
Miller, for instance, talks much about himself at two Q&A interviews he gave that are posted on his website. In one he says: "I just want to change the world...and I am pretty sure I can do it."
Describing the events leading to his expulsion, Miller offered a blow-by-blow at his website:
Yes, indeed: "Something terrible happened!" And who does Miller ultimately blame for the atrocity? On his blog, he suggests an interesting answer...
But before considering those remarks, consider some of Miller's claims of mistreatment by the Marines. According to his account, he and Marine commanders differ on some fine points. One is whether he published the photos before the Marines' families were notified; and another is whether the dead Marines could be identified in his photos. None of these issues, however, are mentioned in the correspondence that U.S. Marines provided for this article. A media officer at Camp Fallujah, 1st Lt. Brian Block, elaborated on the decision to revoke Miller's embed credentials in a July 19 e-mail, stating:
Why has the mainstream media largely ignored the fascinating case of Zoriah Miller vs. the U.S. Marines? It may well be embarrassed. Miller, after all, is unlikely to make a good poster boy for critics of the military's embed program, which they deride as a cynical effort by the military and Bush administration to control information relating to an illegal war. Many ordinary Americans, on the other hand, are unlikely to be sympathetic to Miller. And presumably, they're not readers of the New York Times. In earlier wars -- at least until the Vietnam War -- the media rarely published photos of dead servicemen. And it certainly did not do immediately after a battle.
Miller is hardly the worst experience the military has with a photojournalist in Iraq. That distinction surely goes to an Iraqi named Bilal Hussein, whom the Associated Press employed as a photographer. Because of his chummy relationships with Iraqi insurgents, U.S military forces detained him nearly two years.
A Brave Idealist?
Miller describes himself as a freelance photojournalist specializing in the Middle East; and he's apparently quite successful: His work has appeared in the BBC, NPR, Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, and Fortune; and he's worked for organizations such as the United Nations, he says. Before he became a war photographer, Miller says he worked for the Red Cross as a "disaster technology specialist and mass casualty response volunteer."
On his website, Miller portrays himself as a brave idealist, one with a singular mission -- to stop the violence. By publishing graphic war photos, he believes, he can stop the war. His horrific images will cause everyone to realize their folly and lay down their arms. And presumably, this includes members of Al-Qaida, its hard-core holy warriors and would-be martyrs.
In one sense, Miller is a contradiction. He portrays himself as an anti-war idealist, and yet he seems to enjoy his work a little too much: That's evident in his breathless I-was-there account of the June 26 suicide bombing. His writing and graphic photos suggest he enjoys the drama of war -- thrives on the risk of being in the front-lines with Marines. He's merely "documenting" the bloodshed, he says. Yet like more than a few war correspondents over the years, he also seems like an "adrenalin junkie." Indeed, he enjoys two sports that are favorites of adrenalin-junkies: skydiving and motorcycle racing.
Besides savoring the adrenalin junkie's high, many war correspondents and combat photographers relish another thrill. It's to indulge their swagger and vanity by putting themselves at the center of the action, with their dramatic I-was-there dispatches and close-up photos of the action. And on a personal level, war enables some to test their mettle, to prove themselves in ways they consider socially acceptable. But compared to soldiers, they have it easy. They're professional observers -- and so they need not make a commitment or make life-and-death decisions. And nor do they they need to get as close to the action as the soldiers whom they accompany, and who endeavor to protect them.
Consider, for instance, Miller's I-was-there account of accompanying Marines to the suicide bombing. As he tells it, the action starts as he runs with Marines under a blazing sun to the scene of the horrific attack. What they see is gruesome; a scene so bloody that rescue workers are slipping on pools of blood. The meeting area is littered with body parts, the dead and dying: Miller writes about every little detail.
The Marines, of course, have far different responsibilities than Miller. They rush to the gruesome scene to save lives and restore order. Some pick up body parts. Miller, however, has only one concern -- and it's a high-minded one, as he tells it: It's to "document" the atrocity. At his website, he writes:
Immediately, Miller goes to work. He snaps photos of the dead and dying, and even body parts. And then he came upon a real prize: the mutilated remains of three dead Marines: "I continue shooting pictures as fast as I can," he relates, recalling that moment. The Marines accompanying him, he explains, would "not want me in the building photographing their dead friends."
As he snaps off shots, Miller has another concern - the possibility of a "secondary blast." It would cut short his chance to "to document the scene," he writes.
But there is no secondary blast.
So Miller walks away with his photos. And he leaves some of the Marines accompanying him with some angry reactions and hard feelings. Well, it's all in a day's work for a self-respecting war photographer, especially one with a political agenda.
In considering the case of Zoriah Miller, the Vietnam War comes readily to mind: It was the last great war for war correspondents -- a place where Miller would have thrived. Back then, the military had no embed rules. Nor did it throw its weight around in respect to controlling information: It was anything goes in respect to war correspondents.
Vietnam was a great assignment for war correspondents, too: They could spend a few days in the field, then return to Saigon to party it up and hang out with the pretty bar girls. "Vietnam was what we had instead of happy childhoods," Esquire writer Michael Herr famously remarked, recalling the experience he and other correspondents had in Vietnam. Herr also freely admitted to less-than-noble motives, saying back then: "I sometimes feel I am engaging in some clinical investigation of my own motives at the expense of other people."
And then there was legendary Vietnam combat photographer Tim Page, a 20-year-old Englishman. After a "hippie" bicycle trip across Asia, he found himself in the middle of the Vietnam War -- making a good living as a combat photographer. "Jesus! Take the glamor out of war...You can't take the glamor out of a tank burning or a helicopter blowing up...War is good for you!" Page remarked. Interestingly, a soldier who admitted to such feelings would risk being called an anti-social misfit, a borderline psycho. Yet when a swaggering war correspondent makes such comments at a sophisticated New York cocktail party, he's apt to evoke amused chuckles, and perhaps a few admiring glances from some of the ladies.
Herr and Page are a far cry from the days of WW-2 war correspondents such as Ernie Pyle, a man known as the "GI's friend." His reports were imbued with a them-vs-us flavor: It was America and its allies against the ruthless and cruel axis powers: Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and fascist Italy. Herr, Page, and Pyle are among the famous war reporters and photographers mentioned in Phillip Knightly's sweeping book on war correspondents: "The First Casualty, From the Crimea to Vietnam: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth Maker."
With guys like Page and Herr all over Vietnam during the war's anything goes atmosphere in respect to media coverage, it's no wonder America's military leaders came up with the embed program. The Vietnam War, after all, was not lost in the battlefield: It was lost in the news media. America pulled out thanks to a loss of political will addled by a hostile anti-war press. America's loss of prestige fueled leftist insurgencies for years to come, noted Stephen J. Morris in an Op-Ed in the New York Times: "The War we Could have Won."
Increasingly, many journalists since the Vietnam War have come to see themselves as members of a calling that transcends national boundaries and citizenship. They're merely independent truth-seekers, witnessing events from an ethereal realm.
Consider the comment that CBS correspondent Mike Wallace gave in 1987, during a panel discussion aired by PBS on ethics in America. Asked if he had a higher duty to warn American troops of an impending ambush, he stated flatly: "No. You don't have a higher duty. No. No. You're a reporter!" ABC anchor Peter Jennings reluctantly agreed.
Miller in Perspective
For better or worse, the embed program is here to stay. And given the forgoing, it's easy to see why military commanders are in no hurry to return to the anything-goes-goes days of the Vietnam War. Miller offers them yet another example to support their view.
Consider what Miller said when asked, during a Q&A interview, what motivates him as a war photographer: "I just want to change the world...and I am pretty sure I can do it."
After nearly a year in Iraq, Miller presumably saw the bloody handiwork of Iraq's insurgency and Al-Qaida more than once. So he ought to understand the demented psychology and fanaticism of suicide bombers, and their sponsors. Yet Miller told one interviewer that even greater manifestations of evil exist in Iraq than is dished up by Al-Qaida.
Who does he blame? It seems it's the West -- America in particular. He stated: "Western nations, especially America, need to have the human face of war and suffering brought to them in hopes that they may understand the severity of situation that they are directly, and indirectly, responsible for."
And when expressing his concern about the feelings of the Marines' families, he wrote on his website:
It's an incredibly silly statement -- that publication of ghoulish photos "will deter others from committing or accepting senseless acts of violence." Does this include Al-Qaida's members? For Miller it seems that it does. And that's certainly odd: Al-Qaida is surely thrilled to see its handwork posted on the Internet! Indeed, such photos may well encourage Al-Qaida's fanatics to commit even more atrocities, as opposed to discarding their suicide belts, and stopping their gruesome predilection for beheading the infidels and Muslims opposing them.
Don't bother telling that to Zorah, though. For him Iraq's violence stems from two sources: America and the West.
Zoirah, the noble idealist, says he wants to change the world with his photojournalism. What kind of world might that be? Apparently, it's one in which the West gets its comeuppance. "People in Western countries have so, so, so much compared to so many others....people should eat before other people buy their third car," he said, during an interview. Put another way: Miller believes the West is rich because the Third World is poor.
It's unlikely that Miller will ever work again as an embedded reporter -- not if the U.S. Marines have their way. Accordingly, he might try another assignment. To test his theory about Third World poverty, he might visit North Korea and Zimbabwe. The dictators in those countries, however, are unlikely to be as good natured as Miller found the Marines in Iraq -- until he lost their trust.
How to bridge the gap between rich Western and Third World countries? Miller said: "I think every Westerner should be forced to live in (a) Third World country for one year...possibly for the fourth year of high school," he says. Now, that's an interesting choice of words: forced to live. But perhaps that's not precisely what Miller meant.
Miller also is quick to defend thuggery in the Third World he idealizes. Take freedom of speech, for instance: It's a fundamental human rights. But Miller has some concerns. "Freedom of speech is very important and should not be monitored in any way," he explains. "That being said, it is important for Westerners to realize that other cultures may not be wired to think that way..."
That's an interesting way to put it: People in some countries are not wired to think that way. It reflects a certain worldview, of course, one put forth by the post-modern left: Not all people are wired to enjoy certain freedoms. And no matter if such a worldview conflicts with those cherished universal freedoms put forth by the high-minded United Nations, one of the left's favorite institutions.
Miller, of course, is really getting at one thing here: People in the Third World can't be expected to embrace basic "Western values." And since he's a self-described Middle East specialist, he likely believes that applies to the Middle East -- and to Iraq in particular. All in all, it's a strange attitude for a man who witnessed the bloody aftermath of an Al-Qaida attack upon a peaceful city meeting -- yet another example of Iraq's nascent democracy. In post-Saddam Iraq, that uplifting moment was, ironically, made possible by two things: the West's hard-wired values, and its military power.
Now that Miller is out of Iraq, where might he turn up next? Maybe Iran, whose fanatical leaders are determined to build an atomic bomb and blow Israel off the map. During one interview, he voiced some strong views about how journalists should cover Iran and the Middle East:
One interviewer asked Miller an incisive question: "Are there any photography 'rules' you like to break or are known for breaking?"
U.S. Marines fighting in Iraq may beg to differ.
Miller, meanwhile, said he may plead his case in Washington to get his embed status reinstated. But even if a sympathetic official grants his request, it's unlike the Marines will welcome him back.
That's not how they're hard-wired.
David Paulin, a journalist, lived abroad for nearly ten years, reporting from Venezuela and the Caribbean. He blogs at The Big Carnival.