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U.S. Policy On War Dead Under Review

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that he has ordered a rapid Pentagon review of a policy that bars the media from covering the return to the United States of military personnel killed overseas. He asked for the review after President Obama said Monday that the White House is looking into the policy.

"From a personal standpoint, I think, if the needs of the families can be met and the privacy concerns can be addressed, the more honor we can accord these fallen heroes, the better," Gates said.

"I'm pretty open to whatever the results of this review may be," he said.

Gates said that he had asked more than a year ago about changing the policy. But he said he was told that, if media were allowed to cover the fallen service members' return to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, many of the service members' families would feel compelled to attend, which would pose a financial hardship for them and slow the return of the remains.

Critics of the Pentagon policy view it as a means for blocking images that underscore the human cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as preventing coverage that honors those killed. Obama was asked about the issue in Monday's news conference and said, "We are in the process of reviewing those policies in conversations with the Department of Defense, so I don't want to give you an answer now before I've evaluated that review and understand all the implications involved."

-- Ann Scott Tyson

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