Last week, I wrote about the video-sharing site YouTube and discussed some videos there that appeared to be shot by soldiers in Iraq. The videos are well produced, and show soldiers in the field of combat, with gunfights, explosions and the like all edited to heavy metal and rap music.
I had contacted the military and was awaiting their reply. I wondered particularly if these videos went against any rules of conduct for soldiers, and if so, what the U.S. military might be doing to halt them.
I first heard back from Lt. Corey Schultz in the U.S. Central Command public affairs office. Her email is as follows:
Both CENTCOM and MNC-I [Multi-National Corps in Iraq] have policies concerning posting to blogs and websites. CENTCOM’s policy prohibits photographing or filming detainees or human casualties. Also prohibited are possessing and distributing any visual images of detainees/human casualties, except as required for official duties.
MNC-I’s policy is broader and applies to all U.S. service members, DoD [Department of Defense] civilians, DoD contractors assigned to or working for MNC-I. All websites and blogs must be registered with the unit chain of command. Personnel must also register any site to with they supply editorial content. These sites may be monitored to ensure that no prohibited information is posted on them.
Prohibited information is any information that is generally not available to the public and not releasable under FOIA [the Freedom of Information Act], including but not limited to: classified info, casualty information before the next-of-kin has been formally notified, Privacy Act info, information regarding incidents under ongoing investigation and other official information.
So I wondered what CENTCOM thought about these particular videos on YouTube, and queried Schultz on this point. I heard back from Maj. Matt McLaughlin, another spokesman for the military.
“We have not viewed all the videos, [but] rather sampled [them],” he wrote to me via email. “What we saw does not appear to violate policy. It does fall in the category of what some would consider bad taste. Bad taste however is a subjective standard.”
True enough, and soldiers have the right to edit their videos however they like. But if the U.S. military is trying to improve its image in the world of public opinion, these videos are not going to win many converts.
One MediaShift reader, Kiersten Marek, who blogs at Kmareka.com, didn’t like the videos or the fact that kids could get easy access to them.
“As a clinical social worker, and blogger, and citizen concerned about the Iraq war and the soldiers there, this gives me the willies,” she wrote. “It’s bad enough that so many of our soldiers are coming back with major PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], and that the rate of suicide and mental illness for soldiers from this war is extremely high. Now we are adding to this the possibility that people can get videos of combat directly from soldiers…I guess this helps us understand just how sick the mind needs to become in order to fight in war, but other than that, I don’t see the point. Also, are there any precautions to prevent children from watching these videos?”
Good question. The folks at YouTube allow viewers to flag objectionable material in the videos on the site, but it’s not clear how family-friendly this policy is.
So now the military has weighed in. What do you think? Should the military allow soldiers to shoot home videos in the field of action and upload them and edit them for public consumption? Should YouTube be taking a more active role in screening videos, or making the site appropriate for children?