Disembedded: Marines Send War Photographer Marching Home

By: Daryl Lang

A photographer who published pictures of dead U.S. Marines on his blog says his post led him to be ejected from his U.S. military embed in Iraq.

Freelance photojournalist Zoriah says he does not believe he violated any of the rules of his embed agreement. But he says Marine commanders were so upset by his photos last month that they promptly arranged for a convoy to take him back to Baghdad. He decided to return home to the U.S. several days later.

Speaking to PDN from Colorado this week, Zoriah (whose full name is Zoriah Miller but who uses only his first name professionally) said various military officials tried to keep the photos from being published. They asked him to stop photographing, delete his memory cards, surrender his cameras, and ? within hours of his blog post ? to remove the post. He refused each time.

“They embedded a war photographer, and when I took a photo of war, they disembedded me,” Zoriah says. “It’s as if it’s okay to take pictures of them handing lollipops to kids on the street and providing medical care, but photographing the actual war is unacceptable.”

The post, which went online June 30, is still viewable here. It includes a series of photographs showing the grisly aftermath of a June 26 suicide blast in Anbar Province in which three U.S. Marines and dozens of civilians were killed.

Zoriah said he got word that the families had been notified by Friday the 28th. “I spent the next three days editing the photos and talking to the Marines I was bunking with,” he says. An assistant in the U.S. helped him prepare and publish the post.

Embedded photojournalists travel with U.S. military units and agree to certain conditions, such as not to publish information on troop movements.

The embed agreement Zoriah signed says journalists may not publish information that identifies U.S. military causalities before next of kin have been notified. Military officials initially told Zoriah he had violated that rule, but he told them that his post was not published until after the families were notified. He also says none of his published images show identifiable Marines.

“The official reason which they chose to use for disembedding me was that I had supplied the enemy with information on the effectiveness of attack,” he said. “I told the public affairs officer, listen, I really have to disagree with this, I didn’t provide any information that had not already, as of the night of the attack, been published by Reuters, The New York Times and the Washington Post.”

Zoriah says commanders put pressure on public affairs officers to get Zoriah blacklisted so he would lose this embed with the Marines and any future military embeds. “At that point I was hearing it could go up as high in the chain of the command as high as it could go,” Zoriah says.

Public information officers in Iraq were invited to comment for this story. “Mr. Miller was dis-embedded because the unit commander lost faith and confidence with Mr. Miller and his ability to remain within the ground rules. He is still credentialed to cover MNF-I [Multi-National Force – Iraq] operations,” said an e-mail from press officer Maj. John C. Hall.

Photographs of dead U.S. servicepeople are seldom published in the American mass media, due to editorial preferences and the rarity of such photos. But the photos occasionally run in the press and have been published in books and displayed at photo exhibitions.

Zoriah, 32, has been a professional photojournalist for six years and has been focusing on conflict coverage for the last several years. He spent summer and fall of last year embedded in Iraq and Afghanistan. He says he supports himself through donations that come into his Web site, stock sales and lecturing.

Zoriah says he has been motivated over the past year by “dozens of e-mails from soldiers I’ve been embedded with and other soldiers from around the world, thanking me because they felt my images would help people understand what they went through.”

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