Pentagon Ban on Pictures of Dead Troops Is Broken (link to cited site’s materials)
The Pentagon’s ban on making images of dead soldiers’ homecomings at military bases public was briefly relaxed yesterday, as hundreds of photographs of flag-draped coffins at Dover Air Force Base were released on the Internet by a Web site dedicated to combating government secrecy.
The Web site, the Memory Hole (www.thememoryhole.org), had filed a Freedom of Information Act request last year, seeking any pictures of coffins arriving from Iraq at the Dover base in Delaware, the destination for most of the bodies. The Pentagon yesterday labeled the Air Force Air Mobility Command’s decision to grant the request a mistake, but news organizations quickly used a selection of the 361 images taken by Defense Department photographers.
The release of the photographs came one day after a contractor working for the Pentagon fired a woman who had taken photographs of coffins being loaded onto a transport plane in Kuwait. Her husband, a co-worker, was also fired after the pictures appeared in The Seattle Times on Sunday. The contractor, Maytag Aircraft, said the woman, Tami Silicio of Seattle, and her husband, David Landry, had “violated Department of Defense and company policies.”
The firing underscored the strictness with which the Pentagon and the Bush administration have pursued a policy of forbidding news organizations to showing images of the homecomings of the war dead at military bases. They have argued that the policy was put in place during the first war in Iraq, and that it is simply an effort to protect the sensitivities of military families.
Executives at news organizations, many of whom have protested the policy, said last night that they had not known that the Defense Department itself was taking photographs of the coffins arriving home, a fact that came to light only when Russ Kick, the operator of The Memory Hole, filed his request.
“We were not aware at all that these photos were being taken,” said Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times.
If the president can’t handle the heat, then he should have stayed out!
From the NYTimes Editorial: The Real War
Since 1991, the Defense Department has prohibited taking photographs of the coffins of members of the armed services while they are being transported back to the United States. The reverent portrait Ms. Silicio produced demonstrates how irrational that policy is. The theory seems to be that the pictures are intrusive, or possibly hurtful, to bereaved families. But it seems far more likely that the Pentagon is concerned about the impact that photos of large numbers of flag-draped coffins may have on the American public’s attitude toward the war.
That certainly underestimates the fortitude of average citizens, who are able to accept the cost of war whenever they are confident that the cause is right. American men and women are currently suffering danger, death and injury every day in Iraq. The least those of us back home can do is to bear witness to the sacrifice of the real soldiers as well as the fictional.