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Images of War, Freedom of the Press

August 21, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

Although a few photographs – like the one at left – have been leaked to the public, one distinctive quality of the Iraq war is that we have rarely seen any of the 4,000-plus flag-draped caskets that have been flown into the Dover Air Force Base . That’s because in 1991, during the Gulf War, the Department of Defense established stated that “media coverage of the arrival of remains at the port of entry or at the interim stops will not be permitted.” A new bill in Congress would override that DoD policy and demand that journalists be allowed to cover the commemoration ceremonies and memorial services for U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq.

The bill, the Fallen Hero Commemoration Act, is being sponsored by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) and co-sponsored by three Democrats and three Republicans.

“Without a loved one serving in the military, it is sometimes possible for Americans to overlook the sacrifices that have been made – and continue to be made – by members of the Armed Forces on behalf of our Nation," said Jones. "By once again permitting access to accredited members of the media at military commemoration ceremonies, memorial services conducted by the Armed Forces, and the arrival of the remains of fallen service members at U.S. military installations, this legislation would honor those who have given their lives in defense of our Nation.”

The National Press Photographers Association recently came out strongly in favor of the bill. In letter to Rep. Jones, NPPA President Bob Carey said, “as a part of war, members of the military must sacrifice their lives for our freedoms. Now as a photo journalist and educator, my role is to teach the youth of today the importance of our freedoms. I can state unequivocally that my colleagues mean no disrespect to the uniform or the families when we have covered these moving events.”

Copy/pasted below is the “findings” section straight from the bill’s text. I think it gives some good background and sets up a strong argument:

(a) Findings- Congress finds the following:

>(1) Members of the Armed Forces swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.
>(2) The Freedom of the Press is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and is one of the fundamental freedoms enjoyed by Americans.
>(3) In each generation, members of the Armed Forces have selflessly given their lives to secure the freedoms Americans enjoy today.
>(4) Americans must never forget the sacrifice that was made, and continues to be made, by members of the Armed Forces on behalf of the United States.
>(5) During the Vietnam War, images of arrival ceremonies and flag-draped caskets of members of the Armed Forces appeared regularly on television and in print news sources.
>(6) In 1985, the media covered a ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base for members of the Armed Forces killed in El Salvador. President Reagan attended the ceremony and pinned Purple Heart medals on the flag-draped caskets.
>(7) The practice of permitting media coverage of the return of the remains of members of the Armed Forces killed overseas was changed by the Department of Defense in 1991, during the Persian Gulf War. Department of Defense policy stated that ‘Media coverage of the arrival of remains at the port of entry or at the interim stops will not be permitted…’.
>(8) However, in 1996, the media photographed the arrival and transfer ceremony at Dover Air Force Base for the remains of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and 32 other Americans killed when their plane crashed in Croatia. President Clinton was present to receive the flag-draped caskets.
>(9) In 1998, the media photographed the arrival ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base for Americans killed in simultaneous bombings of United States embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
>(10) In 2001, the Department of Defense restated the ban on media coverage at Dover Air Force Base and at Ramstein Air Force Base. However, in 2002, the media was permitted to photograph the transfer of flag-draped caskets at Ramstein Air Force Base that carried the remains of four members of the Armed Forces killed in Afghanistan.
>(11) In 2003, the Department of Defense expanded the no-media policy, stating that ‘There will be no arrival ceremonies for, or media coverage of, deceased military personnel returning or departing from Ramstein Air Base or Dover Air Force Base, to include interim stops…’.

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