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Pentagon Reacts to Mortuary Photos

A Web site published dozens of photographs of American war dead arriving at the nation's largest military mortuary, prompting the Pentagon to order an information clampdown Thursday.

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

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

At a rally in Dover last month, war protesters criticized President Bush for continuing the practice of previous administrations of not allowing the public or media to witness the arrival of remains at the base.

"We need to stop hiding the deaths of our young; we need to be open about their deaths," said Jane Bright of West Hills, Calif., whose 24-year-old son, Evan Ashcraft, was killed in combat in July.

Telephone and e-mail messages to Kick were not immediately returned Thursday.

In a related incident, a cargo worker was fired Wednesday by a military contractor after her photograph of flag-draped coffins bearing the remains of U.S. soldiers was published on the front page of Sunday editions of The Seattle Times.

Tami Silicio, 50, was fired by Maytag Aircraft Corp. (search) after military officials raised concerns about the photograph taken in Kuwait, said William L. Silva, Maytag president.

Silicio took the photograph in a cargo plane about to depart from Kuwait International Airport (search) earlier this month. She sent the photo to a stateside friend who provided it to the newspaper, which then obtained permission from Silicio to publish it.