July 27, 2008

The Case of the U.S. Marines and Photojournalist Zoriah Miller


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, 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 yesterday'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 Miller 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; it was 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 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 of 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 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 Samona; 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 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.” What does 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.”

For the rest of the article, go to The American Thinker.

1 comment:

Shawn said...

As a Marine PAO, whose written and reviewed those ground rules, embedded media (including Miller) and dealt with family members in their immediate grief, I'm torn. By the book, Miller followed the rules, regardless of what many would consider bad taste, at best. But my obligation is not only to the Marines, the American public at large, and members of the press, but to the famlies of Marines, as well as my commander. This is a human problem, only complicated by ground rules, politics and cries of censorship.