Coffins Exposed, Pentagon Peeved

|

Russ Kick, a Freedom of Information activist, used FOIA to obtain 361 photographs of American war dead returning to Dover Air Force Base, which he began posting to his currently overloaded website and handing out to other news organizations. The Pentagon is pissed, and has "barred the further release of the photographs to media outlets," according to the AP.

NEXT: Hopefully I'm Not the Last Person In the Internet to Link to This

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Pictures of 9/11 in commercial, bad taste. Pictures of soldier caskets, journalistic coup. Yes, I am begining to understand.

  2. Pictures of 9/11 in commercial, bad taste. Pictures of soldier caskets, journalistic coup. Yes, I am begining to understand.

  3. Walter — I’m tempted to ask “who are you arguing with?”

    At any rate, from my perspective, it’s more like “pictures kept secret by the government, almost always bad.”

  4. Likely Bush voters are not gettin’ the picture, that’s fer sure.

  5. Ruthless-
    On another posting, a lot of Bushies are claiming that printing photos of the coffins in “anti-war propaganda.” Understand? Any facts which make the guys in office look bad are PROPAGANDA, not facts.

    Horrifying, to look at those photos and think that under each and every flag lies the rotting remains of what was once a vibrant, healthy young person. Some of my former students are over there; every time I hear of a casualty from New England I keep thinking, “Don’t let it be him, don’t let it be him, don’t let it be him.”

  6. We need more journalists like Russ Kick, and more sites like the memory hole….

  7. Although many here undoubtedly see the revelation of flag draped coffins as a sort of public and very in-your-face nose-rubbing aimed at the Bushies and other assorted members of the pro-war crowd (See folks, this is precisely what war gets you), there is the other side of the coin.

    Americans also have a right to honor the war dead and our government has an unquestionable moral obligation to respect the sacrifices that have been made. In fact, the president ought to be standing on the tarmac at Dover every time a plane arrives, showing his respect for the deceased and their families.

    Pulling the blinds isn?t shutting anyone up but it is shutting out those who would publicly or privately grieve for and honor those who gave their lives.

    And of course, we all have the right to measure the cost of the incursion, whether in bodies or treasure.

  8. Jennifer,
    Right… world of diffence between a casket full of the likes of geezer me… instead… the best and brightest and youngest.
    There is a better way.
    Let’s get a new thread started about how to avoid war.

  9. Ruthless-
    Speaking of geezers, I say we should raise the military age from 18 to 60. A dead sixty-year-old is less of a waste than a dead teenager, AND it would help keep Social Security solvent, too!

  10. I probably shouldn’t speak for Walter, but I imagine he’s suggesting that it seems that the people who think pictures of war-dead are just facts are the same who criticized the use of 9/11 images in presidential ads. In any case, the division of “facts” from “propaganda” is a false one. Stating perfectly true, if sometimes selective, facts can be an extremely effective psyops tool.

  11. ryan, there’s a difference between “facts” that appear in campaign ads and “just the facts.” The context in which facts are presented can add, remore, or change meaning – which is what ads or other forms of propaganda are for. There most certainly is a difference between facts themselves and propaganda in which those facts are one element.

    Unless you’re Walter Willis, in which case, there’s no difference between a Polaroid of Walter’s mom, and the photo appearing in a phone sex ad.

  12. Jennifer:
    Here’s the placard promoting your scheme:

    Draft farts!

    Whatcha think?

    I’m ready to go, by the way. I’m an old jarhead and Ruthless to boot.

  13. There’s also the fact that Bush is NOT responsible for the 9-11 deaths, and so he’ll USE photos of those coffins, to boost his image. However, Bush IS responsible for the Iraq deaths, and so he’ll SUPPRESS photos of those coffins, to boost his image.

    For what it’s worth, I think Bush’s 9-11 ads were in incredibly bad taste, but should not be illegal. Better to let Americans know what sort of depths their president will sink to.

  14. TWC,

    Why is it that no president has ever been, literally or figuratively, “standing on the tarmac at Dover every time a plane arrives, showing his respect for the deceased and their families”? Is it because they just don’t care, or they are trying to suppress the truth? I hardly think this is your argument. War is not some fixed transaction where we pay such and such a cost in “bodies and treasure” and we get such and such a war aim. It’s almost entirely psychological. It’s a hard thing to say, but a president showing grief at each and every death can be a interpreted as a sign of weakness, thus giving strength to the enemy. From Pericles’ Funeral Oration to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, it is argued that the only way the dead can be mourned or honored is to win the battle. Certainly a hard thing to accept, but that hardly makes it untrue.

    You’ll have to forgive me if I find the proposition of just trying “to avoid war” feckless.

  15. Ruthless,
    So that’s what your alias means. I thought your dog, named Ruth, just passed away.

    You may be an old jarhead and ready to go, but could you really take orders from someone half your age?

  16. Always look for the hidden political agendas –

    GI Casket Photog Sued Cheney in 2000
    http://www.newsmax.com/archives/ic/2004/4/23/114319.shtml

  17. Running on his record as FDR ran on WWII is now a “depth” in which Bush sank… But journalists, rushing these photos out like they put out Princess Diana’s death photos, that’s putting a fact in the right context. Running on your record is very bad though.

  18. But it turns out that four years ago the duo, Tami Silicio and Amy Katz, sued Halliburton, then run by Vice President Dick Cheney, naming Cheney in the suit.

    Reports unearthed by KTTH Seattle radio host Mike Siegel reveal that Katz and Silicio, who was fired Wednesday for violating the Pentagon’s policy against photographing the caskets of slain GI’s, sued Halliburton for sexual harassment while they worked for the company’s subsidiary, Brown & Root, in Kosovo.

    The Sept. 2000 lawsuit claimed that it was discriminatory for the company to accommodate Arab cultural customs by maintaining separate bathrooms for host country nationals and Americans.

    “I was totally outraged. I refused to use the ones for the Americans,” Katz told CBS News at the time. “I tried to explain that I thought this was terrible and it was my way of protesting it.”

    Katz was joined in her legal complaint against Cheney’s company by Silicio, who has been the subject of a torrent of sympathetic media coverage since her dismissal from her a different contractor, Maytag Aircraft, was announced on Thursday.

  19. Her history of opposing discrimination implemented to satisfy Islamic fundies clearly puts her on the side of terrorists, and against America, our freedoms, and our president.

    Or something.

  20. Mark Anderson-
    Ruthless and his fellow Golden Ager draftees won’t have to take any orders from anybody. We’ll just give them all Iraqi driver’s licenses and let them drive to the Farmer’s markets where the mujahedeen do their shopping!

    HH-
    Running a campaign based on the war record of George W. Bush is like running a campaign based on the chastity of Bill Clinton.

  21. Overlord, HH:

    How daft to suggest that because this woman sued Halliburton over a bathroom that she now has it in for Dick Cheney, and that her motives in talking to the Seattle paper, and publishing that photo, are therefore despicable.

    One can imagine the thought process–“Make me use separate bathrooms from the Muslims (grumble)…I’ll show him…I’ll talk to the newspaper about soldiers in caskets!”

    My god, but only a paranoid grudge holder of unparalleled stature could concoct such a ludicrous position.

  22. Hold on Jennifer. I may be ruthless and foolhardy (and able to take orders from whippersnappers like you), but I draw the line at being a suicide bomber.
    I know. Mine is not reason why, etc., but if the statergery of “my” side is suicide bombing, I ain’t going after all.

  23. But Ruthless, my turtledove, you would NOT be a “suicide” driver! Whenever those blind old farts drive their cars through farmer’s markets or playgrounds or whatever the DRIVERS never die, just the PEDESTRIANS.

    Christ, we’ll put airbags in the Humvee if we have to.

  24. Wow. There’s an awful lot of anger in the comment section today.

    Matt Drudge is all fired up that a lot of the photos Kick obtained appear to be of the coffins of Columbia astronauts, not Iraqi war dead.

    As usual, it’s developing…www.drudgereport.com.

    TP

  25. Like I said… the press was in such a rush to discredit Bush, they ran these photos without some basic fact-checking. And yes, when the mainstream press refers to Halliburton as “Dick Cheney’s company” over and over again, a lawsuit against Halliburton is relevant and the mainstream press, in the anti-Bush frenzy to rush out the photos in an election year, didn’t bother to note this:

    WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS, CNN, AP RUN PHOTOS OF SPACE SHUTTLE COFFINS — AS IRAQ WAR DEAD! … AFTER INTERNET MIX-UP: Russ Kick of thememoryhole.org filed a Freedom of Information Act requesting ‘all photographs showing caskets (or other devices) containing the remains of US military personnel at Dover AFB. This would include, but not be limited to, caskets arriving, caskets departing, and any funerary rites/rituals being performed. The timeframe for these photos is from 01 February 2003 to the present.’

    But Kick appears to have assumed all the photos given to him were of the WAR ON TERROR/IRAQ dead!

    On Thursday NASA claimed more than 70 photos featured in Kick’s war dead — were photos of Space Shuttle Columbia’s crew! The shuttle blew up on 2/1/03.

    ‘An initial review of the images featured on the Internet site http://www.thememoryhole.org shows that more than 18 rows of images from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware are actually photographs of honors rendered to Columbia’s seven astronauts,’ NASA said.

    CNN aired space shuttle coffins as Iraq dead from thememoryhole.org. The Washington Post printed a shuttle dead photo on page A10. [The paper is planning a correction on Saturday, sources tell DRUDGE.] Reuters is also distributing a photo of the Columbia crew remains. AP has a screen grab of the first page of photos – all of which are of Columbia crew remains. AP titles the image as ‘A page from the Memory Hole.org’s homepage shows photographs of American war dead arriving at Dover Air Force, the nation’s largest military mortuary, Thursday, April 22, 2004’… It is not clear if other media outlets are currently featuring space shuttle coffins in their rotations… Developing…

  26. This may be a dumb question, but wouldn’t the coffins of the Columbia astronauts be empty? There aren’t any remains are there?

  27. Even dumber is the idea that any fool should be able to distinguish between the flag-draped coffin of an astronaut and the flag-draped coffin of a soldier, and that if someone CAN’T immediately make the distinction then his opinions are therefore discredited.

  28. I think Kick from Memory Hole made a fairly valid assumption… he did ask for photos of “showing caskets (or other devices) containing the remains of US military personnel”, and as far as I know the Shuttle crew were not part of the military, so it was the Pentagon’s flub, if anything.

  29. Mo, significant remains of the astronauts were recovered from the Columbia debris field. Google “columbia remains”.

  30. Her history of opposing discrimination implemented to satisfy Islamic fundies clearly puts her on the side of terrorists . . .

    How brave of her. It would have been much smarter and more prudent for Brown & Root to have taken a great big shit all over the local religious and cultural mores while working in someone else’s country. Like she did. That will certainly endear us to the people of the world.

    Next up, Joe eats a plate full of pork chops and cheeseburgers at the Wailing Wall so as not to give in to the Jewish fundamentalists.

  31. Jennifer,
    Thanks for explaining you weren’t axing moi to sacrifice myself for the 72 voigins.
    Howsomever, I question whether bad driving will be able to chalk up a victory for “our” side.

    Me own mother confused the accelerator with the brake a few years ago, but was only able to do damage to property.
    After that she gave up driving.

    At this stage in my life, 69 voigins would be plenty.

  32. Ruthless-
    Wouldn’t you rather have 69 women who know what the hell they’re doing?

  33. Wasn’t Iraqis dragging bodies down the street enough?
    What is this thing about viewing the dead?
    Where is the respect of the dead?
    Can they ever rest in peace…RIP ?

    The political paparazzi photograph the dead
    for use as politicial sandbags.

    If allowed, they’d have the flag drapped coffins
    guest host on SNL, be interviewed by Larry King —
    “What are your dreams now? ….silence

    Paparazzi are after racer Dale Earnhardt’s autopsy pixs,
    and someone said the Columbia crew’s remains were shown.
    There is NO peace in their rest.
    Shame on politics for using the dead.

  34. Comparing gory photos of mangled bodies with the depiction of flag draped coffins is silly. Showing someone’s mangled corpse is disrespectful to the deceased. Flagged draped coffins are how the military shows respect for the ultimate sacrifice.

  35. Also, Jennifer, even though a picture definitely produces a stronger response, there’s still the lack of context that comes with any picture. What were they doing when they died?
    You seem to be of the type who wants to take those pictures and yell, “See how many are dying for this war?”
    Yet this in itself does them no honor. What did they accomplish while in Iraq? How many of those dead were proud of what they were doing?

    Another thought. What if the administration caved and allowed pictures to be taken of the caskets, but then only carried one or two per aircraft? Would your response to that be just as shrill? Why?

  36. > Flagged draped coffins are how the military shows respect for the ultimate sacrifice.

  37. “We need to stop hiding the deaths of our young,” said Jane Bright of California, whose son was killed in action last year. “We need to be open about their deaths.”

    So, invite the photographers to the funeral!
    But then, there could be live people in the picture,
    and live people might object to the intrusion.
    The soldier in the coffins in the airplane
    can’t jump up to object to the picture or their use.

    The deaths are highly publicized now.
    I hear a body count every morning on radio,
    leading off the morning news every half-hour.
    I see the pictures, names, ages on the nightly news.

  38. So you guys say that the coffins should be hidden out of respect for the soldiers’ families, and then when you learn that the families WANT this stuff publicized, you (presumably out of respect for the soldiers’ families) INSULT them for it?

    Jesus. For all that I’m a critic of this administration you won’t catch me insulting grieving mothers like Jane Bright.

  39. Does Jane Bright of California have a frog in her pocket when she says “we?” Has someone stopped her from talking about her son’s death to the media, or to her friends? She is, after all, as free as she wants, once she has her sons remains in her possession, to parade them around town like some sort of demented marionette, or to prop his coffin up in front of her home, Unforgiven-style, as a protest, or whatever the fuck she wants. The fact that she chooses not to do so is her fault, not the Pentagon’s fault.

    The Pentagon, on the other hand, is only transporting those coffins to their final destinations — their hometowns, Arlington, what have you. The Pentagon is not those soldiers’ families. It is NOT free to open up the gates at Dover AFB, start rolling them out of the C-130s, and say, “Coffins! Coffins here! Dead soldiers! Come and see!” It isn’t, and shouldn’t be.

  40. IT NEVER ENDS………..

  41. “Is taking pictures of (dead soldiers’ coffins) for political use or profit (showing them respect)?”

    How many similar pictures have I seen in old issues of LIFE? Yes, respect. Treating them like something shameful that has to be hidden, while taking actions to create more soldier-filled coffins, is what is disrespectful, dj.

    Or does the sight of a dead patriot’s coffin become disrespectful when the government prefers the sight to remain hidden?

  42. There is some truth to the old cliche, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” If I told you your wife was cheating on you, even if you believed me, it still would not bother you quite so much as actually seeing your wife “in the act.”

    ]Likewise, saying “100 Americans died in Iraq this month” does not have the same effect as actually seeing the one hundred coffins. By trying to keep pictures out of sight, the government is trying to lessen the impact of the death statistics.

    Those of you who insist that showing the coffins is in violation of the families’ privacy should consider this: every news story I have found about the controversy has Bush and the Pentagon talking about privacy; the families of the dead, meanwhile, are the ones criticizing the lack of attention their dead sons have received.

    Sweeping their sons’ deaths under the proverbial rug does NOT show respect for the wishes of the families.

  43. Jennifer,
    I submit my suggestion in the other thread: Get the families to agree to the photos and publish them. I think most families would be like their loved ones’ treated with honor.

  44. Cut and pasted from the BBC:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3652171.stm

    “We need to stop hiding the deaths of our young,” said Jane Bright of California, whose son was killed in action last year. “We need to be open about their deaths.”

  45. Walter-
    If it makes you feel any more macho, you could easily kick my dad’s ass with one hand tied behind your back, since my dad’s a quadriplegic. Or was, before he died.

    But before that he was a strapping six-foot career Navy veteran, who thought that those who served their country should have their sacrifices remembered.

  46. Actually, having no one respond to my question only makes me want to probe it a bit further.

    Bear in mind I think the families should have the last say in any publication of the caskets, though. Some would want it published, some wouldn’t. I don’t find anything inherently wrong with showing them (with the families’ permission).

    Would there be any complaints if each casket were shipped separately? Say as soon as it is ready to ship, a plane take off with it. Perhaps the planes would land at different airports depending on where they were in Iraq.

    I think Jennifer wants to take get the pictures of the caskets while they’re all shipped together. They’re shipped together for economical reasons. Most of those soldiers didn’t neccessarily die together (time- or location-wise). The pictures of the caskets in the airplane give an all-over-Iraq body-count for any reson of death. This is what Jennifer wants, I assume, to show people just how many are dying with one picture. And without context.

    If we removed the process of gathering all those bodies together, there wouldn’t be an easy picture. I doubt this debate would really be happening. And I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Jennifer asking that the caskets be brought together so she could get a nice picture.

    In any case, Jennifer, if you think the administration is intent on lessening the impact of the number of deaths, they haven’t exactly been doing a good job if the Pentagon still has THIS PAGE up.

  47. Come to think of it, all of y’all could easily kick MY ass, too, since I’m short and skinny and female to boot. And, since physical strength apparently equals intellectual ability, that means there’s really no point in my saying anything unless and until I learn to bench-press twice my weight.

    Incidentally, is Ruthless the only one who understood that my “draft the geezers” plan was meant as a joke?

  48. The reason we don’t have 60 year old soldiers in the front line instead of 19 year olds is the same reason we don’t send 72 year old forresters to fight the fire before it burns down our town.

    I was in combat at 18, and so I have the bona fides to question the heroism of a wound faking combat shirking comrade stabbing serial Gigolo.

    Pretty much the recipe here is that nothing Bush has ever done can be right, and nothing that democrats have ever done has ever been wrong. At least it simplifies.

    Frankly, I believe that on every anniversary of 9/11 we all should be shown the videos of jumpers, just so we don’t forget that 9/11 is not just a bumper sticker slogan.

    And my mother looked better than most of the pictures in the phone book.

    And my daddy could beat the crap out of joe’s and jennifer’s dad.

  49. All too often “draft the geezer” is a means of trivializing the sacrifices of war by suggesting that wars are entered into for trivial reasons not in the interest of the general public.
    You do your dad no honor, Jennifur, by making light of the defenders of his country. And it was your alter ego joe who took the first snide attack at a parent. I do not suffer fools. I do not accept insults. I would not have kicked your dad’s ass unles he earned it, and I would not kick your ass even if you earned it because I do not strike women. You really need to work, Jennifur, on intellectual bench pressing. Get out of the flyweight class at least. Too much of your stuff is DNC regurgitation.

  50. Your dad could probably kick my dad’s ass right now, but with the amount of morphine they’re pumping into his ex-marine’s body, he probably wouldn’t mind too much.

    And Walter, I didn’t attack your parent. I attacked your shoddy reasoning.

  51. Walter-
    Is the “Jennifur” spelling of my name a mistake, or intended as some sort of insult?

    And you’re right–you don’t suffer fools; you make excuses for them. Sounds like kicking the ass of my quadriplegic father would be the manliest thing anyone in your family’s done.

  52. Hi, This is Amy Katz, the woman who sent the photos of the first flag draped coffin photo my friend Tami Silicio took to the Seattle Times. And yes, I did go to arbitration against Halliburton — they were doing amazing work for our soldiers in Kosovo, and there were horrible treatment of the local nationals — which included Albanians, Hungarians and Bosnians.
    My motives were not “political” in forwarding Tami’s photo to her home town paper, or 4 years ago in standing up for our constitutional rights (mine, my co-workers, and yes, YOURS!) Unless by political you mean I am an American who believes we have rights that need to be protected, and that abuse and death of any kind should not be hidden away!

    If anyone has any specific questions about the photo or why I sued Halliburton, I’d be happy to share them. I really appreciate everyone’s support on this board (like Jennifer’s) and all over the entire world — the response from military families, former Vietnam vets and the press has been overwhelmingly positive.

    For those who don’t agree with the publishing of the photo or my suing halliburton for retaliation of reporting sexual harassment (and by the way, it was my job to report it — I was the sexual harassment trainer and part of the Human Resource department for the Balkan region during the NATO peacekeeping mission!) I still appreciate you asking questions and debating this. Unless subjects like gender, ethnic discrimination and war are out in the open, we can not debate them, think about them or question the current state of affairs or the future of our world. Open conversation and communication is the only thing that is going to save us in the end.
    Sincerely,

    Amy Katz

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.