Flag-draped coffins are shown inside a cargo plane April 7 at Kuwait International Airport, in a photograph published Sunday. The photographer said she hoped the image would help families understand the care with which fallen soldiers are returned home.

Images of war dead a sensitive subject
Full story: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2001909526_coffinside22m.html

By Ray Rivera
Seattle Times staff reporter

The image was of row upon row of flag-draped coffins being loaded onto an Air Force cargo plane in Kuwait. 
They were American war dead, killed in a bloody month of fighting in Iraq. David Perlmutter, a professor at 
Louisiana State University, showed it to his class and asked: Would  you have published it, as The Seattle Times did on Sunday?

Of the hundred or so in the class, most said no. But when asked to explain, Perlmutter said, they said 
that while "they didn't want to see the pictures, they said it's probably good we know that it's happening."

Americans have long struggled with the morality of showing images of war dead, especially fellow Americans.

Tami Silicio, a civilian contract worker, was fired yesterday for taking the  picture of coffins being loaded in 
Kuwait and allowing The Times to publish it.

The Pentagon has banned the media from taking pictures of military caskets returning from war since 1991, 
citing concern for the privacy of grieving families and friends of the dead soldiers. The Bush administration 
issued a stern reminder of that policy in March 2003, shortly before the war in Iraq began.

Critics complain that the prohibition is an attempt by the administration to diminish the impact of the loss of American lives.

But whether the ban is a political tactic or is out of sincere concern for the families, the issue is more complex, 
said Perlmutter, the author of two books on war photography and a professor of mass communication.

"The image of dead Americans, especially the dead American soldier, is probably the most powerful image of war 
for Americans," he said. "It's the one that immediately strikes us in the gut, because we hate to see it but we 
recognize we may need to see it."

The poet Oliver Wendell Holmes captured this ambivalence in 1863 after viewing some of the first images of 
battlefield casualties being buried during the Civil War.

"Let him who wishes to know what war is look at this series of illustrations," he wrote. Once they did, he said, 
"Many, having seen it and dreamed of its horrors, would lock it up in some secret drawer ...  as we would have 
buried the mutilated remains of the dead they too vividly represented."

Military censors instituted a virtual blackout of such photos in World War I. That ban continued until nearly the 
end of World War II.

"The assumption was the public didn't want to see it, and that it would undermine the war effort," Perlmutter said.
"The Normandy invasion was a success, but how would we have felt at the time if we had seen the pictures of all 
these dead American soldiers on the beaches?"

Images of war dead proliferated in Vietnam, and throughout the 1980s, the government regularly allowed the media 
to take pictures of coffins returning from Lebanon, Grenada and Panama to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, 
the primary arrival point for returning American soldiers killed overseas.

But in 1991, as the United States embarked on its first major war since Vietnam, the policy shifted. In January of 
that year, the administration of the first President Bush began prohibiting media outlets from taking pictures of coffins 
being unloaded at Dover. It instituted a total ban in November of that year.

"There was an attempt to not have another Vietnam in the sense that the administration was not going to allow the media 
to sell the war, one way or the other," said John Louis Lucaites, a communications and culture professor at 
Indiana University who teaches a class called "Visualizing War."

In 1996, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., upheld the ban after media outlets and some other organizations 
sued to have it lifted. Citing the need to reduce the hardship and protect the privacy of grieving families, the court held that 
the ban did not violate First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press.

The National Military Family Association, one of the largest military-advocacy groups, supports the policy. "The families that 
we've heard from are more interested in their privacy and would hope that people would be sensitive to them in their time of loss," 
said Kathy Moakler, deputy director of government relations for the organization.

Moakler, who has two children in the military, said The Times was right to tell Silicio's story and to describe the respectful 
process by which the dead are transported home.

But the photograph, she said, was an invasion of privacy for families who might be wondering if their dead loved one was in that array of coffins.

But even among military families, such feelings are not universal.

Marianne Brown, the stepmother of an Army reservist serving in Baghdad, said Silicio's photograph was long overdue. 
The Michigan resident belongs to a group of military families who support the publication of photographs of coffins.

"We have to show that, because that's what we're paying for" in Iraq, said Brown, a 52-year-old artist living in South Haven, 
Mich. "Let's show the truth — the death of our kids. Otherwise it's just statistics."

Veteran Bill Egan of Flagler Beach, Fla., praised Silicio's photo. He was a military photographer aboard the USS Missouri in 
the 1980s as it escorted oil tankers through the Persian Gulf.

"I see nothing wrong with showing coffins, especially flag-draped coffins, because it's a reminder of what these people have 
given up," said Egan, 63.

  Lucaites of Indiana University said the image had a powerful, mechanistic quality. "It almost makes it appear as if these 
coffins are on a conveyer belt, going off into infinity."

And if you're the current administration, he said, "this is not an image you want visualized."

Staff reporter Jonathan Martin contributed to this report. Ray Rivera: 206-464-2926 or rayrivera@seattletimes.com



United States Air Force

Photos of War Dead Released
A Web site that opposed the Pentagon's ban
 on images of dead soldiers' homecomings at military 
bases released hundreds of photographs of coffins.
Go to  New York Times Article

'Seattle Times' Regrets Silico's Firing, Doesn't Regret Coffin Photo

By Charles Geraci

Published: April 22, 2004 (EditorandPublisher.com)

NEW YORK The firing of military contractor Tami Silicio, whose photograph of flag-draped coffins of American soldiers
killed in Iraq was published Sunday by The Seattle Times, was met with negative reaction from the newspaper. Still,
the Times stands by its decision to run the controversial image -- and claims that Silicio knew the risks.

"I'm happy the picture is out, but it broke my heart when I find out she lost her job," said Barry Fitzsimmons, the paper's photo editor.
"The Times is very sad that Tami [was fired]."

Fitzsimmons was the first at the paper to view the picture, which was sent to him by Silicio's friend Amy Katz.

"I knew immediately that it was something spectacular, but at the same time, I had great concern for Tami," Fitzsimmons said.
 "She was fearful of losing her job but she felt she would come out OK."

In several e-mails and telephone conversations, Fitzsimmons told Silicio that publishing the photograph -- which depicts more
than 20 coffins of fallen U.S. soldiers loaded on a cargo plane at Kuwait International Airport -- could bring repercussions.

But Silicio insisted that the Times run the photo to show the tremendous respect given to the soldiers' remains as they were
loaded onto the plane for the trip home.

Despite Silicio's firing, the Times doesn't regret publishing the picture. "It is certainly unfortunate that she got fired but she was
fully aware of that possibility beforehand," Managing Editor David Boardman told E&P.

Katz is not sorry, either. "I absolutely have no regrets," she said. "The support I've received from the media and the public has
been overwhelming."

Maytag Aircraft, the contractor that employed Silicio, fired her and her husband, David Landry, on Wednesday. The company
cited a violation of government and company regulations in its decision.

Katz asserted that "Tami's husband had nothing to do with this. In fact, he was pessimistic about the photo being published," she said.

"I think this is horrible and I feel terrible for her and what she's going through," Katz said. But she added, "I also feel elated.
Hundreds of people have said this was the right thing to do."

A former employee of Halliburton, Katz served as a contractor in Kosovo. "On a certain level, I understand the firing," she said.
"I know firsthand the kind of pressure the Department of Defense puts on the contractors."

Kelly McBride, a member of the ethics faculty at the Poynter Institute, said, "This photo serves a journalistic purpose in causing
the public to question the occupation of Iraq. The harm this photo causes is not to the families of those killed in Iraq but to the administration."

The Bush administration has claimed that the Pentagon ban on coffin photos defers to the sensitivity of the soldiers' families.
McBride questions the harm done to families in this instance. "It's impossible to identify who is in those coffins from the information
in the photograph," McBride said.

She believes the Times acted ethically in its handling of the photo and of Silicio. "Whenever a person is risking substantial harm to be
a source, the paper has a responsibility to ensure that person is fully informed of the risks," McBride said. "Since The Seattle Times
did this, they acted well within the bounds of ethical decision-making."

Silicio and her husband will be returning to the United States in a little over a week. There will be a press conference shortly after their arrival.

Site's persistence paid off


April 24, 2004

DOVER, Del. - Photographs of American war dead arriving at the nation's largest military mortuary first appeared on a Web site,

The photographs from Dover Air Force Base, home to the mortuary, were released last week to First Amendment activist Russ Kick,
who had filed a Freedom of Information Act request to receive the images.

Air Force officials initially denied the request but decided to release the photos after Kick appealed their decision.

After Kick posted more than 350 photographs on his Web site, the Defense Department barred further release of the photographs to media outlets.

According to his Web site, Kick, who has not returned phone calls or e-mails from The Associated Press, requested all Dover photos from Feb. 1, 2003, to the present.

"He wasn't distinguishing between what he wanted," said Col. Jon Anderson, a spokesman for the Dover base. "He just wanted everything."

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.


Coffins arrive at Dover Air Force Base. An Air Force
command recently released a group of such photos;
the Pentagon said the release was a mistake.
Bush Says Privacy Must Be Respected

DOVER, Del. (April 23) - President Bush considers the release of photographs of flag-draped military coffins
a reminder of the fallen troops' sacrifice, but believes family privacy should be respected, the White House said Friday.

Pentagon officials said the photos, issued last week and posted on an Internet site, should not have been made
public under a policy prohibiting media coverage of human remains. Some activists argue that the photos, released last week,
underscore the war's human cost.