Professor Sues U.S. for Coffin Photos

A journalism professor sued the government Monday to force the Defense Department (search) to release pictures of flag-draped coffins of soldiers arriving in the United States from wars overseas.

Ralph Begleiter (search), a professor at the University of Delaware and a former world affairs correspondent for CNN, filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act (search) for the release of government photos and video of coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

The Pentagon has refused to release those photos, saying it has begun enforcing a policy installed in 1991 intended to respect the privacy of the families of the dead soldiers.

Critics counter the government is trying to hide the human cost of the war from the public.

"They're public records," Begleiter's attorney, Daniel Mach, said in a telephone interview. "This is about the public's right to know the implications of U.S. foreign policy and to assess the price of war."

Begleiter's lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, lists the Defense Department and the Air Force as defendants. A Pentagon spokeswoman declined comment on the lawsuit.

Last April, the Air Force released scores of photos taken at Dover in response to a FOIA request. The pictures include shots of the some of the coffins of the astronauts who died last year on the space shuttle Columbia. The Pentagon later called that release a mistake.

Begleiter filed a FOIA request and the Pentagon has acknowledged receiving it but has not responded further, Mach said. The lack of response enables Begleiter to sue, he said.