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White House & Media Clash Over Soldier Misconduct Photos

by Thomas G. Brown, published

soldier_misconductThe White House and President Obama have taken another page out of the Bush playbook, classic "kill the messenger" instead of looking at the problem at hand. Last week, the White House press secretary Jay Carney stated that the President was disappointed with the LA Times over posting photos of soldier misconduct.

This is just the latest controversy related to soldier misconduct arising from Washington's nation-building operations in the Middle East. And the same misdirected outrage at the media from above has gone on since Vietnam and every conflict afterward to varying degrees. What has changed is with the advent of blogs and online news sites competing with mainstream media, standard news sources such as newspapers, have been forced to bring these issues to light or get bested by a blogger who breaks the story first. This is another example of the competitive tension between new media and "old" media producing more informative news coverage and creating more transparency.

Back to the issue of the military misconduct. The photos in question depicted a 2010 deployment to Afghanistan where soldiers pose with body parts as well as dead bodies. We need to take these photos and try to figure out why this type of action is happening. What motivated these soldiers to pose with corpses and photograph themselves, and how could they think that was okay?

The first thing that comes to my mind is that they have been desensitized to the act of killing, which is understandable. When you go into a war zone you must turn off your emotions in order to kill an enemy that is going to kill you. But the military still needs to stringently enforce standards of behavior that will not endanger the mission and that Americans back home can be proud of.

Another issue we need to look at when something like this occurs, is why are we still in this country fighting in the first place? The war in Afghanistan was started in 2001 to overthrow the government of the Taliban, and capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Now the Taliban is gone and Osama bin Laden has been killed.

These objectives have been accomplished along with getting Al Qaeda out of the region, to an extent. For the most part, the terrorist organization been dismantled and has left the country. According to ABC News there are fewer than 100 members of Al Qaeda left in the country. The military has demolished the vast Al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan after 9/11 and the remaining fighters are mostly native insurgents who bristle at a military occupation by a foreign government. The problem then, lies with Washington's ambiguous foreign policy and continuing mission creep as much as it does with these individual soldiers.

A final contributing factor to soldier misconduct could very well be the White House's culture of secrecy surrounding such incidents under the veil of national security. Removing the consequences, including public scrutiny and infamy, for this kind of behavior only removes disincentives to engage in it. So maybe instead of attacking the journalist, the White House should reevaluate how it enforces standards of behavior in conflict zones as well as its reasons for being at war in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world in the first place.

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