L.A. Times photographers chronicle the effects of the war on terror
Look through the post-9/11 archives of Los Angeles Times staff photojournalists and read the stories behind each sliver of history.
Never forget. That is the solemn refrain repeated often after the devastation of 9/11.
In some ways, Times staff photojournalists cannot forget. The images they made on U.S. soil and abroad following that day captured the long progression of the war on terror. These pictures have left their mark not only on the archives of The Times but also on the memories of many of the journalists who photographed these moments.
Twenty years ago, 19 terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners and used them to take down New York’s World Trade Center towers and crash into the Pentagon. The attack claimed the lives of 2,977 people, and the wars that followed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and beyond killed nearly 1 million people, according to a Brown University report.
On Sept. 12, 2001, the United States staggered to its feet amid the devastation of the Al Qaeda attacks. But these photographers traveled to tell the stories of the then-budding war. Times photo editors asked Luis Sinco, Carolyn Cole, Robert Gauthier and Rick Loomis to discuss how they approached their photography.
“Less than a month after the terrorist attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001, I was in Afghanistan to witness the U.S. bombing campaign that helped the Northern Alliance take control of Kabul from the Taliban,” staff photojournalist Carolyn Cole said. “I returned many times to witness the changes as we poured money and military might into the country. I saw women training to be pilots and girls studying to be doctors.
“But I also saw the human toll caused by years of war. I felt it was my duty to document the impact US forces were having on the country and its people, just as I did in Baghdad before and during the bombing of Iraq, and later as the country descended into civil war.
“I spent over a decade covering the Middle East, where I was always shown generosity and hospitality. Despite anger toward the U.S. government, those I met didn’t hold my nationality against me, and most wanted their stories told.
“After witnessing so much tragedy in Afghanistan, Iraq and many other countries, I have turned my attention towards the environment. It, too, is in a state of crisis, which affects all of us, regardless of where we live, our religion or our language.”
“I was pulled into an office and they told me that I was going to go to Iraq to cover Saddam Hussein’s election,” staff photojournalist Robert Gauthier said. “I guess Saddam sent out invitations to news organizations to come and cover his reelection campaign.
“I was just hoping to maybe somehow draw a connection between our lives here and the things that were happening there, maybe humanize the people that were directly affected by it. To try to strip away the politics and get into a more human side of it.
“I don’t know if really any of my images had any sort of deep, long effect on anybody, but I just think as part of the historical record. We were just trying to be honest and trying to tell the truth as best we could.”
“I flew back to L.A. for the holidays or just to get a breather, and then they wanted to send me back to New York after that to cover the holidays after 9/11,” former staff photojournalist Rick Loomis said. “On my way to New York, I stopped in Alabama to see my dad.
“And I got a phone call from the office and they said: ‘Hey, Rick, do you think instead of going to New York, you can just keep going and go to Afghanistan?’ And that was a shocker. I said yes, much to the chagrin of my dad.
“We were invading a country that that was being held at that time responsible for first sending people to create 9/11. And the story is really about the troops that I was with and … what they were facing. I went back to Afghanistan many, many times over the years. And, you know, it became more of an Afghan story…. For me personally, I just got I got swept up in the story … I was literally thrust into it.”
“I peered my head up over the edge of the roof with the other Marines and saw this RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) heading straight towards us,” staff photojournalist Luis Sinco said. “And I have confirmed this with other people since that it was like by some miracle, it veered away at the last second.
“After that RPG veered off, I just sat against the wall. Blake Miller, the Marlboro Marine, came from nowhere and he sat on a wall opposite for me. And I was just looking at him, and he started lighting a cigarette, so I basically just instinctively took a photo.”
Photo editing and introduction by Jacob Moscovitch.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.