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CNN SUNDAY NIGHT

Interview With Peter Turnley

Aired January 19, 2003 - 22:29   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Twelve years ago, most Americans viewed the Gulf War through Pentagon briefings and cockpit video of Smart bombs, honing in, surgical precision. It was antiseptic, to say the least, detached. Those bunker busters rarely penetrated the calm of daily life here in America.
Well, the view of the ground was something altogether different. Veteran war photographer Peter Turnley was there. You witnessed and recorded the reality in a presentation called "The Unseen Gulf War." And we want to caution you, these images are not so easy to look at. Some are quite graphic. You can view them yourself at www.digitalphotojournalist.org.

Mr. Turnley joins us from Boston. And thanks very much for being with us, Mr. Turnley.

As I said, as we speak, we are going to be playing some of these images. And again, just want to warn viewers, some of them are quite graphic. What was the view of the war that you saw that was different than what we saw here at home?

PETER TURNLEY, PHOTOJOURNALIST: Well, I arrived the morning that the war was over at what was called the Mile of Death. And I got there very early in the morning. There were very few other people around, few other journalists. When I got there, it was a really surreal scene. There were vehicles turned upside down as far as the eye could see. Tires were still turning, radios were still playing, engines were still running. And as one walked up and down the row, intermittently, there were bodies scattered around.

That morning, I witnesses a U.S. grave detail picking up bodies and burying them together. I also witnessed Iraqi prisoners being forced to pick up the Iraqi dead and put into large piles, and then buried.

These pictures are now presently on a site on the web called thedigitaljournalist.org.

COOPER: And the idea behind -- I mean, in your opinion, the importance of seeing these images, of smelling those smells, of seeing the war from the foot soldier's level, really?

TURNLEY: Well, my feeling is, is that this has absolutely nothing to do with my own political point of view about this past war or any upcoming war. But it has to do about is my sense that citizens have a right, and really need to have a clear picture of what war really does look like. It concerns me that during the past Gulf War, so much of what I think the public saw were these sort of aerial images from the sky, that sort of made war resemble a type of Nintendo game. And I really feel that people have -- if -- people have a right to -- when they think about war, they have a clear view of what it really looks like.

COOPER: For you, what is the most shocking things that you saw, that you keep with you to this day?

TURNLEY: Well, there was a convoy that was to the north and east of Kuwait City. This was a different convoy than the Mile of Death. It has been spoken about very often. I came across this convoy driving by myself about two or three days after the war was over. And there was a convoy of trucks, of lorries of Iraqi soldiers. And in the back of these trucks were many, many Iraqi soldiers that had been completely carbonized. They were unrecognizable. And bodies had been strewn in all directions. And I had, I guess, rarely seen in war, and I've covered many conflicts in the last 20 years, a site of such sort of immense and sudden destruction.

COOPER: I think you and I have probably in some of the same places at the same times. Rwanda, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia. What do you take away from those places that stays in your mind? I mean, does this change you? Does looking through the lens, do taking these images change you in a way?

TURNLEY: Well, I think what I always take away is the human story. What is in my mind most essential about the work I do is to try to convey to others the life of people, the life of ground level people in the midst of historic moments and in the midst of conflict. Aside from the sort of sense of history itself, to really try to convey to viewers how these events affect peoples' lives.

COOPER: And you were really able to get a lot of these images, because you weren't part of the pool. And maybe you could describe to the audience sort of the difference between what you were able to do and what, you know, the sort of more sanitized pool version of the images were?

TURNLEY: Well, I decided -- I had been in the Gulf for several weeks before the Gulf War began. And I just was very uncomfortable with what I felt like the restrictions were going to be on the press. And so, I decided that I was not going to take part in the military pool zone. I sat out the air war, went back to Paris at that time. And then, immediately when the ground war began, I flew to Riyadh and then drove all night to Kuwait. And as we all know, the ground war was very quick. Only lasted a few days.

I felt that the military pools really did not reflect in my mind a sort of traditions of photojournalism that had been the backdrop of why I got into this type of work and communication in the beginning.

COOPER: Well, the pictures that you brought back are certainly more startling than a lot of the images we brought from the pool. And Peter Turnley, we appreciate you coming in. Again, the web site, www.digitaljournalists.org. Viewers can log on there and see the pictures -- more of the pictures than we were able to show. Some of them, as we said, are simply too graphic for our air.

Thank you very much, Peter, appreciate it.

TURNLEY: Thank you.

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