Photography of coffins at Dover Air Force Base has been banned since the Persian Gulf War in 1991. President Obama has said he will consider lifting the ban (Photo by U.S. Air Force)

Photography of coffins at Dover Air Force Base has been banned since the Persian Gulf War in 1991. President Obama has said he will consider lifting the ban (Photo by U.S. Air Force)

Under the cloak of secrecy, thousands of dead American soldiers have returned home in flag-draped coffins since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Their caskets are eventually lowered into the ground and unceremoniously strewn with dirt and grass, becoming, for the most part, forgotten casualties in a pair of forgotten wars.

The Pentagon, which banned the media from photographing these coffins during the first invasion of Iraq in 1991, said the ban was necessary to ensure respect, dignity and privacy to the fallen.

But the truth is, the ban was necessary to shield American citizens from the realities of war, which proved to be momentous in changing public attitude during the Vietnam War.

In what will become one of his first tests in ensuring government transparency, President Barack Obama is looking into lifting the ban.

According to The Los Angeles Times:

For Obama, changing the policy would carry some political risk as he ramps up the war effort in Afghanistan with tens of thousands of fresh troops, increasing the likelihood of combat deaths that could produce photographs of numerous coffins arriving at one time at Dover, the sole port of entry for the remains. At the same time, Obama has advocated transparency in government, and continuing to hide the Dover ritual conflicts with that principle as well as with public opinion on the issue, polls indicate.

“Showing these pictures would remind people of the war,” said Robert Lichter, director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University. He added, however: “What turns people against a war is not knowledge that Americans are dying, but the belief that they are not dying for something” worthwhile.

Lifting the ban would be a huge step in proving to Americans that Obama is taking steps away from the unconstitutional policies of the Bush Dynasty because the ban was enacted during George H.W. Bush’s wartime term and continued under George W. Bush’s two wartime terms.

President George H.W. Bush’s administration imposed the ban on media coverage of the arrival of fallen troops’ remains at Dover Air Force Base during the Gulf War in February 1991. It came about after a controversy arose when Bush gave a news conference at the same moment the first U.S. casualties were returning to Dover the day after the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, and three television networks carried the events live on split screen, with Bush appearing at one point to joke while on the opposite screen the solemn ceremony unfolded.

In the United Kingdom, which is hardly a haven for photographers’ rights, the government respects its fallen soldiers with a repatriation ceremony which is always open to the media.

In the United States, the government turns its faces in shame from the arriving fallen soldiers.

It’s hard to believe that in our so-called democracy, this is even a debatable issue.

Cast your vote on this matter on Bob Karp’s blog, The Photojournalist, where he provides a poll as well as more details on the issue.


I am a multimedia journalist who has been fighting a lengthy legal battle after having photographed Miami police against their wishes in Feb. 2007. Please help the fight by donating to my Legal Defense Fund in the top left sidebar. And join my Facebook blog network to keep updated on the latest articles.