U.S. Soldiers Posing With Afghan Bodies & More Controversial Photos

U.S. soldiers with dead Afghan bombers and more images that caused outcries. WARNING: Graphic content.

Damian Dovarganes / AP

New York Subway Death, 2012

Today’s dramatic New York Post cover photo, which shows the last seconds of a man’s life as he tried to escape the path of a Manhattan subway train, caused immediate furor, with many wondering why the photographer chose to take a picture of the man instead of attempting to help him. The photo shows Ki Suk Han, after he had been pushed by a panhandler at the Times Square subway station, trying to get off the tracks as a speeding Q train barrels toward him. But the photographer explains, “I just started running, running, hoping that the driver could see my flash … In that moment, I just wanted to warn the train—to try and save a life.” Other witnesses claim that one of the reasons they were unable to help him was that they had all gathered on the other end of the subway platform to avoid the very panhandler who is suspected of pushing Han.

Such decisions about provocative photos are as old as photojournalism. From Gaddafi’s corpse in a freezer, to a dying RFK, see photos that some said should never have been published.

WARNING: Graphic content.

Damian Dovarganes / AP

U.S. Soldiers with Taliban Bodies, 2012

On April 18th, the Los Angeles Times published two photographs of American soldiers posing with the bloody corpses of Afghan insurgents. According to Times editor Davan Maharaj, the paper was given the photos from “a soldier in the unit who was himself concerned that the photos reflected dysfunction in discipline and a breakdown in leadership that compromised the safety of the troops.” The Defense Department strongly opposed their publication, citing concerns the images could be used to incite violence against U.S. and Afghan troops. Maharaj said the Times decided to publish only two of the 18 photos it had received. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta apologized for the content of the photos, calling the troops “very foolish,” but added that they were suffering from the horrors of war.

George Strock / Getty Images

Dead U.S. Solders, 1943

Life magazine was forced to explain its decision to publish a photograph of three dead U.S. soldiers on a Papua New Guinea beach during World War II. The editors extolled the virtues of pictures, saying, “Words are never enough ... Words do not exist to make us see, or know, or feel what it is like, what actually happens.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt had lifted a ban on publishing images of casualties, hoping that the striking images would strengthen the American people’s resolve to win the war.


Lyndon Johnson, 1965

It’s rare that a president shows off his belly, but that’s exactly what Lyndon Johnson did after his abdominal surgery. In October 1965, he was walking around the grounds of Bethesda Naval Hospital when he lifted the tails of his shirt to reveal his surgical bandage. Many felt the president shouldn’t have been so cavalier, and also set the stage for numerous editorial cartoons mocking Johnson.

Eddie Adams / AP

Viet Cong Officer, 1968

It’s perhaps one of the most disturbing images of the Vietnam War, and it helped turn the tide of public opinion. On Feb. 1, 1968, South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan shot suspected Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem in the head at point-blank range during the beginning of the Tet offensive. The New York Times chose to offset the photo, which it ran large, with a smaller image of a child slain by Viet Cong. The photographer, Eddie Adams, won a Pulitzer for the photo, but remained ambivalent about it throughout his life.


Robert F. Kennedy, 1968

On June 5, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy had just finished his California presidential-primary victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when he was shot by Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Jordanian born in Jerusalem. Kennedy was surrounded by several people, many of whom decided not to take pictures out of respect, but a few photographers kept clicking away, capturing the iconic images of the dying candidate lying on the floor with his shirt open.

John Filo / AP

Kent State, 1970

John Filo was a student at Kent State when he took the photo of Mary Ann Vecchio screaming as she kneeled over the body of a Jeffrey Miller, who was shot by Ohio National Guard Troops during an anti-war demonstration. The image was published throughout the world and won Filo a Pulitzer. It also prompted hate mail, and Filo was told by an uncle who had served in the armed forces, ''If you were out there, you should have been shot.''

Elvis, 1977;<br>Whitney Houston, 2012

The National Enquirer has certainly had its share of controversy over its more-than-50-year history. Its cover pictures of both Elvis Presley and Whitney Houston in their coffins stirred up all kinds of trouble, and the magazine was roundly criticized for not being more respectful. Yet, such photos certainly are popular. The issue with Elvis on the cover sold a staggering 6.5 million copies—a tally that exceeds today's daily circulation of The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal combined.

Paul Watson / Toronto Star-ZUMA

U.S. Soldier in Mogadishu, 1993

Photographer Paul Watson won a Pulitzer for capturing this image of the body of slain U.S. Staff Sgt. William David Cleveland being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, in August 1993. The photograph helped turn public opinion against the peacekeeping mission in Somalia, forcing President Clinton to abandon the hunt for warlord Mohamed Aidid. The image at right is one several from the event and, despite the graphic nature of the images, one of the most controversial aspects of the photos was the nudity of the soldier. The Associated Press, which has a strong policies against nudity, ran the photo at right, and Time ran one of the other images, but covered up Cleveland’s genitals. Watson later noted that a "decision was made to censor something sexually offensive, while the outrageous violence of desecrating a corpse is deemed safe for the general public's consumption."

David Surowiecki / Getty Images

Falling Bodies, Sept. 11, 2001

On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists killed nearly 3,000 Americans. Many inside the World Trade Center realized that there was no way out of the towers, because they were above the spots where the hijacked airliners hit the buildings. Rather than wait to die, they jumped from the building to their death. Photographers captured the images, and papers across the country ran them. Many readers were horrified and sent countless letters to editors. Despite the outrage, New York Daily News photo director Eric Meskauskas explained why he ran it on a full page in the paper: "This isn't high school. It's the real world and we shouldn't shield our readers from it."


Abu Ghraib, 2004

The 2004 Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal shook the George W. Bush administration and the military to their core. But the story wouldn’t have been nearly as powerful if there hadn’t been photos that showed the degradation that prisoners suffered at the hands of American soldiers. The images, taken by U.S. troops participating in the abuse, were initially broadcast on 60 Minutes II and published in The New Yorker. The military knew about the images, but chose not to release them publicly due to their inflammatory nature.

Tami Silicio / ZUMA

Flag-Draped Coffin, 2004

For 13 years, the Pentagon prohibited the media from taking pictures of flag-draped caskets returning from war without the consent of the families. But Tami Silicio, an air-cargo worker, took this photo in April 2004 and was subsequently fired after it was published in The Seattle Times. (Her employer said she violated Pentagon rules by snapping the picture.) Silicio said she wanted to show the respect with which the soldiers’ remains were handled. Five years later, the Obama administration lifted the ban and opened Dover Air Force Base, home to the military’s mortuary, to the media.

Danfung Dennis

U.S. Soldiers With Iraqi Head, 2008

Photographer Danfung Dennis was on assignment for Newsweek when he took this photo of American soldiers examining a decapitated head in Shakarat, Iraq, in January 2008. At the time, decapitated heads were turning up with frightening frequency in Iraq as a warning from al Qaeda. Newsweek editors chose not to publish the photo, deciding it was too incendiary. As Dennis observes, "these types of acts are more commonplace than we think. I think it's hard for most people to comprehend the complete absurdity and the horrific nature of war."


WikiLeaks Video, 2010

In 2010, WikiLeaks released a graphic video that showed U.S. soldiers in a military helicopter shooting and killing a Reuters photographer and his driver, whom they suspected of being insurgents, during a July 2007 attack in Baghdad. Reuters had long argued for release of the 38-minute video, but could only view it off the record—until WikiLeaks obtained it from whistleblowers and released it in full. The military investigated the incident, but the pilots who killed Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and the driver, Saeed Chmagh, 40, were not disciplined, because the military found no evidence that they should have known the pair were noncombatants. The release put WikiLeaks on the map, and prompted the first of many conversations in newsrooms about how to treat its content.

Mahmud Turkia / AFP-Getty Images

Muammar Gaddafi, 2011

Col. Muammar Gaddafi, who refused to give up power in Libya despite a popular uprising, eventually met a bloody fate in his hometown. Found in a drainpipe outside Sirte, bystanders shot cellphone video of him being dragged by his hair and propped on the hood of a truck. Later, in Misrata, Libyans stood in line for days, jostling each other for the chance of a snapshot of his corpse as it lay on a mattress in a freezer. The images they captured were called "savage" and "obscene," while others cited the savage obscenity of Gaddafi's rule, and the bloody reality of a revolution.