- The Washington Times - Friday, April 23, 2004

From combined dispatches

A military contractor fired two cargo workers responsible for a photograph of flag-draped coffins of U.S. soldiers that appeared on Sunday’s front page of the Seattle Times.

Maytag Aircraft Corp. fired Tami Silicio, 50, and her husband, David Landry, because they “violated Department of Defense and company policies by working together” to take and publish the photograph, company president William Silva said yesterday.

Mr. Silva said military officials had raised “very specific concerns” related to the photograph, but declined to identify them, the Seattle Times reported yesterday. Since 1991, the Pentagon has barred news organizations from photographing the return of soldiers’ remains.

In a related development yesterday, a Web site published dozens of photographs of U.S. war dead arriving at the nation’s largest military mortuary, prompting the Pentagon to order an information clampdown.

All military remains first arrive in the United States from overseas at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, home to the military mortuary.

The photographs were released last week to First Amendment activist Russ Kick, who had filed a Freedom of Information Act request to receive the images. Air Force officials initially denied the request but decided to release the photos after Mr. Kick appealed their decision.

After Mr. Kick posted more than 350 photographs on his Web site, the Defense Department barred the further release of the photographs to news media outlets.

“They’re not happy with the release of the photos,” Dover Air Force Base spokesman Col. Jon Anderson said.

The photos were taken at the Dover base — home to the mortuary — and most of the images are of flag-draped coffins.

Defense Department rules prohibit news coverage of human remains arriving at Dover, and Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Gary Keck said release of the mortuary photos appears to be in conflict with department policy.

Defense officials said the purpose of the policy is to protect the privacy of the soldiers’ families — not to circumvent or violate the Freedom of Information Act or any other law.

“Quite frankly, we don’t want the remains of our service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice to be the subject of any kind of attention that is unwarranted or undignified,” said John Molino, a deputy undersecretary of Defense.

In the Seattle case, Mrs. Silicio said she hoped the photograph of the 20 flag-draped coffins awaiting transport from Kuwait to the United States would show the relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq that civilian and military crews return the remains of their loved ones with care and devotion.

“The way everyone salutes with such emotion and intensity and respect. The families would be proud to see their sons and daughters saluted like that,” Mrs. Silicio said in the Seattle Times article the photograph accompanied.

The photograph, taken April 7, appeared in the center of the newspaper’s front page, along with an article, “The Somber Task of Honoring the Fallen,” on the war in Iraq and a feature on Mrs. Silicio’s job in a cargo terminal of Kuwait International Airport. It was then posted on Web sites and has been widely discussed on the Internet.

“It wasn’t my intent to lose my job or become famous or anything,” Mrs. Silicio said.

The Bush administration firmly reminded the news media of the policy of not photographing caskets in March 2003, shortly after the start of the Iraq war.

Mrs. Silicio took the photograph in a cargo plane about to depart from Kuwait International Airport earlier this month. She sent the photo to a stateside friend who provided it to the Seattle Times, which then obtained permission from Mrs. Silicio to publish it without compensation.

Critics say the public is being denied information by not being able to see photographs of coffins coming back from Iraq.

“There is no consensus among families about whether they want events surrounding the death and burial of the service member to be made public, so how much the press is able to intrude at this particular time should be at the discretion of the family,” Kathy Moakler, a deputy director of the independent nonprofit National Military Family Association, said yesterday.

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