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Ban on Coverage of War Dead Upheld

June 22, 2004|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Senate refused on Monday to change a Pentagon policy banning media coverage of America's war dead as their remains arrive in flag-draped caskets.

"It's an outrage," said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who had sponsored legislation to allow coverage of homecoming ceremonies at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

Lautenberg said the Pentagon directive that requires strict censorship, "issued just as the Iraq war began ... prevents the American people from seeing the truth about what's happening."

The 54-39 vote defeated an amendment to an authorization bill for the Defense Department, which would have required the Pentagon to produce a protocol within 60 days to regulate coverage of the returning dead.

Banning media and public access to the arrival of casualties at Dover was started during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, under President George H.W. Bush. The policy continued under President Clinton, although it was not strictly enforced.

"During the Afghan war during this administration, flag-draped coffins were filmed [at Dover], and during the Kosovo conflict President Clinton was on the tarmac to receive the dead," Lautenberg said.

Citing privacy questions on the eve of the Iraq war a year ago, the Pentagon reiterated the ban and began enforcing it at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Photos often had been allowed at Ramstein before the current Bush administration.

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, argued that the ban should continue to "to preserve the most important priority, and that's the privacy of the families."

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