U.S. Army releases doctored photographs

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The US Army released photos of two soldiers who were killed by another soldier at a base in Iraq. Apart from the heads of the soldiers, the photos are identical.

Bob Owen, chief photographer of the San Antonio Express-News, noticed that the photos were almost identical. All details were the same except for the soldiers' face, name, and rank. It appeared that Dawson's head had been pasted onto Durbin's body, though it was also possible that the heads of both men had been pasted onto someone else's body.
U.S. Army releases doctored photographs


  1. looks like they shopped the job out to the guy in Iran who did those missile shots – he has a worldwide rep now, and it’s clear they made a great choice

  2. Seems like kind of a non-issue to me. They needed pics and didn’t have them. Perhaps they could have used a different body on each just to avoid this type of attention.

  3. This war is just getting weird. . .

    Its not a big thing but when their is a trust issue already to lie again is just not a smart thing.

  4. @ #3 it would be a non issue if it wasn’t part of a pattern of treating soldiers, veterans and their families dishonestly.

  5. If you join the military, you need your head examining if you expect to be treated like a human. I hardly see how this story is in any way newsworthy.

  6. It’s not a big deal; but couldn’t they just mention they didn’t have better pics? Mostly considering they completely suck at Photoshop…

    I have this quirk about thinking that people who tell small, trivial lies for no reason also tell elaborate ones.

  7. @#9. That might be how it is but thats not how it should be. The least the armed forces can do is treat their down dead soldiers with respect.

  8. …You know, you’d think Aaaaarmy PR goons would have enough common sense to at least send their grunts to an intermediate Photochop class. I’ve seen beginning students do far better C&P jobs. Hell, even an Air Farce A1C with no arms could have done a better job!

    Hint to the Aaaarmy from an old Swabbo: learn what Feathering Edges does.

    Important Safety Tip: Kids, in yoru zeal to play peacenik games, don’t make the mistake your predecessors did during Vietnam: Condemn the idiots who allowed this gaffe, not the soldiers. My condolences to their families for their loss, because the soldiers earned it.

  9. #13 It is not flipped. It is correctly oriented.

    The proper display of the US flag is to orient it such that the star field is either:

    a) on the left if the flag is mounted on a fixed object


    b) such that the star field is ‘forward’ when displayed on an object capable of movement (like a human or a vehicle)

  10. The flags in the photos are correct, with the union forward. You’re just used to seeing left sleeve flags sewn onto right sleeves. I’d love to see the official explanation for this.

  11. personally, if i was killed, and there wasnt a decent picture of me in some sort of “official” attire, and my head was photoshopped onto another body, i wouldnt mind at all….it’s nothing worth making a big fuss about, and i feel that making a big fuss about it is more disrespectful to the deceased than photoshopping his head onto a body with a flag behind it.

  12. Follow up to #14—-

    If you display a US flag on the front surface of a object capable of movement (the grill of a car, nose of an aircraft or chest of a human) the star field (union) would be on the left.

    I suspect that the official reason will come down to this: one or both of those soldiers probably graduated from basic training (or other US-A school) and had their ‘official’ photo taken when they were wearing the old woodland or tri-color BDU. In order to be in compliance with the current ‘proper uniform wear and display’ standard, their jacket images were probably altered to display the soldier in the current ACU.

    Odds are this is simply bureaucratic silliness complicated by technical incompetency, not some sort of conspiracy.

  13. Odds are this is simply bureaucratic silliness complicated by technical incompetency, not some sort of conspiracy.

    Tell that to the same shadow behind them. It belongs to neither of them. 

  14. That is not photoshop, that is the kind of iron-willed uniform discipline we can expect from our armed forces.

    But really, WTF? I suppose that they couldn’t find an “appropriate” picture of one of these guys and decided to take one off of myspace and army it up. But isn’t there some sort of requirement for a standard service photo, maybe something from right after boot camp?

  15. Durbin’s face has flash glare. I’d say he has a real body, and Dawson does not. Dawson looks like he was photographed in sunlight, outside.

  16. It’s not common practice for the armed forces to take full body photographs (at least of lower ranks), but every service member does have a picture id (head, tops of shoulders) with a nice neutral background.
    It seems pretty obvious that rather than just releasing id pic, that they decide to spruce it up a bit. Dumb, but no conspiracy, IMO.

  17. Conspiracy is certainly a stretch; however, photojournalistic ethics certainly call for truthfulness. It may be appropriate to release a photograph that isn’t entirely accurate for legitimate reasons, but not without some explanation.

  18. This doesn’t surprise me at all.

    When my boyfriend joined the Army, they took an official photo for him to send home to his parents, before he’d even completed boot camp. The “uniform” he’s wearing in the photo was a one-piece garment that just draped over him for the photo, and then they took it off of him and put it on the next person in line.

    I guess that PhotoShop has now replaced the fake uniform photo.

  19. How disrespectful. I wonder what these soldiers’ moms think.

    I can hardly imagine this happening in another country. No, not even in Iran with their history of photoshop suckage.

  20. #3. That is inaccurate. The military takes photos of all its members. They use those photos on the id’s issued as well as for badge access, for identification of remains, etc, etc. If there is one thing they do have, it is photos of everyone sent into combat.

    These pictures actually represent extra work on someone’s part. They took the standard ID photo available, then cut and paste them onto a patriotic background.

  21. Rumour has it that one of them was actually killed by the Russians in Georgia, where the Us has no official presence, so we have to be told it was Iraq……..


    ‘This aint an Iraq Casualty.

    This is the guy who was captured by Russia who died after taking a hit in South Ossetia,
    I saw him on t.v. during my last trip to Russia, he was an American advisor who was helping the Georgians during the failed invasion of South Ossetia. The Pentagon is obviously trying to hide this guys identity by mixing him into Iraq Casualty reports.

    This Guy was taken to a hospital in Vladivistok after he was hit, and died shortly after. His Passport was shown on Russian NTV.’

  22. In my service (USAF, early 80’s), ‘official’ photos were taken right at(and before the end of)boot camp. We didn’t even have official blue dress uniforms yet – they had a rack of jackets and hats for us to wear (so the hats didn’t come close to fitting, cuz we were all still sporting buzz cuts).
    However, both of these fine lads are wearing rank insignia – which you do NOT get in boot camp – they require time in service and promotions.
    These are not boot camp pics.

  23. Right on the ‘uniform drape’ and the high likelihood that one of the soldiers (Dawson?) was wearing an outdated uniform in the picture they took his head from. The Army switched to the ACUs relatively recently, and it could have been a point of confusion to have him pictured in the BDUs formerly worn. For sake of uniformity… bam, Photoshop.

    GIs are treated as interchangeable cogs for a reason. Government Issue, hello? Sure they’re going to update the picture so they’re both wearing ACUs. Uniformity is -key-. Military personnel are accustomed to this treatment, because military personnel are not civilians. They give their expectations of being treated like an individual up at the very outset.

    So no, not disrespectful. It would be more disrespectful, to an individual trained with this mindset, to be depicted in a manner that denies them inclusion in the group.

    We had staff pictures taken recently for ROTC. I’d rather be in the proper uniform for those pictures, and if I hadn’t been on the appropriate day, I would totally have Photoshopped it accordingly. Being listed on the newspaper page in a different uniform would have just looked odd, and given the connotation that I wasn’t ranked equally with my other staff. I’d have suffered the ‘cookie-cutter’ body rather than be different. Then again, I wasn’t dead at the time, so maybe my assertions are invalid.

  24. “The flags in the photos are correct, with the union forward. You’re just used to seeing left sleeve flags sewn onto right sleeves. I’d love to see the official explanation for this.”

    …The official reason’s a simple one. Take a flag, and put it on a flagstaff. Now, look at both sides. Respective to each side, which side do the stars appear on? The idea is to invoke the flag on its staff while charging into battle.

  25. Rumour has it that one of them was actually killed by the Russians in Georgia


    It’s bad enough that these guys were killed by a fellow soldier. Don’t compound the tragedy by kidnapping one to use in an asinine conspiracy theory.

  26. That’s the ‘NEW’ USA, lying and subterfuge as a matter of policy.

    RIP guys, I’m so sorry you died in this awful war.

  27. Never forget kids, your entire identity is sublimated by the Army, even after you die. There’s precious little of *you* for your family.

  28. What #17 said. Of course Dawson, having a higher rank, is likely to have gone through basic at an earlier date. Where they really lose attention to datail points is that fact that the way his head position is changed, it appears that the flag behind Dawson is missing a star. But this just reminds me of the blond mortician joke. (look it up)

  29. artfreakydude@16: “…i feel that making a big fuss about it is more disrespectful to the deceased than photoshopping his head onto a body with a flag behind it.”

    Who is making a bug fuss about it? And even if someone were making a big fuss out of it, why would you hallucinate that it equated disrespect towards these soldiers?

  30. “#32 — I meant an official explanation for the photos.”

    …Not based on what you said. But I won’t get into a semantics war with you on this one.

  31. First, the only “Official” photo the Army takes is for a personnel record, and it starts when a Soldier is eligible for promotion to pay grade E-5 Sergeant (other services have other criteria). They are miserable stiff pictures in the full dress “Class A” (old terminology, trivia few would care about) uniform. The pictures taken in Basic Training are by a commercial company and sold to the Soldier. So generally only the family has a copy, but the details of the event given above are generally accurate. As these guys show as Sergeant E-5 and Staff Sergeant E-6 it is possible they sat for a picture at a commercial outfit prior to deploying. Or not, and a buddy wanting to try and give the family something decent did the doctoring, not the “Big Army.” You would be surprised what people will do for someone they have trusted their life with. Would be pure conjecture as to the dirty details, but things like this are often a “hey you” and the skill set you get is what you get. The Army can be more of that then most imagine, and sorry to disappoint, but the service is a pretty good cross section of America, some really stellar people, and some not so. Not much different then the ethical bankers and mortgage brokers in the news.

    The flag is worn on the right shoulder per flag etiquette the same if it was on a stage, so the speaker’s right, the viewer’s left. It also makes the flag look like it is streaming properly. When the Army first specified that flags would be worn, the right field flags were almost impossible to come by, so there was a time when left field flags were worn.

    I was not alone in being a rather “liberal” (now former) Soldier with a lot of disdain for the civilian leadership. But in the big picture, decided my oath to the US Constitution carried some consequences I was just going to have to suck up over.

  32. I don’t understand the people who aren’t bothered by this.

    This has to be one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen the Army do. Why on earth can’t they use any of the other pictures?

    If it was a joke or a prank that accidentally got released it’s one thing, but what we’re seeing is widespread shooping from the Army and than ain’t right. Why do they think they need to lie to us?

  33. #46, do you even read the other comments and resonable explanations (like #19 and #34), or do you just go through life looking for chances to whine about things you don’t understand? As a former member of the military (13+ years), this Photoshop incident doesn’t bother me one bit, and wouldn’t have bothered me a bit if had been my photo. It’s simple, really. An outdated uniform would have looked odd, so the Army personnel office just whipped up a reasonable (if not skilled) facsimile. They didn’t do it to be disrespectful to one of their own — in fact, they were trying to show some respect! So relax.

  34. Chas44,

    Geoff Sebesta voiced his horror at a breech of ethics and you called it whining. Apparently your military experiences did not teach you respect for the truth. Just because something is routinely done, doesn’t make it right. At this point in US history, do we really need apologists for the military?

  35. #12 pointed out this link, go have a look:


    It appears Durbin’s photo is the original. I’m guessing (like several other comments have suggested) it’s a portrait taken by a commercial photographer prior to deployment.

    But look at the other pic. So, even the Army Times could only come up with a picture of Dawson in a tux. Prom photo? I think he may even be wearing an earring. One thing about the army (I was in for three years) is they like everything and everyone to be alike, hence the word uniform. I suspect, somewhere, there’s an army press liaison whose OCD just wouldn’t let him publish a photo of the guy out of uniform.

    But is it really deceptive to alter a photo so he looks like an army sergeant in the appropriate uniform? That is, after all, what he was.

  36. This was actually an idea that was thrown around by a marine client of mine. We had to add medals to a soldiers picture posthumously because he had recieved them after the photo was taken. It was suggested that we could catalog medals and ranks so that should a soldier die in battle a formal picture of any soldier could be created posthumously for family. The idea never really got off the ground, but seeing this shows that even after a soldier may have been killed there is some sort of respect to do right by them even if it is something as simple as having a photoshopped picture of them for family and friends.
    I don’t find this wrong in any way. On the contrary I think its a noble thing to have been done.

  37. Om:
    “Important Safety Tip: Kids, in yoru zeal to play peacenik games, don’t make the mistake your predecessors did during Vietnam: Condemn the idiots who allowed this gaffe, not the soldiers. My condolences to their families for their loss, because the soldiers earned it.”

    I appreciate the sentiment. One important difference though: “The Draft”.
    Without a draft, the rules of the game change. Soldier goes from being pressed into this to simply being manipulated. Manipulation does not come with amnesty. Blame shift is only allowed to a certain point. You are able take up a gun and go to another country to participate in this charade then you must be able to take responsibility for your actions. That being said, the loss of human life is always a tragic thing, no less so if it’s a soldier.
    The soldiers in this case obviously weren’t doing anything wrong. But we are talking in general here.

  38. Some of many comments from above I agree with:

    It would be more disrespectful, to an individual trained with this mindset, to be depicted in a manner that denies them inclusion in the group.


    I don’t understand the people who aren’t bothered by this.

    I hadn’t thought of the “group inclusion” issue until TENN mentioned it, and it’s a good point. There are other good points made about why this shouldn’t be a big deal. But it is a big deal. It’s huge! You should be bothered by this!

    It doesn’t matter that GIs are cogs in a machine. They have to be or else the army wouldn’t work. It doesn’t matter that uniformity is key. Those are the facts of the army, but the larger issue here is that the American public has little to no insight into the military, and therefore no oversight. Even with embedded journalists, it’s extremely difficult to get an objective accounting of military activity. Therefore, we have no choice but to rely on what the military tells us. And if the military is going to have any credibility, they can’t be handing out doctored photographs for any reason, no matter how innocent or respectful they were trying to be. At the absolute minimum, the Army should have clearly indicated that the photos were “modified from their original versions.” This sets a dangerous precedent, introducing the classic slippery slope.

    Our American soldiers are dedicated, hard working patriots. I’m not suggesting they are not to be trusted. But as mentioned, they are just cogs in a machine, one that is ultimately driven by politics. With the massive controversies surrounding things like NSA wiretapping of citizens without warrants, Dick Cheney’s office claiming that they’re not part of the Executive Branch so they don’t need to preserve records, and all the things Bush has done to earn him a 25% approval rating, most US citizens are already quite distrustful of government (and justifiably so.) Having the military present doctored photos to the American public for any reason is another reason to be so.

  39. If you guys think that doctoring photos is messed up, you should look at some of the Department of Defense statistics for sexual assault and sexual harassment of female troop members. (http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/336/fact-check-military-sexual-trauma.html) 60% of women in the Military Reserves and the National Guard have experienced military sexual trauma.

    Also, now some people are claiming that the military has covered up the murders of some women by labeling them as “suicides.” One woman, Pfc. LaVena Johnson, was labeled as a suicide, even though she had acid burns on her genitalia (indicating that she may have been raped and the rapist wanted to cover up the evidence), the gun was fired from the left side of her head (and she’s right handed), and she was badly beaten. Links on that: http://www.democracynow.org/2008/7/23/suicide_or_murder_three_years_after http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/04/28/8564/

    More people should know about this; why isn’t this on the news?

  40. since they are using photoshop, i think it would be a good idea to just photoshop ourselves winning the war, that way we would not actually have to fight it. oh wait, i think fox is already trying something like that.

  41. The point is not that faking the photo is disrespectful to the dead soldiers. If your army is in the habit of distributing fake photos (without any notice that they’ve been “touched up”), how could you trust all those other photographic “evidence” they show you?

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