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Gates vs. AP over war photo

From NBC's Courtney Kube
For the first time since he took office as Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates has reached out to a news organization to ask them not to publish a photograph.

While an Associated Press photographer was embedded with Marines in Helmand last month, a Marine convoy was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, or RPG. It struck Lance Corporal Joshua M. Bernard severing his legs. He was treated on the scene, but later died at a combat field hospital. 

The AP took still photos and video of the attack, and of Bernard, as he lay dying.

Several weeks later, while working on a feature story about the war in Afghanistan, the AP reporter met with Bernard's family and told his father that they had photos and video of their son before he died. Bernard's father was furious that the photos of his mortally wounded son would potentially be published, so he reached out to the U.S. Marine Corps, asking them to stop the publication.

The AP had not violated any rules of embedding, so the Marines' hands were tied. Gates found out about this and called AP President Thomas Curley yesterday to try to stop the photo release.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Gates called Curley yesterday and was "begging him" to "defer to the wishes of the family," adding that the publication of the photo would "cause them great pain." 

AP disagreed and the photo was released.

Gates followed up with a scathing letter to Curley yesterday afternoon. The letter says Gates cannot imagine the pain Bernard's family is feeling right now, and that Curley's "lack of compassion and common sense in choosing to put out this image of their maimed and stricken child on the front page of multiple newspapers is appalling. The issue here is not law, policy or constitutional right -- but judgment and common decency."

Morrell said Gates was disappointed that he could not convince Curley "to do the right thing," but that the secretary is pleased this morning that most news outlets chose not to publish the photo.

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