Academic Sues Pentagon Over Coffin Pictures
Published on Tuesday, October 5, 2004 by Reuters
Academic Sues Pentagon Over Coffin Pictures

WASHINGTON - A U.S. journalism professor is seeking to force the Pentagon to release images of coffins bearing America's war dead arriving at the defense department mortuary in Delaware, according to a lawsuit filed on Monday.

The lawsuit, filed under the Freedom on Information Act in U.S. district court in Washington, challenges a 1991 Pentagon order banning media coverage of the arrival of the remains of dead soldiers.

The order was issued during the Gulf War and continued during the Clinton and current Bush administrations.

Ralph Begleiter, a journalism professor at the University of Delaware, is seeking photographs and video from Dover Air Force Base of arrival ceremonies honoring U.S. service personnel killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Lt. Commander Jane Campbell said it would be inappropriate to comment on a pending legal matter.

However Campbell said the policy of excluding the media from the Dover ceremonies was designed to protect the privacy of relatives.

"Families and loved ones have never been prohibited from being there at Dover but we have tried to not make it a media event," she said.

The journalism professor was seeking the images from Dover for academic research, the lawsuit said.

"It's all about allowing the American people to accurately and completely assess the price of war," Begleiter said in a statement released by his lawyer.

"The Pentagon's claim that personal privacy is the reason for blocking release of pictures of soldiers' coffins doesn't make sense," he said, adding that the pictures do not identify any individual soldier.

The lawsuit charged that the Pentagon's refusal to release the photographic records requested by the professor was not justified under the law. It also noted that, over the years, the Pentagon has made exceptions to its own rule.

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