The Obama administration is reversing an 18-year ban on news coverage of the return of war dead, allowing photographs of flag-covered caskets when families of the fallen troops agree, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the decision on images will be up to families of war dead. The new policy reverses a ban put in place in 1991 by then President George H.W. Bush. Some critics contended the government was trying to hide the human cost of war.
Shortly after Obama took office, Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey also asked the White House to roll back the 1991 ban.
Families of America’s war dead are going to obtain the power to decide if media can photograph the soldier’s coffins when they are honored for their heroic actions in the frontlines.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates believes that the military should not make such a personal decision; left up to the families.
The military has concluded that since the soldier’s families have been through so much in such a short time frame they believe that they should focus on making the most dignified choices by leaving it up to the families, the ones who know what is best for them.
President Barack Obama asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to review the policy of media coverage of the fallen returning to Dover. After carefully reviewing the material, a policy was developed consistent with that used at Arlington National Cemetery.
It will allow the families to decide if they want their homecomings in Dover made private or public. The choice is completely up to the families suffering of the loss of their love one and the president backs up Defense Secretary Robert Gates 100 percent with his decision.
The Ceremony at Dover base
Air Force cargo planes carrying the war dead home land on the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware where a solemn ritual is performed: The anonymous coffins known as “transfer cases,” each sealed in the Stars and Stripes and marked with a tag, are unloaded, ultimately to be delivered back to their loved ones for burial.
Some in the U.S. media have argued that the rule is a political attempt to downplay the human cost of war — which include at least 4,245 members of the U.S. military who have died in the Iraq war.
Do you oppose the decision or support it?
Controversy in America over photos of war dead goes back as far as the earliest battlefield photography.
- Not everyone agrees with Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Ralph Begleiter, a journalism professor at the University of Delaware sued the Pentagon when the ban was in effect to force them to release the pictures in 2005. These were pictures taken by military photographers at Dover in 2005. He believes it is the biggest single aspect of the human cost of war and for it to be unseen and kept in silence by American people is just wrong.
- According to an informal survey of its members by the group Families United, which says it represents 60,000 military families, a majority opposed changing the policy.
- John Ellsworth, the group’s vice president whose son died in Iraq in 2004, argued that if Obama chooses to reverse the ban, he should have the military take photographs and release them to the families, who could then decide whether they want to share them with the media, or see them at all.
- Photography pioneer Matthew Brady believed to have arranged battlefield death scenes during America’s bloody mid-19th century Civil War. During World War I, much of the coverage of the war was censored, as it was in World War II before President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided the public needed to see how its soldiers were suffering to avoid complacency.
- Vietnam brought the war home, however, in new ways, as television film footage caught the daily grind and blood of war. The coverage was believed to be one of the main reasons for the loss of public support in Vietnam.
- Photographs of war dead are a source of such deliberations because Americans are concerned about what happens to our men and women in uniform more than anything else does.
Will it be an issue in Afghanistan?
The issue could come into play for Obama. Though deaths in Iraq are down, the new president plans to send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, which could mean a steady number of soldier’s bodies coming back through Dover in transfer cases.
Journalists should be considerate and respect the families if the ban is overturned to avoid excessive coverage. There is one thing to report the truth and it is another thing to make a mockery out of it to sell more newspapers. People should follow their morals and do what is best for the country as a whole.
If journalists jump at the new opportunity to take photos and release an abundance of images it would probably exaggerate the number of deaths and cause unneeded controversy.
The journalists have an obligation to tell the truth in as complete and full a picture as possible, and coffin photos are part of that it is not the only important issue to focus on.
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