Page last updated at 22:19 GMT, Thursday, 26 February 2009

US lifts ban on war dead photos

Undated file photo provided by the US Air Force shows flag-draped coffins of US casualties from Iraq being offloaded by a military honor guard from a cargo plane in Dover, Delaware
President George H Bush imposed the ban during the first Gulf war in 1991

The US defence department has lifted a ban on news organisations showing pictures of the coffins of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates said photographs of the flag-draped caskets of US war dead being returned home will be allowed if their families agree.

The move overturns a ban put in place by President George Bush Snr in 1991.

Critics said the ban tried to hide the human cost of the two wars, in which nearly 5,000 US soldiers have died.

"The decision regarding media coverage of the dignified transfer process at Dover [Air Force Base] should be made by those most directly affected, on an individual basis, by the families of the fallen," Mr Gates said.

"We ought not presume to make that decision in their place."

Mr Gates ordered the review of the ban at President Barack Obama's request.

The White House welcomed the move, saying it was in line with policy at Arlington cemetery near the US capital where war dead are buried.

Earlier administrations said the ban was in the interests of bereaved families.

The bodies of fallen US soldiers killed overseas are flown to the Dover base in Delaware before being transferred to their families' hometowns.

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