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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 April, 2004, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
US concern over war dead photos
Undated photo of US military personnel offloading coffins of US soldiers killed in Iraq at Dover Air Base in Delaware
The Pentagon says the ban is to protect soldiers' families
Pentagon lawyers are examining the release of photographs of the coffins of dead American soldiers repatriated from Iraq.

The images, taken by Department of Defense officials, appeared on the web after the US Air Force released them under the Freedom of Information Act.

Pentagon rules dating back to 1991 ban the media from covering the return of the remains of soldiers killed abroad.

Critics say the rule is designed to cover up the human cost of war.

Defence officials insist it is in the interests of bereaved families.

'Reasonable' policy

The official photographs of coffins draped in the US flag were released last week to activist Russ Kick, who had filed a Freedom of Information Act request to receive the images. He published them on his website The Memory Hole.

US Marines on the outskirts of Falluja
135,000 serving in Iraq
Tours of duty extended for 20,000
91 US soldiers killed in April
Nearly 600 US troops killed since 1 May 2003

Deputy Under Secretary of Defence John Molino said Pentagon lawyers were looking into whether banning the further release of such photographs would fall foul of the Freedom of Information Act.

"The attorneys now are looking to see if the policy and the law are in conflict, or if the policy and the law are not in conflict and there was just some misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the situation that allowed that release," he told reporters.

Mr Molino added that he fully supported what he considered a "reasonable" policy restricting such images that had spanned several different administrations.

"We continually get feedback from families that this reflects their desires to maintain a degree of privacy... and also maintains the respect and the dignified treatment of those remains as they're transferred," he said.

He denied the suggestion that restricting access to the photographs was an attempt at damage limitation by the Bush administration, which is under pressure over its policy of invading and occupying Iraq.

"I don't see that as our motivation. To be very frank with you, we don't want the remains of our service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice to be the subject of any kind of attention that is unwarranted or undignified," said Mr Molino.

'Deep regret'

In a separate development, an American woman and her husband have been fired from their job with a US cargo contractor in Kuwait after a photograph of flag-covered coffins she took during the course of her work appeared in the Seattle Times newspaper.

We need to stop hiding the deaths of our young
Dead US soldier's mother
Colorado-based Maytag Aircraft Corporation said Tami Silicio and her husband were dismissed for violating US government and company regulations.

"Maytag deeply regrets these actions and fully concurs with the Pentagon's policy of respecting the remains of our brave men and women who have fallen in service to our country," said company president William Silva.

Mr Molino said his office had played no part in Ms Silicio's dismissal.

"I indicated that I didn't think it would be appropriate for the Pentagon to take any sanctions against her," he said.

Some of the relatives of service personnel killed in Iraq have criticised the Pentagon stance.

"We need to stop hiding the deaths of our young," said Jane Bright of California, whose son was killed in action last year. "We need to be open about their deaths."

'War President'

An American anti-war activist, Joe Wezorek, has published a stark mosaic image of President George W Bush composed from photos of servicemen and women killed while serving in US-led coalition forces in Iraq.

Mosaic of President Bush (pic: Joe Wezorek, American Leftist website)
Anti-war protest: Joe Wezorek's image of President Bush
The picture, called "War President," appears on Mr Wezorek's website, American Leftist.

He describes it as "a satirical commentary, informed by the whole project of using the dead as political props".

"I'm not making a dime off the image, and never will attempt to do so.

"Given this lack of financial or other crass motives, other recent instances of the politicisation of the dead strike me as more morally questionable: the coffins of the victims of 9/11 showing up in a political advertisement, the continued suppression of images of the funerals of those lost in Iraq from the mainstream American media, and images of the 9/11 disaster in a campaign ad," he says.

The BBC's Matt Frei
"In many ways the squeamishness of this administration is perhaps misplaced"

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