October 21, 2003

Curtains Ordered for Media Coverage of Returning Coffins

Remember the ancient philosophical question, "If a
tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it, does it
make a sound?" Well, in the Orwellian America of the
Bush cabal, we must ask...
"If a US soldier comes home in a coffin and no one
takes a picture, does his family still weep?"
"If a US soldier dies in Iraq and there is a news
media blackout, will his countrymen still demand to
know why, was it worth it and who is responsible?"
Those who demand answers are true patriots.

Washington Post: Since the end of the Vietnam War, presidents have worried that their military actions would lose support once the public glimpsed the remains of U.S. soldiers arriving at air bases in flag-draped caskets. To this problem, the Bush administration has found a simple solution: It has ended the public dissemination of such images by banning news coverage and photography of dead soldiers' homecomings on all military bases.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A55816-2003Oct20.html

washingtonpost.com
Curtains Ordered for Media Coverage of Returning Coffins


By Dana Milbank

Tuesday, October 21, 2003; Page A23


Since the end of the Vietnam War, presidents have
worried that their military actions would lose support
once the public glimpsed the remains of U.S. soldiers
arriving at air bases in flag-draped caskets. To this
problem, the Bush administration has found a simple
solution: It has ended the public dissemination of
such images by banning news coverage and photography
of dead soldiers' homecomings on all military bases.

In March, on the eve of the Iraq war, a directive
arrived from the Pentagon at U.S. military bases.
"There will be no arrival ceremonies for, or media
coverage of, deceased military personnel returning to
or departing from Ramstein [Germany] airbase or Dover
[Del.] base, to include interim stops," the Defense
Department said, referring to the major ports for the
returning remains.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said the military-wide policy
actually dates from about November 2000 -- the last
days of the Clinton administration -- but it
apparently went unheeded and unenforced, as images of
caskets returning from the Afghanistan war appeared on
television broadcasts and in newspapers until early
this year. Though Dover Air Force Base, which has the
military's largest mortuary, has had restrictions for
12 years, others "may not have been familiar with the
policy," the spokeswoman said. This year, "we've
really tried to enforce it."

President Bush's opponents say he is trying to keep
the spotlight off the fatalities in Iraq. "This
administration manipulates information and takes great
care to manage events, and sometimes that goes too
far," said Joe Lockhart, who as White House press
secretary joined President Bill Clinton at several
ceremonies for returning remains. "For them to sit
there and make a political decision because this hurts
them politically -- I'm outraged."

Pentagon officials deny that. Speaking on condition of
anonymity, they said the policy covering the entire
military followed a victory over a civil liberties
court challenge to the restrictions at Dover and
relieves all bases of the difficult logistics of
assembling family members and deciding which troops
should get which types of ceremonies.

One official said only individual graveside services,
open to cameras at the discretion of relatives, give
"the full context" of a soldier's sacrifice. "To do it
at several stops along the way doesn't tell the full
story and isn't representative," the official said.

A White House spokesman said Bush has not attended any
memorials or funerals for soldiers killed in action
during his presidency as his predecessors had done,
although he has met with families of fallen soldiers
and has marked the loss of soldiers in Memorial Day
and Sept. 11, 2001, remembrances.

The Pentagon has previously acknowledged the effect on
public opinion of the grim tableau of caskets being
carried from transport planes to hangars or hearses.
In 1999, the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, said a decision to
use military force is based in part on whether it will
pass "the Dover test," as the public reacts to
fatalities.

Ceremonies for arriving coffins, not routine during
the Vietnam War, became increasingly common and
elaborate later. After U.S. soldiers fell in Beirut,
Grenada, Panama, the Balkans, Kenya, Afghanistan and
elsewhere, the military often invited in cameras for
elaborate ceremonies for the returning remains, at
Andrews Air Force Base, Dover, Ramstein and elsewhere
-- sometimes with the president attending.

President Jimmy Carter attended ceremonies for troops
killed in Pakistan, Egypt and the failed hostage
rescue mission in Iran. President Ronald Reagan
participated in many memorable ceremonies, including a
service at Camp Lejeune in 1983 for 241 Marines killed
in Beirut. Among several events at military bases, he
went to Andrews in 1985 to pin Purple Hearts to the
caskets of marines killed in San Salvador, and, at
Mayport Naval Station in Florida in 1987, he eulogized
those killed aboard the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf.

During President George H.W. Bush's term, there were
ceremonies at Dover and Andrews for Americans killed
in Panama, Lebanon and aboard the USS Iowa.

But in early 1991, at the time of the Persian Gulf
War, the Pentagon said there would be no more media
coverage of coffins returning to Dover, the main
arrival point; a year earlier, Bush was angered when
television networks showed him giving a news briefing
on a split screen with caskets arriving.

But the photos of coffins arriving at Andrews and
elsewhere continued to appear through the Clinton
administration. In 1996, Dover made an exception to
allow filming of Clinton's visit to welcome the 33
caskets with remains from Commerce Secretary Ronald H.
Brown's plane crash. In 1998, Clinton went to Andrews
to see the coffins of Americans killed in the
terrorist bombing in Nairobi. Dover also allowed
public distribution of photos of the homecoming
caskets after the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in
2000.

The photos of coffins continued for the first two
years of the current Bush administration, from
Ramstein and other bases. Then, on the eve of the Iraq
invasion, word came from the Pentagon that other bases
were to adopt Dover's policy of making the arrival
ceremonies off limits.

"Whenever we go into a conflict, there's a certain
amount of guidance that comes down the pike," said Lt.
Olivia Nelson, a spokeswoman for Dover. "It's a
consistent policy across the board. Where it used to
apply only to Dover, they've now made it very clear it
applies to everyone."

2003 The Washington Post Company
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Posted by richard at October 21, 2003 10:12 PM