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Friday, August 15, 2008

Bill Seeks to Overturn Photo Ban on War Dead

The Department of Defense would be required to grant journalists access to ceremonies honoring fallen military personnel under a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The legislation is significant because it would, for the first time since Vietnam, let photojournalists capture the powerful images of flag-draped caskets arriving on American soil during wartime.

The Fallen Hero Commemoration Act, or H.R. 6662, was introduced July 30 by Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.), a member of the House Committee on Armed Services.

The bill states: "The Secretary of Defense shall grant access to accredited members of the media at military commemoration ceremonies and memorial services conducted by the Armed Forces for members of the Armed Forces who have died on active duty and when the remains of members of the Armed Forces arrive at military installations in the United States." It was referred to the Committee on Armed Services.

Jones voted to authorize the Iraq war, but he later supported a timetable to withdrawal troops and opposed the troop surge in 2007. Jones has spoken frequently in support of veterans' interests and displays a poster outside his office showing the photos of fallen service members from the Marine base in his district, according to his Web site.

His bill has six co-sponsors: Rep Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.), Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas), Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) and Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.)...

In the five years of the Iraq war, during which more than 4,100 U.S. troops have died, photos of military caskets have leaked out on at least three occasions.

In 2004, a defense contractor named Tami Silicio snapped a photo of flag-draped coffins at the Kuwait International Airport and provided it to The Seattle Times, which published the picture on its front page.

Also in 2004, Russ Kick of the The Memory Hole Web site published more than 300 photos of returning war dead he obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which the Pentagon later said was granted by mistake.

In 2005, University of Delaware professor Ralph Begleiter released more than 700 photos by military photographers showing ceremonies honoring returning military dead. Begleiter obtained the images through a FOIA request and a lawsuit.

More here.

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