Just as the discussion over the publication of a dying Marine’s photo was beginning to wane, new revelations have arisen that are re-igniting the debate: It seems Islamic jihadists have co-opted the image for use as a morale booster and propaganda tool.
The Associated Press published the grim photo despite the repeated and emphatic protests of the late Marine’s family and the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, and touched off a firestorm of debate. The publication of the bloody, disturbing image of Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard, killed by RPG fire in Afghanistan in mid-August, has prompted some to question the propriety of embedding photojournalists and reporters with US combat troops; others, however, hail the picture and its printing as a example of journalistic integrity.
But with the news that Muslim extremists have hijacked the image to ridicule and celebrate the death of LCPL Bernard, a new concern has arisen: At what point do incidents like this one serve only to demoralize American troops and encourage the enemies of the United States?
This screen shot was taken directly from a notorious jihadist website, www.revolutionmuslim.com. The headline reads “Death of Coward Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard.” The caption beneath reads, “In this photo taken Friday, Aug. 14, 2009, coward Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard is tended to by fellow coward U.S. Marines after being hit by a rocket propelled grenade during a firefight against the Taliban in the U.S.occupied village of Dahaneh in the U.S. occupied Helmand Province of Afghanistan. Bernard was transported by helicopter to Camp Leatherneck where he later died of his wounds & stupidty[sic]. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)”
Leadership at the Associated Press and those who have spoken out in support of the AP’s decision cite the perceived “news value” of the picture, and many insist that the publication of such stark battlefield images will hasten the end of the hostilities by fomenting opposition to the War on Terror.
Those who oppose the move by the Associated Press have pointed to the anguish that the photo’s release has caused LCPL Bernard’s already-grieving family, and have speculated that the press organization is merely motivated by sensationalism and greed. Questions of journalistic ethics and simple human decency have been raised against the Associated Press, but now that the photograph is being exploited as a means of exciting jihadist sentiment and violence, some are asking, “Has the Associated Press unwittingly played into the hands of Islamic Terrorists by providing them with a new icon for propaganda, or even recruitment?”
This sort of thing is nothing new for the web site and its owner. Both originate from, of all places, New York City. Revolutionmuslim.com and the man behind it, Yousef al-Khattab, have already drawn sharp criticism for mocking other American military deaths in the War on Terror and for posting crude anti-semitic images and commentary. al-Khattab, whose birth name was “Joseph Cohen,” describes himself as an American-born Jew who converted to Islam after attending Orthodox rabbinical school.
Yousef al-Khattab’s website often serves as a platform for his devotion to Sheik Abdullah Faisal, the Muslim hate preacher who was deported from the United Kingdom in 2007. Faisal was convicted in 2003 for calling for the murder of Americans, Jews, and Hindus, and for engendering racial hatred with his rhetoric. He served four years of a nine-year sentence and was deported. It is widely believed that his teachings influenced Germaine Lindsey, one of four terrorists responsible for the bombing of London underground trains and a bus on July 7, 2005. 56 people, including Lindsey himself, were killed in the attack. Another 700 people were injured.
There is no small irony in the fact that a news agency has unwittingly provided al-Khattab with his latest propaganda tool; he had already been widely condemned for posting video and commentary celebrating and ridiculing the murder of Daniel Pearl by al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan. Pearl was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and was abducted, tortured, and beheaded in 2002.
My Full Length Interview with Lance Corporal Bernard’s Dad, John Bernard:
This week, my Monmouth Review-Atlas column, published every Tuesday, addresses Lance Corporal Bernard’s Story…
“A Marine, His Family, and One Gruesome Photograph”
By Jim Bennett
On Aug. 14, as his patrol was readying for a rumored Taliban ambush in Dahaneh, Afghanistan, Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard, just 21, was on point. The ambush erupted and a rocket-propelled grenade blew one of Joshua’s legs off, leaving the other leg severely injured. His comrades struggled with tourniquets and battlefield first aid while still under heavy enemy fire, but sadly, for this young, mortally wounded Marine, this attack would mean the end of his life a short time later.
For his comrades, this attack was a moment of sheer desperation as they tried to drag Bernard to safety. And for his parents, John and Sharon Bernard, back home in New Portland, Maine, this attack would come to mean the loss of their only son.
But for embedded photojournalist Julie Jacobson and her bosses at the Associated Press, this attack was a Kodak Moment. Jacobson captured a vivid and dramatic photograph of the scene: Bernard’s gruesome wound is shown in all its bloody detail, and his young face, sickly pale and blank with shock, is haunting. The article that Jacobson and AP reporter Alfred de Montesquiou filed stated that, as that young man was exsanguinating, the photographer “wrestled” with a “question”: Should she try to help save Joshua, or should she keep taking pictures?
Is this really what we have become? Have our hearts really hardened to the point that circumstances like I just described actually cause one to “wrestle” with such a “question”?
Soon Jacobson’s bosses here in the states were “wrestling” with a “question” that should have been just as axiomatic. This Marine’s parents and sister have already been crushed by his death, just days ago. Do we take their profound grief to new depths by publishing the gory photo around the world, or do we summon that remnant of human decency that lies dormant in our icy souls and at least spare these tormented people that added trial? Just like Julie Jacobson’s “question,” the only thing more shocking than the way they answered the question was the fact that they even needed to ask it at all. And just like Julie Jacobson, they made a disgusting choice.
Joshua’s father, John Bernard, is a career Marine who retired at the rank of 1st Sergeant. He was mid-way through that career when I did my three-year stint in the Corps, and we both served in Desert Shield/Desert Storm, though we never met. I was so moved by his son’s story and so outraged by the actions of Julie Jacobson and the AP that I got in touch with John and his wife Sharon. He spoke glowingly of a son who loved Jesus, loved the Marine Corps and loved his family.
John and Sharon homeschooled Joshua and his sister Katie, and when he started talking to his Dad about enlisting, John wanted one assurance: “I needed to know that, when he did this, he was doing it for the right reasons … not just a ‘following in dad’s footsteps’ kind of thing. He was absolutely adamant that this is what he was called to do. And this was with an understanding that his testimony as a Christian would have a bearing in that environment.”
Joshua’s devotion to Jesus Christ was soon producing spiritual fruit among his brothers in arms. John told me that his son “actually was holding Bible studies…they were ongoing, he was encouraging guys, and they were wanting to learn, and they were listening.”
After his death, his unit held a memorial service for him in Afghanistan. Joshua’s remarkable impact was evident there. “The Battalion Commander called me,” John said, “and told me that during their field service, he was almost speechless. He had never witnessed anything like that, where so many Marines – and some of these guys are battle-hardened and have seen things nobody should see – they were all in tears and, to a man, they were all completely heartbroken over having lost this particular Marine. He said that they recognized in him something that was much closer to God than they had ever seen before. And so the suggestion is that God will use that.”
A few days after the funeral, an AP reporter approached John to discuss the photograph. John asked to see it and was shown what he described as fuzzy, black-and-white prints, which bore little resemblance to the bloody, clear color photo now splashed across newspapers worldwide.
“I handed them back to him and said, ‘Look: Neither my wife nor daughter needs to see this. Nobody needs to see this. So if you’re asking me for my permission, you don’t have it. You need to go back and tell them that absolutely no one needs to see this. It doesn’t honor him, it doesn’t honor the Corps, it doesn’t honor God, it doesn’t honor this country, and it doesn’t do them, as a news agency, any service whatsoever.”
Four days later, John Bernard followed up with a phone call to Associated Press leadership, emphatically reiterating his plea that they spare his family this additional, and wholly unnecessary, trauma. Not long after, the Secretary of Defense himself, Robert Gates, intervened, strongly encouraging the Associated Press not to subject the Bernard family to this torment.
They ran the picture anyway.
“I have very little use for the people who took the picture and even less for those who ran it. They had plenty of time to reflect on it, and they did it anyway,” John said.
And like many who read the story Julie Jacobson filed, John Bernard was stunned that she had to “wrestle” with a choice between helping save Joshua and continuing to ghoulishly snap away with her camera. “The fact that that would even be a dilemma for anybody … I don’t even know how to ascribe a thought to that. But the fact that she failed and went the wrong way says much, you know?
“All I can say is it comes back to Romans 1 where it says God will turn them over to a reprobate mind,” John offered. “This person [Julie Jacobson] reflects that.”
I asked John what he thought motivated the Associated Press in their compassionless assault on his grieving family, and he attributed it to greed. “There was exactly one purpose for this, and that was the bottom line, that was selling rags,” he told me. “It’s voyeurism at its worst.”
I share John Bernard’s assessment of all the principle players in this tragedy. And Jesus warned us of a day when, “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many will wax cold.”
That day, dear reader, seems quite near right now. And May God help us all.