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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 November, 2003, 13:16 GMT
No cameras for US war dead's return

By Nick Childs
BBC's Pentagon correspondent

The site of the downed US Chinook helicopter in Iraq
Fifteen US soldiers were killed when their helicopter was shot down
The downing of the US army Chinook helicopter in Iraq on Sunday was the single most devastating incident involving US forces in Iraq since the start of the war.

But the media is being denied access to the return to the United States of the bodies of those who died - because of a Pentagon ban on such coverage.

The policy has led to some charges of censorship and concern that the decision has been taken because of the mounting death toll in Iraq.

Pentagon officials deny the accusations and say the policy stretches back to 1991, although there have been exceptions over the years.

Ever since the Vietnam war, it has been assumed - in the United States and abroad - that American public opinion cannot stomach high casualties.

The emotional outpourings at ceremonies for the return of the dead from subsequent US military disasters abroad - like the bombing of the US marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 - only seem to reinforce that perception.

Political impact

In 1991, with the first Gulf War, the Pentagon decided to ban such ceremonies.

The policy was not always enforced and, for a while, the US air base at Ramstein in Germany - through which many US casualties in foreign conflicts pass - was not included.

But that changed three years ago, and the policy was reaffirmed at the start of the current Gulf conflict.

In 1991, a number of media organisations unsuccessfully sued the Pentagon over the decision. The critics say all this is for political reasons.

The Pentagon says it is to protect the families involved and it is up to them whether they allow media access at individual funerals.

Regardless of the Pentagon's policy, there is no doubt that the mounting death toll in Iraq is having a political impact.

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