The grisly photographs of American soldiers posing with the body parts of Afghan insurgents during a 2010 deployment in Afghanistan were the source of a dispute between The Los Angeles Times and the Pentagon lasting weeks.
Two of the 18 photographs given to the paper were published Wednesday by The Times over fierce objections by military officials who said that the photographs could incite violence. The officials had asked The Times not to publish any of the photographs, a fact that the defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, reiterated on Wednesday as the images spread across the Internet.
“The reason for that is those kinds of photos are used by the enemy to incite violence, and lives have been lost as the result of the publication of similar photos,” Mr. Panetta said at a news conference.
But the newspaper’s editors said that the photographs were newsworthy. “We considered this very carefully,” the newspaper’s editor, Davan Maharaj, said in a Web chat with readers. “At the end of the day, our job is to publish information that our readers need to make informed decisions. We have a particular duty to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan. On balance, in this case, we felt that the public interest here was served by publishing a limited, but representative sample of these photos, along with a story explaining the circumstances under which they were taken.”
The article was by David Zucchino, a longtime war correspondent for the paper, who got an unsolicited e-mail two months ago from a soldier in the 82nd Airborne Division. The soldier said that he had “some information” that might interest Mr. Zucchino. The information included the photographs. Mr. Zucchino later met three times with the soldier, to whom The Times granted anonymity. “He said he was very, very concerned about what he said was a breakdown in security, discipline and professionalism,” Mr. Zucchino said.
Mr. Zucchino contacted military officials weeks ago and showed them some of the images. Within the newsroom, he said, there was “a vigorous debate about whether to publish; and if we publish, what to publish; and what to say in the story.”
Amid that internal debate, military officials, including the commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. John R. Allen, registered their concerns with editors.
“Our concern is not about embarrassment,” George E. Little, a Pentagon press secretary, said in a telephone interview after Mr. Panetta’s news conference. “We recognize that this is inexcusable behavior depicted in the photos. This is all about force protection in Afghanistan.”
Once the paper decided it would publish the images, the military officials asked, and the editors agreed, to wait for extra security precautions to be put in place in Afghanistan. The newspaper waited more than 72 hours.
“We did have to bump up our security posture in the country,” Mr. Little said. “If the story had run without the photos, I’m not sure that we would have had to undertake those additional security measures.”
Mr. Maharaj said the newspaper had no plans to publish the other 16 images. Mr. Zucchino supported that decision. “They are just awful,” he said, calling the two that were published “the least gruesome.”