Published on Thursday, April 22, 2004 by the Associated Press
Images of U.S. Soldiers' Coffins Released
Pictures Given to Activist Under Freedom-of-Information Laws
DOVER, Del. - A website published dozens of photographs of war dead arriving at the largest U.S. military mortuary, prompting the Pentagon to order an information clampdown today.
The photographs were released last week to press freedom activist Russ Kick, who filed a Freedom of Information Act request to receive the images. U.S. air force officials initially denied the request but decided to release the photos after Kick appealed their decision.
After Kick posted more than 350 photographs (alternate site) on his website, the Defence Department barred the further release of the photographs to news outlets.
"They're not happy with the release of the photos," Dover Air Force base spokesman Col. Jon Anderson said.
The photos were taken at the Dover base - home to the mortuary - and most of the images are of flag-draped coffins.
Defence Department rules prohibit news coverage of human remains arriving at Dover and Pentagon spokesman Lt.-Col. Gary Keck said release of the mortuary photos appears to be in conflict with department policy.
Defence officials said the purpose of the policy is to protect the privacy of the soldiers' families - not to circumvent or violate the Freedom of Information Act or any other law.
"Quite frankly, we don't want the remains of our servicemembers who have made the ultimate sacrifice to be the subject of any kind of attention that is unwarranted or undignified," said John Molino, a deputy undersecretary of defence.
At a rally in Dover last month, war protesters criticized President George W. Bush for continuing the practice of previous administrations of not allowing the public or news media to witness the arrival of remains at the base.
"We need to stop hiding the deaths of our young; we need to be open about their deaths;," said Jane Bright of West Hills, Calif., whose 24-year-old son, Evan Ashcraft, was killed in combat in July.
Telephone and e-mail messages to Kick were not immediately returned today.
In a related incident, a cargo worker was fired Wednesday by a military contractor after her photograph of flag-draped coffins bearing the remains of U.S. soldiers was published on the front page of Sunday editions of the Seattle Times newspaper.
Tami Silicio, 50, was fired by Maytag Aircraft Corp. after military officials raised concerns about the photograph taken in Kuwait, said William Silva, Maytag president.
Silicio took the photograph in a cargo plane about to depart from Kuwait International Airport earlier this month. She sent the photo to a friend who provided it to the newspaper, which then obtained permission from Silicio to publish it.
On the Net:
Kick's Web site (may be slow)