the end of the Vietnam War, presidents have worried
that their military actions would lose support
once the public glimpsed the remains of U.S. soldiers
arriving at air bases in flag-draped caskets.
this problem, the Bush administration has found
a simple solution: It has ended the public dissemination
of such images by banning news coverage and photography
of dead soldiers' homecomings on all military
March, on the eve of the Iraq war, a directive
arrived from the Pentagon at U.S. military bases.
"There will be no arrival ceremonies for, or media
coverage of, deceased military personnel returning
to or departing from Ramstein [Germany] airbase
or Dover [Del.] base, to include interim stops,"
the Defense Department said, referring to the
major ports for the returning remains.
Pentagon spokeswoman said the military-wide policy
actually dates from about November 2000 -- the
last days of the Clinton administration -- but
it apparently went unheeded and unenforced, as
images of caskets returning from the Afghanistan
war appeared on television broadcasts and in newspapers
until early this year. Though Dover Air Force
Base, which has the military's largest mortuary,
has had restrictions for 12 years, others "may
not have been familiar with the policy," the spokeswoman
said. This year, "we've really tried to enforce
Bush's opponents say he is trying to keep the
spotlight off the fatalities in Iraq. "This administration
manipulates information and takes great care to
manage events, and sometimes that goes too far,"
said Joe Lockhart, who as White House press secretary
joined President Bill Clinton at several ceremonies
for returning remains. "For them to sit there
and make a political decision because this hurts
them politically -- I'm outraged."
officials deny that. Speaking on condition of
anonymity, they said the policy covering the entire
military followed a victory over a civil liberties
court challenge to the restrictions at Dover and
relieves all bases of the difficult logistics
of assembling family members and deciding which
troops should get which types of ceremonies.
official said only individual graveside services,
open to cameras at the discretion of relatives,
give "the full context" of a soldier's sacrifice.
"To do it at several stops along the way doesn't
tell the full story and isn't representative,"
the official said.
White House spokesman said Bush has not attended
any memorials or funerals for soldiers killed
in action during his presidency as his predecessors
had done, although he has met with families of
fallen soldiers and has marked the loss of soldiers
in Memorial Day and Sept. 11, 2001, remembrances.
Pentagon has previously acknowledged the effect
on public opinion of the grim tableau of caskets
being carried from transport planes to hangars
or hearses. In 1999, the then-chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton,
said a decision to use military force is based
in part on whether it will pass "the Dover test,"
as the public reacts to fatalities.
for arriving coffins, not routine during the Vietnam
War, became increasingly common and elaborate
later. After U.S. soldiers fell in Beirut, Grenada,
Panama, the Balkans, Kenya, Afghanistan and elsewhere,
the military often invited in cameras for elaborate
ceremonies for the returning remains, at Andrews
Air Force Base, Dover, Ramstein and elsewhere
-- sometimes with the president attending.
Jimmy Carter attended ceremonies for troops killed
in Pakistan, Egypt and the failed hostage rescue
mission in Iran. President Ronald Reagan participated
in many memorable ceremonies, including a service
at Camp Lejeune in 1983 for 241 Marines killed
in Beirut. Among several events at military bases,
he went to Andrews in 1985 to pin Purple Hearts
to the caskets of marines killed in San Salvador,
and, at Mayport Naval Station in Florida in 1987,
he eulogized those killed aboard the USS Stark
in the Persian Gulf.
President George H.W. Bush's term, there were
ceremonies at Dover and Andrews for Americans
killed in Panama, Lebanon and aboard the USS Iowa.
in early 1991, at the time of the Persian Gulf
War, the Pentagon said there would be no more
media coverage of coffins returning to Dover,
the main arrival point; a year earlier, Bush was
angered when television networks showed him giving
a news briefing on a split screen with caskets
the photos of coffins arriving at Andrews and
elsewhere continued to appear through the Clinton
administration. In 1996, Dover made an exception
to allow filming of Clinton's visit to welcome
the 33 caskets with remains from Commerce Secretary
Ronald H. Brown's plane crash. In 1998, Clinton
went to Andrews to see the coffins of Americans
killed in the terrorist bombing in Nairobi. Dover
also allowed public distribution of photos of
the homecoming caskets after the terrorist attack
on the USS Cole in 2000.
photos of coffins continued for the first two
years of the current Bush administration, from
Ramstein and other bases. Then, on the eve of
the Iraq invasion, word came from the Pentagon
that other bases were to adopt Dover's policy
of making the arrival ceremonies off limits.
we go into a conflict, there's a certain amount
of guidance that comes down the pike," said Lt.
Olivia Nelson, a spokeswoman for Dover. "It's
a consistent policy across the board. Where it
used to apply only to Dover, they've now made
it very clear it applies to everyone."
October 24, 2003