Professor sues for release of coffin photos
US military photographs and videos of the honour guard arrival and transfer ceremonies at Dover Air Force Base for servicemen and women killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars will be released to the public if a journalism professor's Freedom of Information (FOI) suit is successful. "It's all about allowing the American people to accurately and completely assess the price of war", said Professor of Journalism Ralph Begleiter of the University of Delaware. "This is not a partisan political issue. The ban on releasing such photos has been imposed and supported by governments of both parties. "The Pentagon's claim that personal privacy is the reason for blocking release of pictures of soldiers' coffins doesn't make sense. The pictures do not identify any individual soldier, and the Pentagon has selectively allowed or released pictures when the political equation has been different, including when Americans were killed in terrorist attacks in Kenya and Tanzania and in the attack in Yemen on the USS Cole. "They even permitted the release of some pictures of returning casualties from the Afghanistan conflict", said Professor Begleiter. The lawsuit challenges the censorship policy initiated in 1991 by then-Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney, and continued by the Pentagon under the Clinton and Bush Administrations. The 1991 policy reversed the traditional American practice of honouring the fallen in solemn public ceremonies centred on flag- draped caskets. In April 2004, the Air Force Mobility Command released under the Freedom of Information Act 361 photographs of recent Dover ceremonies, only to have the Defense Department call the action a mistake and hold up any further releases. A Department of Defense Spokesperson, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy Molino, explained "[if] for some reason we find that the policy is inconsistent with the FOI Act we'll look at whether or not the policy needs to be changed". Working with the National Security Archive, a research institute in foreign affairs that uses the FOI Act to obtain information about US government operations, Professor Begleiter has systematically requested all still and moving images of the return of fallen soldiers to Dover Air Force Base from October 2001 to the present.