On June 26, a suicide bomber attacked a meeting of tribal sheikhs in Iraq’s Anbar province and killed 20 people, including three U.S. Marines. The episode was widely reported by U.S. media. Zoriah Miller, a photojournalist and blogger embedded with U.S. Marines in Iraq, took pictures of the attack’s grisly aftermath, including one of the fallen soldiers.
The U.S. military, however, was incensed at Miller’s portrayal of the horrors of war and immediately “disembedded” him from his Marine unit. IPS reports on the fall-out:
“Tuesday [Jul. 1] I awoke to a call in their combat operations centre, and the person on the phone told me they were a PAO (Public Affairs Officer) at Camp Fallujah, and he wanted me to take my blog down right away,” Miller told IPS. “I asked them why, and was told then called back after five minutes by a higher ranking PAO who claimed I had broken my contract by showing photos of dead Americans with U.S. uniforms and boots.”
Miller said the PAO claimed he was not allowed, by the embed contract, to show dead or wounded U.S. citizens or soldiers in the field. “I never signed any contract for that,” Miller said.
Miller also told the Ventura County Star that he believed he was within the rules because the victim was unidentifiable. Additionally, he waited to post the pictures until four days after the attack. Miller said that he received strong support from the lower-ranking Marines, who “were on [his] side.”
The military may have realized its case was weak. Two days later, on July 3, Miller received an official letter with a new reason for his dismissal: He had posted “detailed information of the effectiveness of the attack” and therefore “put all U.S. forces in Iraq at greater risk for harm.” Miller explains the military’s spinning:
“The bottom line is that the thing they cited as the reason for my dismissal was ‘information the enemy could use against you’. They realised, probably from keeping track of my blog, that I was not showing identifiable features of a soldier…and they couldn’t find a reason to kick me out. Because it was a high ranking person who got killed, they were all fired up.”
Miller concluded, “Up to that point they said it was because I showed pictures of bodies with pieces of uniform and boots. The letter, though, doesn’t mention that at all. I checked the document I had about ground rules for media embeds, and I followed them.”
Miller now plans on returning to the United States and appealing the military’s decision. “You’re a war photographer, but once you take a picture of what war is like then you get into trouble,” he said.