NEW YORK Just days after the first pictures of flag-draped coffins of Americans killed in Iraq loaded in cargo planes appeared in the press, newspapers across the country denounced official efforts to keep other photos hidden.
In a typical comment, The Cincinnati Enquirer observed that bringing soldiers home "under the flag of their country brings closure to their sacrifice. The government should allow us that image." The Denver Post called publication of the photos "a proper function of a free press in a free country ... despite Pentagon protestations."
On April 18, The Seattle Times broke the military's ban, publishing a photo of a row of coffins taken by Tami Silicio, a civilian contractor in Kuwait. She and her husband were then fired for releasing the photo. Later in the week many newspapers published photos of coffins at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, released to a Web site in what the military said was a mistake.
The Pentagon and the White House have since re-affirmed their ban on the taking and releasing of such photos. This doesn't sit well with a vast majority of newspapers, judging by this past weekend's editorials in newspapers (which previously expressed a wide range of opinions on the Iraq war).
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch slammed Bush's "out-of-sight, out-of-mind standard. In doing so, the administration manipulates Americans' perceptions of the war, diminishes the gravity of the sacrifices of the dead and their families and denies our young men and women a last reverential salute from the country for which they died."
The Miami Herald called the photo ban "a shameful restriction of free speech and an affront to the democratic values for which the soldiers gave their lives. ... The attempt to mask the terrible reality of war -- that lives are sacrificed -- is essentially dishonest. The Pentagon claims that its policy respects the memory and sacrifice of the U.S. soldier. In fact, the policy dishonors the men and women who have paid the ultimate price in service to their country."
The Journal News of White Plains, N.Y., said "it is hard to see how dignity or privacy are served by equipping a nation with blinders. Or by keeping the nation blissfully ignorant of war's real cost."
The Berkshire Eagle of Pittsfield, Mass., noted that the White House may not enjoy seeing the coffin photos in an election year "but they tell a truth about war in general and this war in particular, and Americans should never be prevented from seeing the truth by their leadership in Washington. ... An administration whose default position is always secrecy and obfuscation should put an end to this shameful policy."
And the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram pointed out: "The more we know, the better we can understand and the more intelligent our decisions as responsible citizens."
The Daily Camera of Boulder, Colo., observed that "as the United States continues a war that is -- at this moment, at least -- being waged on the pretext of freedom, the government tries to censor images of flag-draped coffins. But the censorship has failed because it defies common sense and federal law. ... These images are what they are: a sad reflection of our president's war of choice. Yes, they are sobering. That is even more justification for their prompt and public release."
The Virginian-Pilot, which serves a military-dominated community in the Hampton Roads area, simply stated: "Americans deserve to see who is paying the ultimate price for this war."
Greg Mitchell (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of E&P.
© 2004 VNU eMedia Inc.