Gates Orders Review of Policy on Soldiers’ Coffins
Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicated that he was open to allowing
the media to photograph the flag-draped coffins of fallen soldiers as their bodies and remains are returned to the United
"If the needs of the families can be met and the privacy concerns can be addressed, the more honor we can accord these
fallen heroes, the better," Mr. Gates told reporters.
He said he was ordering a review of the military policy that bars photographers from taking pictures of the return of the
coffins, most of which go through Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, and set a "short deadline" for a decision.
The military has said the policy is meant to protect the privacy of the families of the dead soldiers and maintain dignity.
But skeptics, who include some families as well as opponents of the war in Iraq, say that the bodies in the returning coffins
are not publicly identified, so privacy is not an issue, and that barring photographers is a political maneuver meant to sanitize
The policy was put into place in 1991 during the first Gulf war and was renewed by the Bush administration as recently
as a year ago when, Mr. Gates said, he raised the possibility of changing it. He said he was told -- he did not say by whom
-- that allowing photographers would put undue pressure on families to go to Dover themselves and that in some cases that
would be a hardship.
"I think that looking at it again makes all kinds of sense," Mr. Gates said today, adding that he was "pretty open to whatever
the results of this review may be."
His comments followed those of President Obama, who said at his news conference Monday night that "we are in the process
of reviewing those policies in conversations with the Department of Defense."