Obama will lift the ban on photographing the returning American war dead at Dover Air Force Base, but will allow families of the fallen to prevent photographs on a case by case basis.
Update: From Bloomberg
By Ken Fireman
Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) — Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he will allow photographs of fallen American troops returning to the U.S. if their families agree.
Gates announced the new policy at a news briefing at the Pentagon. His decision follows a departmental review of a Pentagon policy that has barred news media coverage of returning war dead at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Whether the media should be allowed to attend this event and photograph the returning caskets is a decision that “should be made by those most directly affected on an individual basis, by the families of the fallen,” Gates said.
Gates ordered the review on Feb. 10, one day after President Barack Obama told reporters at a White House news conference that he was interested in restudying the policy.
The Pentagon has said the policy was established to protect the privacy of the welcome-home ceremony; critics have said the main purpose is to shield the American public from the full reality of the cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The policy “was first put in place in 1991 or at least during the first Bush administration,” Gates said today, adding: “I’m not going to try to figure out the motives.”
Gates said on Feb. 10 that he asked more than a year ago whether the policy should be changed.
He said he was told that news media coverage might make some families of fallen soldiers feel compelled to attend the ceremony, placing a financial hardship on some and possibly delaying the return of the remains to the home town.
I think that’s a bit off though Gates gives himself some wiggle room. My recollection was that the policy was instituted during the US attack on Noriega in Panama (begun Dec ’89). This military action marked a serious and unprecedented attempt by the Pentagon/DoD to control media access to the battle field and to control the overall content and tenor of coverage. It seemed absolutely transparent at that time that the Pentagon had taken lessons from Viet Nam and preferred to operate without the problems that arise when the citizenry is fully cognizant of the consequences of war.
Update 2: just went back to check who was heading up the DoD at the time. Deputy Secretary of Defence was Paul Wolfowitz and his boss was Dick Cheney. Anybody surprised?