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NYT Posts Video Of Dying US Soldier

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From the Houston Chronicle:

[NY Times caption:] After Staff Sgt. Hector Leija was shot in the kitchen of a Baghdad apartment last Wednesday, Pfc. Aaron Barnum retrieved the sergeant’s helmet. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images for The New York Times

Images of dying Texas soldier ignite debate

Jan. 31, 2007, 12:23AM

By MICHAEL HEDGES and JAMES PINKERTON

WASHINGTON — A photograph and videotape of a Texas soldier dying in Iraq published by the New York Times have triggered anger from his relatives and Army colleagues and revived a long-standing debate about which images of war are proper to show.

The journalists involved, Times reporter Damien Cave and Getty Images photographer Robert Nickelsberg, working for the Times, had their status as so-called embedded journalists suspended Tuesday by the Army corps in Baghdad, military officials said, because they violated a signed agreement not to publish photos or video of any wounded soldiers without official consent.

New York Times foreign editor Susan Chira said Tuesday night that the newspaper initially did not contact the family of Army Staff Sgt. Hector Leija about the images because of a specific request from the Army to avoid such a direct contact.

"The Times is extremely sensitive to the loss suffered by families when loved ones are killed in Iraq," Chira said. "We have tried to write about the inevitable loss with extreme compassion."

She said that after the newspaper account, with a photograph of the soldier, was published Monday, a Times reporter in Baghdad made indirect efforts to tell the family of the video release later that day. The video was still available for viewing on the Times’ Web site Tuesday night, when the newspaper notified clients of its photo service that the photograph at issue was no longer available and should be eliminated from any archives

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert Lobeck, serving as the Army’s casualty assistance officer with Leija’s family in Texas, said seeing the images of Leija on the Internet was very upsetting to the relatives.

"Oh God, they shouldn’t have published a picture like that," Leija’s cousin Tina Guerrero, who had not seen the images but was aghast about them anyway, told the Houston Chronicle on Tuesday in Raymondville. She said the images would be especially hurtful to the soldier’s parents, Domingo and Manuela Leija, who have remained in the family’s home on the edge of town. ”It’s going to devastate them," Guerrero said. ”They’re having enough pain dealing with the death of their son."

Accompanying the Times article was a picture of Leija on a stretcher, an Army medic using his right hand to compress the sergeant’s wounded forehead. Leija was alive in the photograph. The story noted that he died later in the day.

Later Monday, the Times posted on its Web site a five-minute, 52-second video taken at the scene of the shooting, showing an interview with Leija before he was wounded, then the frantic moments after he is downed by a single shot…

The agreement that journalists are asked to sign as a condition of embedding has 14 rules. Rule 11 covers military casualties: "Names, video, identifiable written/oral description or identifiable photographs of wounded service members will not be released without service member’s prior written consent."

The ground rule goes on to say, "In respect for family members, names or images clearly identifying individuals ‘killed in action’ will not be released." The rule says names of soldiers killed can be released a day after family notification, but it does not address photographs or video images.

Chira said as far as she knew, the journalists had signed the forms. But she also said: "This issue has never been raised before when the New York Times has shown photographs of wounded soldiers." …

Chira also said she had been told by the reporter in Baghdad that he had reached out to two people with Texas connections to act as intermediaries to alert the family that a video was going to be posted. They were Kathy Travis, a press aide to Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, and Principal Gilbert Galvan of Raymondville High School.

Travis had a different account.

"Whoa, that isn’t what happened," she said Tuesday night in a telephone interview. "The reporter called me late Monday afternoon and said he understood that the family was upset and that he wanted us to know that he had the utmost respect for the soldier and wanted us to let the family know that."

Galvan said a New York Times reporter called Monday, saying he could not reach Leija’s relatives and asking Galvan to notify the family of the story and the impending release of the video.

Galvan said he went to the Leijas’ house and relayed the message. "They looked upset," he said…

Here is a link to the New York Times article, "‘Man Down’: When One Bullet Alters Everything."

As the article notes, the photograph has been removed. But you can still see the video there.

If Sgt. Leija had been a POW, publishing photos of his dying would have violated the Geneva Conventions.

But The Times is only concerned about the rights of our enemies.

This article was posted by Steve on Wednesday, January 31st, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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