Pentagon changes policy on flag-draped coffins

PENTAGON CHANGES POLICY ON FLAG-DRAPED COFFINS…. A couple of weeks ago, CNN’s Ed Henry asked President Obama about the Defense Department policy banning coverage of flag-draped coffins from coming into Dover Air Force Base: “You’ve promised unprecedented transparency, openness in your government. Will you overturn that policy, so the American people can see the full human cost of war?”

The president said his administration was “in the process of reviewing those policies.” Today, with the review complete, the Pentagon is lifting the ban.

News organizations will be allowed to photograph the homecomings of America’s war dead under a new Pentagon policy, defense and congressional officials said Thursday.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has decided to allow photos of flag-draped caskets at Dover Air Force Base, Del., if the families of the fallen troops agree, the officials told The Associated Press.

I can appreciate concerns about privacy, but I think this is the right call. The Bush administration was adamant about this, and while the policy dates back to 1991, Bush 41 and Clinton would make exceptions. Bush 43 would not, and it seems likely that politics helped drive his thinking.

But hiding images of the flag-draped coffins was a mistake. As Kevin Drum recently noted, “These are American soldiers fighting an American war, and the American public has a right to see the price of that war.”

It’s less clear exactly how the new policy will be implemented. Based on the AP report, it seems as if the Defense Department will make sure that the families of the fallen are comfortable with photographers being present when the caskets arrive home. It may prove difficult, though, if families with loved ones on the same plane disagree.

In either case, though, I’m glad the administration is making a change.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation