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AP photo of dying Marine draws fire from Pentagon

By Matthew Shaer / September 4, 2009

In this Aug. 27 photo, Marine Lt. Jake Godby pays his respects to Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard during a memorial service at a forward operating base in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. Bernard was mortally wounded during a Taliban ambush on Aug. 14. A photo of the ambush released by the AP has drawn criticism from Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Julie Jacobson/AP

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates has condemned the Associated Press decision to release a photograph of a US Marine wounded during a battle in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan. The Marine, Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard of New Portland, Maine, was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in a Taliban ambush on Aug. 14. He later died of his wounds.

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In the AP photograph, Bernard is pictured lying on his side on a sandy slope. The image is blurry, but Bernard appears to be bleeding; two other Marines stand over him, attending to his wounds. The caption, titled "Afghanistan Death of a Marine," identifies the location as the village of Dahaneh. The photographer is Julie Jacobson, who also took the image at the top of this post. The AP reports that Bernard later died on the operating table at a nearby field hospital.

"AP journalists document world events every day. Afghanistan is no exception," Santiago Lyon, the wire services' director of photography, said in a statement. "We feel it is our journalistic duty to show the reality of the war there, however unpleasant and brutal that sometimes is." In a story on the ambush, the AP reported that Bernard's death came during the "deadliest month of the deadliest year since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

According to the AP, Bernard's parents had twice asked the image not be released.

Fallout

“I cannot imagine the pain and suffering Lance Corporal Bernard’s death has caused his family," Gates wrote in a letter to Thomas Curley, AP’s president and chief executive officer. "Why your organization would purposefully defy the family’s wishes knowing full well that it will lead to yet more anguish is beyond me. Your lack of compassion and common sense in choosing to put this image of their maimed and stricken child on the front page of multiple American newspapers is appalling. The issue here is not law, policy or constitutional right – but judgment and common decency.”

The leader of the largest veterans association in the US has also criticized the AP's decision, Reuters reports.

"The lack of compassion and common decency shown by the Associated Press in releasing this photograph is stunning," said American Legion National Commander Clarence E. Hill, a retired Navy captain. "Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard is a hero who gave his life for his country. His family is understandably offended."

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