WASHINGTON – The Pentagon (search), under pressure from open-government advocates, released hundreds of images Thursday of flag-draped coffins of American soldiers.
The Pentagon had previously refused to release such images, which were taken by military photographers. Nor has it allowed the news media to photograph ceremonies of soldiers' coffins arriving in the United States, saying it is enforcing a policy installed in 1991 to respect the privacy of families of dead soldiers.
The pictures were released in response to a request for all military photos of caskets containing the remains of American soldiers taken since the U.S. launched its attack on Iraq (search) and Afghanistan (search).
The Pentagon provided most of the images without context, so it was unclear where and when they were taken and whom they portrayed.
Most of the photographs showed soldiers carrying or saluting flag-draped coffins. Some of the labeled pictures were of remains of the Columbia space shuttle (search) astronauts, military accidents around the world and deceased veterans of previous wars, while signs in the background of a few pictures identified their location as Afghanistan.
The military obscured the faces and identifying badges of many of the soldiers pictured in the ceremonies. A Pentagon spokesman said the pictures were edited out of privacy concerns.
The photographs were released in response to a Freedom of Information request and lawsuit by Ralph Begleiter, a professor at the University of Delaware and a former cable news correspondent, who argued the photographs were a public record.
Jim Turner, a Pentagon spokesman, said the photos released were taken for historical or training purposes. He said military photographers now are taking pictures at such ceremonies less frequently.
Last April, the Air Force released scores of photos taken at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware in response to another FOIA request. The pictures included shots of some of the coffins of the astronauts who died in 2003 on the space shuttle Columbia. The Pentagon later called that release a mistake.