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The Truthout Archives contains articles published between 2003 and 2011. Below are 50 of the most populare archive articles and you can search by keyword to find others.

Pentagon Ban on Pictures of Dead Troops Is Broken

Thursday, 22 April 2004 23:53 by: Anonymous

    Pentagon Ban on Pictures of Dead Troops Is Broken
    By Bill Carter
    The New York Times

    April 23, 2004

    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, 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.

    John Banner, the executive producer of ABC's "World News Tonight," said, "We did not file a F.O.I.A. request ourselves, because this was the first we had known that the military was shooting these pictures."

    The Pentagon has cited a policy, used during the first Persian Gulf war, as its reason for preventing news organizations from showing images of coffins arriving in the United States. That policy was not consistently followed, however, and President Bill Clinton took part in numerous ceremonies honoring dead servicemen. In March 2003, the Pentagon issued a directive it said was established in November 2000, saying, "There will no be arrival ceremonies of, or media coverage of, deceased military personnel returning to or departing from" air bases.

    While critics have charged that the administration is seeking to keep unwelcome images of the war's human cost away from the American public, the Pentagon has said that only individual services at a gravesite give proper context to the sacrifices of soldiers and their relatives.

    "The president believes that we should always honor and show respect for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice defending our freedoms," Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said last night.

    A New York Times/CBS News poll taken in December found that 62 percent of Americans said the public should be allowed to see pictures of the military honor guard receiving the coffins of soldiers killed in Iraq as they are returned to the United States. Twenty-seven percent said the public should not be.

    Mr. Kick, who operates his Web site from Tucson, describes himself as "an information archaeologist." He did not respond to phone calls to his home last night. But on his Web site, he said he had filed a request for "all photographs showing caskets containing the remains of U.S. military personnel at Dover A.F.B."

    After an initial rejection, Mr. Kick said, he appealed on several grounds "and to my amazement the ruling was reversed." The request was granted by the Air Mobility Command, and the pictures of coffins on planes and at funeral services for slain servicemen were made available to him.

    The Pentagon said the pictures had been taken for historical purposes. Lt. Col. Jennifer Cassidy, an Air Force spokeswoman, said at a briefing yesterday that the release had violated the Pentagon's rules and that no further copies of the pictures would be distributed.

    But news organizations widely took the pictures from the Web site last night, as they became one of the biggest news developments of the day. Two networks, ABC and NBC, made the availability of the pictures, along with the firing of Ms. Silicio, the lead item on their newscasts. Numerous newspapers said they planned to use one or more of the photographs on their front pages today, as The Times did.

    Among the national television news organizations, only the Fox News Channel had no plans to use any of the photos or explore the issue of why they had been barred from use in the news media, a channel spokesman said.

    Steve Capus, the executive producer of "NBC Nightly News," said he had already considered the firing of Ms. Silicio a major news development and had sent a correspondent to Seattle on Wednesday night. Then the new pictures turned up on Mr. Kick's Web site. He called the pictures "not in the least gory" but "poignant and responsible" and argued that using them was "a proper part of the national dialogue." "It would seem that the only reason somebody would come out against the use of these pictures is that they are worried about the political fallout," Mr. Capus said.

    Jim Murphy, the executive producer of the "CBS Evening News," said: "I don't necessarily blame the military for trying to manage information in an information age. I just think when you are overzealous in trying to manage it, it serves no good to themselves or to the public."

    Jim Rutenberg in Washington and Mindy Sink in Denver contributed reporting for this article.


    Go to Original

    Photo of GIs' Caskets Costs Worker Her Job
    By Jessica Kowal
    Special to the Tribune

    April 23, 2004

    SEATTLE -- The photograph on the front page of Sunday's Seattle Times captured a moment rarely seen publicly since the start of the Iraq war. Coffins holding dead American soldiers, draped with U.S. flags and placed in rows, nearly filled a cargo plane for the journey home to the United States.

    This picture was taken by Tami Silicio, 50, who worked the night shift at Kuwait International Airport, loading cargo and doing paperwork for a company hired by the U.S. to ship supplies to and from Iraq. The cargo for this early April flight included more than 20 coffins, and Silicio recorded the scene with her digital camera.

    But the Defense Department had barred photographs and news coverage of homecoming ceremonies for dead U.S. service members. So, Silicio and her husband, a co-worker, were fired Wednesday by their employer, Maytag Aircraft Corp.

    "I took that photo from my heart," Silicio told a close friend, Amy Katz, this week when it appeared likely she would be fired. "I don't care if they send me home or if I have to work for $9 an hour the rest of my life to pay my mortgage."

    Silicio had sent the picture to Katz, who forwarded it to The Seattle Times without asking her permission. Silicio has maintained that she took the picture and allowed it to be published with her name attached or in a photo credit to reassure families that soldiers who die in Iraq are honored by those who handle their remains. She was not paid by the Times.

    "I let the parents know their children weren't thrown around like a piece of cargo, that they instead were treated with the utmost respect and dignity," Silicio told Katz. Silicio forwarded an essay by Katz that included Silicio's comments.

    William Silva, president of Maytag Aircraft Corp., said Thursday that Silicio and her husband, David Landry, were fired because, working together, they "violated Department of Defense and company policies" by photographing and publishing a picture of the caskets.

    Silva, whose company is in Colorado Springs, separately told The Seattle Times that Silicio and Landry "were good workers, and we were sorry to lose them."

    Meanwhile, a Web site published hundreds of photographs of American war dead arriving at the nation's largest military mortuary, prompting the Pentagon to order an information clampdown Thursday.

    The photos were released last week after activist Russ Kick filed a Freedom of Information request that initially was denied but then granted after he appealed. Kick put more than 350 photos on his Web site, prompting a Pentagon ban on the release of more.

    More than 700 American servicemen and women have died in the Iraq war, including at least 100 in combat this month.

    Just before launching the war to oust Saddam Hussein, the Defense Department reiterated its ban on all news coverage of "deceased military personnel returning to or departing from" Air Force bases in Dover, Del., Germany, and "interim stops," such as Kuwait. That included formal ceremonies of coffins being borne off airplanes by honor guards.

    In Iraq, the Pentagon's decision to "embed" reporters with individual units gave the media unprecedented access to a war. But the ban on coverage of caskets has provoked sporadic debate in the media and government about whether the Bush administration has censored important images of war.

    The Seattle Times did not offer to pay Silicio for the picture and "she didn't want any money for it," said David Boardman, the paper's managing editor.

    "It's of course unfortunate that she has been fired," he said. "She certainly didn't intend it [the picture] to be some sort of [an] anti-war emblem."

    Silicio has since allowed a photo agency, Zuma Press, to distribute it to news organizations and has told the agency she intends to donate earnings from the picture to charity.

    The mother of five sons, the oldest of whom died of a brain tumor when he was 19 and the youngest of whom wants to join the Marines, Silicio began driving delivery trucks in the late 1980s for her brother-in-law's event-planning company in the Seattle area. She also has a license to drive 18-wheelers.

    Before the Iraq war began, Silicio went to Kuwait as a military contract worker and returned to the U.S. in March 2003. After struggling to find a regular, well-paying job in the Seattle region's sluggish economy, Silicio went back to Kuwait last October for a yearlong tour with Maytag Aircraft, said her sister, Toni Silicio-Prebezac of Edmonds.

    Silicio is expected to return home to Everett in a few days, her sister said.

    The policy of no photos of caskets was established in 1991 at Dover Air Force Base, which handles the remains of most U.S. troops who die overseas. The policy wasn't enforced strictly until the Iraq war, a Defense Department spokeswoman told The Washington Post last October.

    Previous administrations were not consistent. President George H.W. Bush allowed media coverage of dead Americans returning to the U.S. from Panama and other conflicts but banned it at Dover during the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The Clinton administration released photographs at Dover after the 2000 terrorist attack on the USS Cole.

    John Molino, the Pentagon's deputy undersecretary of defense for family policy, told Newsday on Thursday that his office was not involved in the firings.

    Kathy Moakler, deputy director of government relations at the National Military Family Association, told Newsday that ensuring privacy of the families is paramount.

    "At the devastating time [of loss], being sensitive to the families is what needs to be done," she said.

    Orville Schell, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, said,"That plane and those coffins and the soldiers are the property of the citizens of the United States of America." Silicio's photograph "was not a breach of national security," he said. "This was a breach of the Bush administration's notion of public relations."

    The picture was made public after Silicio e-mailed it to her family and to Katz, a close friend since both women worked for a military contractor in Kosovo during the 1999 NATO peacekeeping operation.

    Silicio's photograph "can't help but take your breath away," said Barry Fitzsimmons, a Seattle Times photo editor. "No matter what side of the fence you're on, pro or against any war, it's overwhelming to see that many coffins lined up, all at one time."

    Fitzsimmons, who first saw the picture on April 8, said he and Silicio discussed the possibility that she would be fired if the newspaper credited her as the photographer. The Times' computer technicians also carefully examined the image to ensure it was real.

    "If the administration were more sympathetic, they would see that this is a positive thing and that the country is in support of being there," Silicio said in an e-mail Thursday.

    "When our loved ones are coming home, the families want to be there with them through the media, coming the whole way home."

Last modified on Monday, 21 April 2008 14:32