Vivid Photos Remain Etched in Memory

Iconic Images Can Have Lasting Public Impact

An Iraqi prisoner and American military dog handlers at Abu Ghraib prison

An Iraqi prisoner and American military dog handlers at Abu Ghraib prison in a photo dated December 2003. Reuters/ Courtesy 'The New Yorker' hide caption

itoggle caption Reuters/ Courtesy 'The New Yorker'
Black segregation protesters flee from a police officer and police dog

Black segregation protesters flee from a police officer and police dog during a prayer march in Birmingham, Ala., April 8, 1963. © Bettmann/Corbis hide caption

itoggle caption © Bettmann/Corbis

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told senators last week that it wasn't until he saw photographs of Iraqi prisoner abuse that he realized how serious the offenses were.

Disturbing photos of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad are the latest images that have defined the perception of a news story. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

Photos of police dogs loosed on black civil rights protesters in Birmingham, Ala.; a naked Vietnamese girl cries in horror after a napalm attack; and the famous flag-raising on Iwo Jima during World War II are seared in the collective memory.

Hal Buell, former photography director for the Associated Press and author of Moments: Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographs, says: "Words are the tools of someone who sees something and then describes it. Pictures... describe something that actually happened."

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