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Pentagon to Lift Press Ban on Coffins at Dover

American casualties returning to a U.S. military facility.

Updated 2:12 p.m.
By Ann Scott Tyson
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced today that he is lifting a 1991 ban on news coverage of the return of the remains of fallen service members to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, although he will leave the decision about press coverage up to the family of the dead.

The controversial ban on photography and other media coverage of the solemn return of flag-draped coffins -- upheld by both Republican and Democratic administrations -- has generated lawsuits as well as conflicting emotions on the part of military familiies.

Gates said he is asking a group of advisers to come up with a plan on how to implement the new policy.

President George H.W. Bush's administration imposed the ban on media coverage of the arrival of fallen troops' remains at Dover Air Force Base during the Gulf War in February 1991. It came about after a controversy arose when Bush held a news conference at the same moment the first U.S. casualties were returning to Dover the day after the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, and three television networks carried the events live on split screen, with Bush appearing at one point to joke while on the opposite screen the solemn ceremony unfolded at the Delaware base.

Pictures of casualties have long played into the politics of a war -- most notably in Vietnam, dubbed the "living-room war" for its extensive television coverage, including footage of coffins rolling off planes at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii as if off a conveyor belt. Indeed, starting in the 1990s, politicians and generals used the term "the Dover test" to describe the public's tolerance for troop casualties.

Both Republican and Democratic administrations have upheld the Dover ban, but both have also made notable exceptions, which some observers view as politically expedient. For example, under President Bill Clinton in October 2000, the Pentagon distributed photographs of coffins arriving at Dover bearing the remains of military personnel killed in the bombing of the USS Cole.

Exceptions were also made under President George W. Bush, such as in September 2001 when the Air Force published a photo of the transfer at Dover of the remains of a victim of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

Soon after the war in Afghanistan started in October 2001, however, the Pentagon restated the ban on coverage at Dover, and in March 2003, the same month that the U.S. military invaded Iraq, it expanded the policy prohibiting media coverage of the coffins of fallen troops to other ports of arrival as well.

By Lexie Verdon  |  February 26, 2009; 1:51 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency , B_Blog , National Security  
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Anyone who does NOT want their offspring to be photographed with the respect that they deserve should be ISOLATED FROM THE OTHERS. This is easy to do.

No one should have to endure more secrecy because ONE parent in "the group" doesn't want it.

Gates is asking for more trouble.

Posted by: tropicgirl | February 27, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Who Will Lift the Lid on Gov't Involvement in THIS?



The Bush/Cheney- initiated American social genocide via silent, covert radiation weapons assaults, terroristic community gang stalking, and "programs of personal financial destruction" continues.



OR (if links are corrupted / disabled):

Posted by: scrivener50 | February 26, 2009 11:34 PM | Report abuse

When our young men and women go off to war they are sent off with flags waving, hugs cheering crowds as it should to make every one realize how much they will be missed. I have always wondered, for those who have given their lives why they are secretly brought home with no recognition to Dover AB & other than a mention on the news know one realizes how sad this war has been for all. Everyone is entitled to their opinion so I ask people to be respectful of other opinions, in this case President Obama's and mine. God Bless America

Posted by: ppeterson1 | February 26, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

"He has changed us from a country that valued hard workers and strivers to be millionaires, integrity and acheivement and replaced it with
rewarding failure, irresponsibility, mediocrity, imcompetence and has encouraged envy and jealousy.

Posted by: debmries |"
Sorry you feel that way, I, for one, feel proud to be an American again and his Presidency makes me want to become a better person for my country.

BTW: Almost none of your statements are based in fact.

Posted by: JRM2 | February 26, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Looks like Obama is asking Americans to deal with reality instead of living in "everything fine" LA LA LAND. It's about time people are confronted with the realities of war instead of the make-believe computer games they paly with at home while real kids are being killed in some far off land we have no business being in.

For those who want war I say, "go for it" put on a uniform and get a gun and be my guest. I'll even kick in for the plane fare. Let's see how many of those "GO USA" types step up to the plate.

Posted by: inewsmaster | February 26, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

This policy was put in place because the liberal media was exploiting the coffins as a SIN of Bush.

Obama has done more in 30 days than any other president. He has increased our debt almost to what Bush did in 8 years and lost more jobs or value on stock market than any other president.

He has changed us from a country that valued hard workers and strivers to be millionaires, integrity and acheivement and replaced it with
rewarding failure, irresponsibility, mediocrity, imcompetence and has encouraged envy and jealousy.

Posted by: debmries | February 26, 2009 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I was 100% against the Iraq War but I am an enthusiastic supporter of our troops. I always felt bad that we could not honor our fallen and having pictures is a way for us to say a silent "God Bless You", "Thank You", "You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers", etc.

I have a post-it board on my door and when the newspapers had pictures, from the war, I always posted a variety of them so that we would not become complacent and forget those in service to our country.

Posted by: rlj1 | February 26, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Wait a minute. Did Dick Cheney approve this?

Posted by: Brittman1 | February 26, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

The Obama Administration has done more in one month than Bush did in eight years. The difference is nothing less than drastic and dramatic.

I think the reversal of this policy is critical in continuing to accept and understand the ridiculously high cost of war. While many of us work in our safe and climate-controlled offices, there are men and women fighting and dying so we will be able to continue to do so. And the provision about the family having a say is key.

Posted by: DinahS | February 26, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

President Bush abrogated the constitution for political ends.

Obama speaks truth to power.

Good-bye, conservative syncophants.

Posted by: bs2004 | February 26, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

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