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Aug 15, 2006

Qana Was Not Staged

(click to expand)

With the firestorm coming from the Rathergate crowd, and doubts now spreading from the left wing about images from Lebanon, it can start to feel like all reason is being subsumed by political hysteria.  At the same time, war photojournalism seems at risk of being tarred with one brush.

I spent about a half-hour on the phone this evening with photojournalist and contributer Tim Fadek, who has been in Lebanon for about three weeks covering the war.

Having been present following the Qana air strike, Tim emphasized that there was no parading or manipulation of bodies, and that the scene was not staged in any way.  That said, Tim took pains to explain how this kind of situation carries with it certain cultural practices and emotional responses that don't transfer well to the West.  This seems especially true right now, in the super-heated and intensely polarized political environment in the U.S.

"When there is senseless death in this part of the world," Tim explains, "it is completely normal to display the bodies.  Whether in plastic or on blankets, it's done whether there are photographers there or not.  The idea is to ready the public for what has happened, and also say, look what our enemies have done to us."

Regarding the images cited as evidence of manipulation, Fadek said: "a finer distinction is being lost in the West.  In Qana, rescue workers did not hold up a baby to set up a shot.  They were not displaying them to the media, per se.  Yes, it was not lost on these men that the cameras presented a window to the world.  But these people were doing wrenching rescue work and they are human beings.  These instances [of holding up babies] were mostly spontaneous and momentary expressions of anger."

Tim also explained the circumstances surrounding his own images.  Although he felt the photo above was more powerful shown this way, he explained that a rescue worker did set down the body, briefly uncovering it for photographers to document.

For those inclined to consider the depictions as manipulated, Fadek also offers the following image, along with the circumstances involved.

(click for full size)

Once removed from the collapsed building, these bodies were set on the ground to be taken down a hill.   From this spot to the waiting ambulances was at least a four minute walk.  In this case, the two children were placed on this blanket where photographers had 1 1/2 to to 2 seconds to document them.  Given the distance and the available manpower, the two bodies were placed on the same blanket to save effort.

In each case, Tim's understanding was that the rescuers were acting in a manner reflecting a normal attitude toward the dead.  "It's not a manipulation, it's a cultural distinction," said Fadek.  "It's the same as at a martyrs funeral, where faces are exposed, and the bodies marched through the streets.  It's been done for years, media or otherwise."

Update from Tim Fadek (7:35 am PST):

"I need to explain the two or three seconds where the rescue worker uncovered the face of the dead man with his rigormortised hand in the air.  The rescue worker pulled back the blanket and screamed in English: "Look at this!  Israel, America!!"  Then he re-covered the face.  Given Middle Eastern norms and his clear anger, I could not  consider this display disrespectful.

Also, in no way do I consider his actions "directing" the press, or altering the setting.  It was he who pulled the body from the rubble and placed the blanket on the victim in the first place.  He was simply expressing his feelings about the senselessness.  Of course, I photographed the situation with and without the blanket covering the corpse.  I just preferred the covered version and that is what I sent to my agency and posted on my website."

Update 2 (9:23 am PST):

You can view one more image Tim took from Qana, as well as a thoughtful, explanatory statement about "photo direction" by photographer Thorne Anderson, at this companion piece I just posted at Huffington.

(image: Tim Fadek/Polaris.  July 30, 2006.  Qana, Lebanon.  Used by permission.  Please seek permission before republication.)


well,well...finally are you opening your mind!congratulations! i think is usefull for you to read this:
America's one-eyed view of war: Stars, stripes,and the Star of David
There are two sides to every conflict - unless you rely on the US media for information about the battle in Lebanon. Viewers have been fed a diet of partisan coverage which treats Israel as the good guys and their Hizbollah enemy as the incarnation of evil.
Andrew Gumbel reports from Los Angeles
Published: 15 August 2006
It´s always good to see the world with more than one vision. You look like you read only the american press...

Dead civilians. Dead children. Terrible. What if these were your kids?

War crimes. War criminals caused this. Bring them to trial. Both sides.

"Not only is there next to no debate, but debate itself is considered unnecessary and suspect."

Thank you for providing a space for debate here, Bag. Some of your commenters need to be reminded from time to time of the service you provide here and should redirect their fire to more appropriate targets.

"Rabbi Lerner has tried to argue for years that it is in Israel's best interests to reach a peaceful settlement, and that demonising Arabs as terrorists is counter-productive and against Judaism."

Why has this voice of reason gone unheard in this country?

Rabbi Lerner elaborates: "The organised Jewish community has transformed the image of Judaism into a cheering squad for the Israeli government, whatever its policies are. That is just idolatry, and goes against all the warnings in the Bible about giving too much power to the king or the state."

Our rabbi traveled to Israel last month. When the first rockets started firing, his emails were along the lines of "we'll fight as necessary, never again." I was unnerved by his pro-war stance since I've observed him to be a gentle, kind, intelligent, wise, and compassionate man. As the war intensified, his emails became more subdued. Nothing more has been heard from him until this morning when he wrote to say he was back in the U.S. It will be interesting to hear his views after he's had a chance to reflect on his experience.

Thank you, too, for an insightful post and clarification by Tim. If only our major newspapers were half as diligent in their reporting.

The truth is often painful to see. Kudos to the bag for showing what "collateral damage" really looks like. I think the important goal is to figure out how partisans of each side of a conflict can be made to view images from the opposing side's point of view. It is easy to brush aside casualty figures until one is confronted with images such as these.
Regarding the biases of the western media, I am led to wonder if any images of Israeli suffering have been seen anywhere in the Arab media? Is either side showing any empathy or images of the suffering of the "other"?

Why has this voice of reason gone unheard in this country?
Because images of dead Lebanese cause Israelis to be sorry, while images of dead Israelis cause Palestinians and Hizb'allah to dance in the streets.

Thanks for noting the cultural differences re. photography and the dead, and the "proper" way a society shows respect to their deceased. It's not so much a difference with the West as with the modern West. Look at American photographs (daguerreotypes) dating back to the invention of photography (the 1850's) and it's quite interesting to note just how many featured the dead as subjects. Contrast that with the looks you'd get if you brought a camera today into a funeral parlor during a viewing. "We" really aren't that different from "them", just out of phase in time.


Israel has the firepower to inflict tremendous damage, and collateral, as the case may be, in Lebanon. The kill ratio is asymmetrical.

On the other side, if there is celebration, is it because they are happy to kill Israelis, or is there the satisfaction, in some asymmetrical manner, of being underdogs and yet keeping an asymmetrical power at bay?

Just asking.

Annoying Old Guy, this was one of your more ridiculous comments.

Anyway, thanks, BAG, and Tim Fadek, for this. It's pretty ridiculous that there is even a question about all this, and I assume it's only in the U.S. I watched live coverage of Qana the morning after the bombing, as they were digging bodies out, and it's hard for me to believe that people are actually questioning whether the photos were real.

MichaelDG, I think that the Arabic channels show what's going on in Israel; they're not the raving lunatics that people think. Al-Jazeera, for example, interviews Israelis pretty often. (You can see their English website here.) International news channels like BBC World and CNN International certainly show the Israeli side - way too much, if you ask me.

I see photographs daily on the front page of my newspaper (an English-language, pro-Western, anti-Islamist newspaper in one of the Arab countries friendliest to the U.S.) of dead and wounded Lebanese (and Palestinian - let's not forget them) children. Often, I can't even find them at Yahoo News photos, even though they're from the Associated Press, for example.

Yesterday there was one where you could see a mother's hand holding her child's hand - both dead, in the rubble... but that wouldn't be shown in the U.S., and I can't find it online now.

Thanks for this. We all need to strive for balance here. I am unhappy about the distortion of images, and the distortion of images is a story, but it is not THE STORY about this conflict. THE STORY is that civilians were killed, on both sides, but disprortionately on the Lebanese side. I'm not talking provocation, or justification, or good and evil. I am just saying this is no way to conduct warfare.

I overheard a big beefy guy at the gym talking about the manufactured images. He went on and on then said "it just makes me sick to my stomach."

It's not the distortion of images that should make one sick to their stomach.

...most people living in the United States get "unbalanced" by seeing images of, or really seeing, dead bodies (witness our collective, national reaction to the Sept 11, 2001 hijack-attacks).

All of the survivors are shocked, but none of them are awed. ...simply angry.

They are us. We are them.

The anti-Israel media used Qana for all it was worth, whether they propped up the babies or not. Who cares if Arab norms say "it is completely normal to display the bodies...The idea is to ready the public for what has happened -- and also say, look what our enemies have done to us." That sounds like a euphemistic way of saying they always treat the dead opportunisticaly so don't take it personally...Is it really "completely normal" to waive dead bodies around? Not its not, its obscene and disgusting. BTW, where are the pictures of dead Israeli children? Ummabdulla, I challenge you to find me some pictures of dead Israeli civilians on Al-Jazeera...

None of this makes any difference anyway, annoyingoldguy is right, Israelis don't like killing kids, but Hezbollah (with the support of the Lebanese who proved in what high-esteem they hold life during their own civil war) intentionally target civilians and apologize only when Israeli-Arabs are killed. And they do celebrate when Israelis die. But apparently its okay to celebrate killing Israli civilians because: "if there is celebration, is it because they are happy to kill Israelis, or is there the satisfaction, in some asymmetrical manner, of being underdogs and yet keeping an asymmetrical power at bay?" Thanks for the lesson in subjectivized horseshit, bg. (BTW, you can just as easily say Israel is using asymmetric technological prowess to defend itself from the hordes of enemies on all sides that would rape and murder them if they could...)

By subscribing to racist, anti-semitic double-standards in the name of human rights you people make a mockery of the very concept.

par·ti·san1 (pär'tĭ-zən)
A fervent, sometimes militant supporter or proponent of a party, cause, faction, person, or idea.
A member of an organized body of fighters who attack or harass an enemy, especially within occupied territory; a guerrilla.
Of, relating to, or characteristic of a partisan or partisans.
Devoted to or biased in support of a party, group, or cause: partisan politics.

[French, from Old French, from Old Italian dialectal partisano, variant of Old Italian partigiano, from parte, part, from Latin pars, part-. See part.]

or in other words, Shaun.

How can you really expect someone to take you seriously when what comes out of your soul is so scorching? Hold your opinions, by all means, but give a thought as to how to express them.

Death Art....almost like Found Art. But found in tragedy. Beautiful.

.........i'm glad some people care to speak up for those killed at Qana, or anywhere.

aside, throughout, and after all this, i feel that if one has the opportunity to hurt someone, and they take it, they are wrong. bombing is wrong. choosing to hurt when you can NOT hurt someone is wrong. my beliefs remain, and will, after all of this PSYOPS storm we politely label a collaboration of killers and liars....

"anti-semitic" Shaun? Why throw around such charged accusations without proof? Name-calling is intellectually dishonest - Lets stick to the topic please.
And, I guess "asymmetric technological prowess" is another way of saying killing civilians with bombs from F-16s is OK, but not with suicide bombs. Justifying the killing of innocents is disgusting, no matter who is doing it.

without photos there will be faint memory of what took place. there will be no evidence of the crime against humanity. are we so afraid to be shown what we have done to the innocents? are we so ashamed that we backed this war that we can not look at our work?
the death of children should be shown so maybe we can understand just how small we really are

Death Art....almost like Found Art. But found in tragedy. Beautiful.

.........i'm glad some people care to speak up for those killed at Qana, or anywhere.

aside, throughout, and after all this, i feel that if one has the opportunity to hurt someone, and they take it, they are wrong. bombing is wrong. choosing to hurt when you can NOT hurt someone is wrong. my beliefs remain, and will, after all of this PSYOPS storm we politely label a collaboration of killers and liars....

No thanks needed. As always, my attempt is to stand up for the visuals, wherever that may lead. Beyond that, I am just trying my best to navigate through the heavy barrage of partisan feelings, political biases and propaganda on every side of this conflict. If I am making everybody mad, or disappointed, as I move from one post to the next, I consider I must be on the right track. All I ask of you is that you continue to keep the particular images (including thier acquisition and use) in mind as the focus for discussion and reasoned debate.

I should also add that this post was featured at the EUreferendum blog which started the conspiracy theory surrounding the Qana images. As such, I would expect that this discussion might become even more of a rollercoaster than usual. Again, I welcome the debate, as long as it sticks to images and (alleged) facts. And yes, I'd expect that might lead to some discussion of "Mr. Green Helmet." By the way, here's the original EURef post for reference. I don't have time, right now, to add more, but Tim Fadek did address the role of "Green Helmet" in our converstion last night. I'm not sure Tim will be participating in the thread (which is his business, given his comfort level -- and travel schedule. I believe he is en route back to the States today or tomorrow.) If it becomes relevant though, I will try to include those comments, as well.

I appreciate your call for reason and restraint. There have been suggestions on various blogs and message boards that additional corpses were brought to Qana to inflate the casualty count; that Hezbollah stuffed civilians (or more grotesquely, handicapped children) into a building and then deliberately goaded the Israelis into striking it; or that the entire incident was staged by Hezbollah. As you correctly note, this sort of conspiratorial thinking is deeply twisted, denies the fundamental tragedy of Qana, and ought to be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

On the other hand, there are some elements of this sad saga on which all parties seem to agree that raise some troubling questions.

1) The first of these is the body count. Human Rights Watch has verified that 28 bodies were recovered from the rubble. Over the course of July 30 and 31, Salam Daher (“Green Helmet”) gave successive tallies to AFP and other news agencies that put the toll far higher. Crucially, these were not estimates. He said that rescue workers had actually recovered 32 bodies, then 51 bodies, and finally 54 bodies. The number of children recovered from the rubble (16, according to HRW) rose incrementally from 14 to 37. Simply put, Daher lied. There is no other way to interpret direct quotes claiming the physical recovery of almost twice as many corpses as there were victims – particularly when the toll gave a specific breakdown of adults and children, and was revised and repeated over more than 24 hours. That, I think, justifies some degree of skepticism of Daher’s role in the tragic affair. At the very least, he displayed a willingness to inflate, exaggerate, or embroider the truth in the interest of drawing the world’s attention to an undeniable tragedy. If he was willing to do so with the count of recovered bodies, there is no reason to believe he would have been reluctant to manipulate images.

2) The second point is that bodies were repeatedly repositioned and displayed for the benefit of the assembled press. The photographic record is fairly unequivocal. I think that Fadek is being slightly disingenuous on this point. Heartfelt expressions of grief and the deliberate manipulation of bodies to maximize international outrage are not mutually exclusive; in fact, in this case, they seem to have been mutually reinforcing. The people working in the rubble at Qana were outraged about what had happened, and seem to have felt entirely justified in bringing it to the attention of the world. When the rescue worker pulled back the sheet in front of Fadek and exclaimed in English, “Look at this! Israel, America!” he could not possibly have been doing so for the benefit of his fellow Lebanese. He certainly intended that the photographers take a picture: he spoke in the language of the international media, and expected his remarks to reach Israelis and Americans. I am not so ready as Fadek to explain away such conduct by means of cultural relativism, but I’m willing to run with the idea. Let’s grant that what seems disrespectful to corpses to westerners may have been intended by the Lebanese rescuers as a means of ensuring that the deaths were not in vain, and thus a gesture of respect for their ‘martyrdom.’ That brings us to the third point of relative consensus…

3) A large number of members of the western media, and perhaps even more local stringers, were present in Qana. They, too, were outraged and appalled by what they found, and determined to share the horror of the scene with the world at large. None of the photographers or journalists at Qana, to the best of my knowledge, has publicly expressed the view that it was anything other than a horrifying tragedy.

I think one of the reasons that Qana has so resonated among observers of the media is that it is a particularly intense instance of a journalistic gray-area. In times of war, journalists frequently find themselves confronting scenes of almost unimaginable horror. Nothing that they can write, no picture that they can take, can possibly capture the full measure of what they confront. No photograph can take a complacent reader perusing the newspaper over breakfast, and make him understand what it is to watch the corpse of an innocent child being excavated from the rubble. But it’s the job of journalists to try. Those present at Qana were eager for the quote, the image, that would help the world relate to what they saw.

Here’s where I verge into speculation. I think that reporters suspended their usual skepticism, and accepted casualty figures that ought to have seemed suspicious – particularly as the number of children kept on rising even as the total number of victims remained nearly constant. Quibbling over the number of dead seemed unimportant that day in Qana. I think that photographers, including Fadek, watched as the rescue workers passed around the corpses of the victims, and repeatedly snapped photos in the service of a larger truth. If a rescue worker feels outraged, grief-stricken, horrified, as he works all day in the rubble, but only allows those emotions to the surface as he rounds a corner and confronts a media swarm, is that so wrong? By crying out, isn’t he making the image more truthful than it would have been if he had the same deadened expression his face had worn for the past few hours? If the Red Cross volunteers helped the photographers get a better angle for their shots, or straightened their helmets before being recorded for posterity, did that change the fact that the little girl they carried on their stretcher was dead? If a head had to be repositioned, an excavation reenacted, a body removed from an ambulance and then laid to rest on a stretcher a second time, all in the service of recording the horror of Qana, all with the larger truth in mind, was there anything wrong with that?

The answer, I hope you’ll agree, is yes. At some point that day in Qana, the assembled media crossed an invisible line. The images that it beamed to the outside world became a simulacrum of the tragedy they purportedly recorded. If a rescue worker was displaying the body of a little girl for the media, photographers should have said so in their captions. But they didn’t. I suspect they thought the world wouldn’t understand – they know full well that images that are labeled as posed are instantly rendered suspect, that they lose much of their power. If the person in the photo was the head of civil defense for the region, the caption should have said that, too. But that would have robbed the pictures of their symbolic value, of the archetypal tragedy of a rescue worker and a victim, both anonymous. If the rescue workers were cooperating with the television cameras, selecting photogenic victims (an admittedly ghastly term) and parading them past the press, correspondents should have noted what was going on. But they didn’t. And so on with the myriad of minor sins recorded by the army of bloggers. No one reporting from Qana wanted to obscure the underlying tragedy.

Of course, that’s exactly what they did. By acquiescing in the posing, staging, and manipulation of scenes, they clouded what ought to have been a relatively clear-cut issue. They were wrong. They should simply acknowledge their entirely human failing. The world will understand. And the AP, and Reuters, and AFP, and all the other media organizations involved should review their policies and take steps to ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again. The events of Qana, and the scrutiny that they provoked, exposed a very real problem. Journalists whose job it was to record crossed a line, and instead helped compose. The photos that they took were misleading, their captions erroneous or incomplete, and the casualty counts they reported simply, indisputably wrong. It’s not enough to claim that these errors are insignificant in the face of the larger truth – they shouldn’t have happened, and steps should be taken to prevent a recurrence.

A final thought. None of this alters the underlying tragedy – 28 innocent people died in that basement, and even if some photos were posed, the people they recorded remain just as dead. They will never return to their families. So while I applaud the bloggers and posters who have highlighted the shortcomings of those who reported from Qana, I would encourage them to remember the human dimension of this tragedy, as well.

Tell me how these two scenarios are different.
[1] Fadek's explanation of why the Lebanese rescue workers display the bodies of dead to show what the enemy has done.
[2] TV news pictures in this country of a mother screaming at the camera about the shooting death of her child by a gang.

In the first, the body is there for all to see so no words are needed (although sometimes expressed). In the second, the coroner has spirited the body away to preserve evidence, but the 'show,' if you will, is no less anguished. My point is that the human emotion is the same. The mother wants all the bystanders to know what her enemies have done.

By governmental decree, there are no photos of our dead returning from the wars. They have been 'prettied up' with caskets covered in the flag, but no photos. They are returned to this country in the dark because they shame cowards at the Capitol. There is no governmental recognition of their sacrifice. Gdub has not attended one funeral. The question is, are not those rescue workers honoring their dead more than we honor ours by ignoring them?

There is a double standard when it comes to U.S. coverage, which is as follows:

If its a foreigner, like a Bosnian Muslim, a Iraqi or some other, it ok to show their mutilated bodies and blood all over the streets, but when it comes to Westerners and especially U.S. servicemen, its a big no no. As someone who has grown up in a culture where death is all to apparent and pictures like this (from car accidents, drug 'incidents'and domestic violence) I'm not shocked by these images (saddened and disgusted yes, but sadly, not shocked) and wonder why Americans have such an aversion to seen the truth.

I have seen the dead, as these people have, but many Americans have not and therefore shy away from it. For Shaun and AOG, Hezbollah has not played this conflict in the usual "terrorist" manner, they engaged military targets with sound military doctrine (in your in a city, your not going to strut down the street while the enemy bombs you, ask anyone who fought in Hue, Saigon, Bastogne, Berlin or Seoul). In this case Hezbollah lured the IDF into a war by capturing a handful of soldiers and the Olmert goverment overeacted, thus shooting itself on both feet.

If this war was launched because Hezbollah had IDF prisoners, then why wage a war on an entire country when the IDF vaunted special forces are experts at retriving hostages from enemy hands?

This is the 21st Century with a new generation of warfare, where the guy who fights smarter, no harder, will always win.

Cactus: " The question is, are not those rescue workers honoring their dead more than we honor ours by ignoring them?"

What an interesting hubbub! So people are concerned that the photographs of the dead have been staged. If true, this might mean that we can't "see" the "reality" of what is happening. As if our eyes were reliable witnesses!

A second anxiety is the face-to-face confrontation with death. When did Americans decide to hide death away? Action films with terrifying special effects and triple digit body counts are considered entertainments. But the real carnage caused by war, bombs, etc.--that's taboo. People argue that it is "disrespectful" to show the dead not because the dead care, but because it is uncomfortable for us.

A number of threads back we were discussing "iconic" images--images that transform us as we view them. These images have that potential, regardless of what we believe about terrorism, Israel, etc, seeing these dead children horrifies. One of the reasons Bushco has done its best to hide the carnage in Iraq is because the lesson they drew from Vietnam is that people will turn from the cause if they witness the carnage. Likewise, for Bushco, the problem at Abu Ghraib was that soldiers took photographs of the tortured, not that torture was occurring.

I have to attribute some of concern over whether these were staged to displaced discomfort with viewing death. Pictures force us to view things emotionally and shred our reason. At the same time, humans are very susceptible to the single vivid instance. Show people photos of dead Lebanese children and they will turn against Israel. Show people photos of dead Israeli children, and they will turn against Muslim extremists. Reason has nothing to do with it. It is a fast, automatic, unconscious response.

I value the analysis that occurs at BagnewsNotes because we try to slow down and allow reason to inform what we see.

"How was it," an interviewer for the BBC asked the famous Georgy Zhukov, "that the Rusiians were able to defeat the great soldiers of the German Army?"

" Great soldiers ?" the General repeated, "Nyet ! "

" Great executioners... da. "


Longwinded says: "The second point is that bodies were repeatedly repositioned and displayed for the benefit of the assembled press. The photographic record is fairly unequivocal."

I’d like to make a comparison which I find interesting: In the days following the attack of the World Trade Center five years ago, many families and loved ones had a hard time believing that their beloved were indeed gone. They clung to the hope that they were simply missing, unconscious, lying in a hospital, alive but unidentified. The familes arrived at the armory on Lexington Avenue and 26th Street (a central command center), bringing strands of hair or items of clothing in the hopes of a DNA match. But my point is this. They also brought photographs of the missing (dead) and held them aloft to the cameras. Before the press, they grieved, cried, described how their loved ones looked like, where they worked, what floor, and so on. This display of victims’ photographs to photographers is similar in sentiment and emotion to what went on, not only in Qana, not only in Lebanon, but in every disaster and conflict in the modern age. Curious why no one back then criticized this behavior of Americans as “posing, repositioning, display.” Wonder why no criticism exists, such as “the media crossed an invisible line,” as it pertained to that tragic event? I probably won't need to answer what seems to be rhetorical question. I think everyone knows the answer.

Longwinded says: "I think that Fadek is being slightly disingenuous on this point."

The bodies recovered from the apartment building in Qana were placed on the ground, just outside and down the hill from building. In the first 2 hours of the recovery efforts, I counted 21 bodies recovered, although more were found later after I left the area, bringing the total dead to 28. There is a measure of display for the public and the press, as I already stated. It is a form of honor to display the dead to the living. However, there was no repositioning of bodies for the press that I could see.

However, the real reason for placing the bodies temporarily on the ground is rescue and recovery logistics. Although I’m not a rescue and recovery expert, I’ve seen this scene played out countless times – in places like Kosovo, Palestinian Territories, Iraq, Haiti, and in New York on 9/11. With limited resources and time not being on their side, rescuers want to find the living as quickly as possible. Even if all that is being turned up are the dead, there is always the hope of finding a person still alive, somehow trapped in a pocket in the rubble. To save time, rescuers at Qana brought out the dead, placed them on the ground, then rushed back into the basement to search some more. As the morning wore on, the mood changed because it seemed unlikely that anyone was alive under all that rubble. Rescuers were no longer rushing back into the building. They would find a dead child, carry it personally to a waiting ambulance at the bottom of the hill. Again as I already stated, several held up a dead children, in anger, to the cameras, which is normal behavior in this part of the world.

What is so sad about contemporary culture is that lies abound. Lies and more lies to cover up the truth with high emotion: to create doubt in the public as to what they can see with their own eyes.

Dead children. Posed, photographed. It doesn't matter: they are dead, when they had nothing to do with the violence. It is wrong, wrong, wrong, and lies about how we get to see the pictures is just fuel for those who want to pursue their agenda with the credo, "the ends justify the means." It is a sorry commentary on the political state of the entire world that respect for human life has become so cheapened.

Hezbollah exploits the innocent, and Israel kills the innocent. In that one thing they are not asymetrical.

LongWinded: Most of what you've said is speculation, drawing biased conclusions using a single fact, and the facts themselves are doubtful as such.

Perhaps you've forgotten that the 9/11 body count from the World Trade Towers was reported wrong by THOUSANDS (6,700 vs. less than 3,000). Remember? Yes, even Americans can get facts wrong. (Americans can also report that the wrong man was elected as their president.)

I don't understand why the body count at Qana is even a controversy. The initial estimate was NOT based on a deliberate *lie,* it was based on a register of the names of people who were listed as taking shelter in the building. Once the dust settled and everyone was accounted for, the number of actual dead was adjusted. I remember very clearly how crazy things were after 9/11. I can imagine how crazy things were at Qana. But I guess a "register" and "confusion at the scene" aren't as sexy as Hezbollah to the right-wing bloggers.

I also don't understand why photographing dead civilians is controversial. As a legal matter, if Israel were to be tried for war crimes (not that it will be), then someone would need to provide evidence.

But dead is dead, whether it's 28 or 63. Why is *that* point ignored?


Thank you for your considered response. It helps to hear directly from someone who was on the ground.

I agree that at the scenes of tragedies, it is not uncommon for grieving relatives to share their anguish with the press. I also grant your point that mourning takes culturally specific forms, as does regard for the dead.

My unease about the images of Qana stems from my impression that many of those images seemed to portray one thing and in fact showed something else. When relatives displayed pictures of their loved ones after 9/11, as when Palestinians escort the funeral cortege of a victim of violence, the images are straightforward. They show mourners, sharing their grief with the world. At Qana, many photos appeared to show workers in action, an appearance supported by their captions, but actually portrayed a “measure of display for the public and the press.”

Perhaps a specific example would help. One image, taken by AFP’s Nicolas Asroufi, became iconic in the days after the attack. The caption read: “A man screams for help as he carries the body of a dead girl after Israeli air strikes on the southern Lebanese village of Qana. At least 51 people were killed, many of them children, when Israeli war planes blitzed a village in south Lebanon, the deadliest single strike since the Jewish state unleashed its war on Hezbollah 19 days ago (AFP/Nicolas Asfouri).” In fact, very little of that is accurate. The man is shouting, but not for help – as you note, the shot was taken late in the afternoon, and there was no urgency. Other photos in the sequence show him walking calmly just moments before. The confirmed death toll was not at least 51 – responsible journalists who took the time to count, as you did yourself, would have seen no more than 28 bodies.

But these are, perhaps, secondary concerns. The caption may have been written by an editor, and not the photographer – the second sentence, at least, reads that way to me. I am more concerned with the pose. The man is caught in mid-stride, almost running, clearly hurried. But as you note, this was in the afternoon. The mood had changed. No one was rushing anymore. This photo appears to be a candid shot of a rescuer in action, lowering his guard, expressing his grief. It was, instead, a deliberate display of emotion aimed at the cameras, albeit a display that must certainly have reflected real anguish. Deepening my concern are two other photographs of the same victim. Each shows a different man cradling the child in his arms in front of the ambulance, in precisely the same pose. Again, they appear to capture rescuers in action, but in fact show a measure of display. (This, by the way, is what I meant by repositioning of bodies.)

All of these were worthwhile images, provided that they were properly labeled. You write eloquently of cultural context. My concern for Qana is that the images were stripped of the cultural context in which they were formed. Their captions might have informed the viewer that the rescuers were displaying the bodies, to share their grief with the world. It might have said that they showed the victims, a common practice in Lebanese culture. The simple words that you use in this forum to explain the photos might have worked best of all: “A Lebanese rescue worker holds up a dead child, in anger, to the camera.” But all of this was lost in translation – and photographs that captured rescue workers displaying corpses to the press ran throughout the western world above captions that appeared to indicate that they were candid shots of rescuers conducting their work. That, put as simply as I know how, is my objection to the images of Qana. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this – and I mean that sincerely.

Good point about the WTC body count, RTBAG.

Longwinded: "The second point is that bodies were repeatedly repositioned and displayed for the benefit of the assembled press."

And SO WHAT? When I saw the photo of the guy holding up that baby with the pacifier still hanging from his clothes, it was obvious that he was holding it up in front of photographers. I often see rescuers or relatives uncovering bodies to show photographers, too. And although I wasn't there, I could guess what he might have been saying - because this has happened so often in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq... innocent children get killed and they're held up in front of cameras because the people want to get a message out - particularly to Americans, because they're well aware of the one-sided view that the average American has. So they're holding up the child and saying something like, "Look! Look at this! Is this a terrorist? Is this Hezbollah? Is this your freedom and democracy?, etc."

I don't know that displaying bodies is some cultural custom in Islamic or Arab societies generally. In Islam, the way you show respect for the dead is by getting them washed and then buried quickly (although those con sidered martyrs aren't washed; they're buried the way they are). They don't have viewings, open caskets, or anything like that; they bury the body and friends and relatives come to the cemetery and afterwards to the family to pay condolences.

I think this dispalying of bodies is cultural only in the sense that these people are victims of bombings and they want the world to see and acknowledge what's happening.

Shaun, if pictures of dead Israeli civilians were available, they probably would have been shown on Al-Jazeera. But as the Israelis proudly explain, they don't show dead bodies out of respect. They have no qualms about killing children, but they don't show the bodies; that's their way of respecting them. Jst like people can get hysterical because someone moved a body for a photo, but they don't seem to care that the body is a dead child in the first place.

Like I said before, I find it hard to believe that there's a controversy about this. Right after it happened, Israel claimed that Hezbollah had been launching rockets from that location, but they even had to back down and say that there had been no rockets launched near there for several days, at least.

Timothy, I'm curious about how you and the other journalists feel and react to a scene like that. I was watching the rescuers on CNN International, which was broadcasting live video from Al-Arabiya, I think, and I found it very distressing. I can see where people would feel furious and want to do something about it. What do the journalists say among themselves about it?


I think I was fairly clear on the point that the loss of any innocent civilians in war is an unspeakable tragedy, irrespective of how many may have died. 63 deaths, 28 deaths, a single death - all are tragic.

I'm forced to disagree with the notion, however, that the count itself is immaterial. It is the job of reporters to get facts right.

The tally after 9/11 was an estimate of casualties - and, as you note, was wildly incorrect. It was not, however, a body count. Let me quote from an AFP story that ran at 9:42 AM that morning: "At least 32 people, including 14 children, were killed in Israeli raids on the village of Qana in southern Lebanon, the civil defense chief in the region told AFP. Fourteen children, nine women and nine men were retrieved from under the rubble of dozens of buildings which collapsed after the bombardment, Salam Daher said.”

That is highly specific claim, and it's wrong. Later in the day, Daher would tell AFP that "the bodies of 25 children were among those recovered from under the rubble," and the next day, that the bodies of 54 people including "37 children were among those recovered from under the rubble."

It's tough to understand these quotes, in light of the actual number of victims, but I'll try. It's possible that the two AFP reporters misunderstood him on four occasions over the course of two days. That seems unlikely. It's possible that Daher got carried away, and included the missing in the count of the dead. But that's a heck of a mistake, and Daher was an experienced professional. Nor does it explain how the number of children on the list rose from 22 to 25 to 30 to 37. If you have a better explanation, I'm eager to hear it.

I apologize for making this digression in the midst of a fascinating discussion of the boundaries of professional ethics among photographers in war zones - I certainly hope it won't derail that. I just wanted to make the point that the man in charge of the scene at Qana on July 30 repeatedly claimed to have recovered many more victims than was in fact the case, claims that helped propel the tragedy into the view of the world. In the absence of a compelling explanation for those highly specific claims, I'm forced to conclude that Daher was at the least deliberately exaggerating - and that, for me, calls into question the rest of his actions that day.

And since I apparently was not sufficiently clear on this point the first time around, let me reiterate that even if Daher deliberately lied and even if photos were posed, none of that would alter the terrible fact that twenty-eight people are dead. It bears only on his credibility, not on the tragedy that occurred.

For everyone complimenting the author of this post for revealing some truth or providing the debate.. smarten up, this was a whitewash and revealed the author's agenda.

Even Fox has finally picked up the video us on the Right side of the blogosphere have been watching for days... Green Helmet plays director

It's pretty sad that all you liberals buy the propaganda put out by Pallywood and Hezballywood. Do a few searches on those phrases in YouTube, etc. and open your eyes!!!

Be sure to watch the Al Durah video here

If you libs need the links... we've got 'em, I just don't want a spam filter to eat this comment.

From repeatedly shooting buildings on different dates as if they've just been bombed to using humans as bodies and survivors (not just the NY Times incident you're thinking of), to photoshopping, to the NY Times STILL NOT COMING CLEAN on photoshopping a black man's face on to an Arab headscarved woman's body, etc. etc. etc.

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