World News

Gates orders review of photo policy on U.S. war dead

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday ordered the Pentagon to review its ban against news media photos of the flag-draped coffins of U.S. military dead returning from combat zones overseas.

Photographing the remains of American service members has long been controversial and Pentagon officials say the ban has been imposed with some exceptions since the 1990s to protect the privacy of family survivors.

“I think that looking at it again makes all kinds of sense,” Gates told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. “I’m pretty open to whatever the results of this review may be.”

“If the needs of the families can be met, and the privacy concerns can be addressed, the more honour we can accord these fallen heroes, the better,” he added.

The bodies of the dead are returned to the United States through Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where they are given a short memorial service.

The Bush administration allowed no media photos of the flag-draped coffins during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama said at his news conference on Monday that he would consider the policy after examining all the implications involved.

Gates said the Pentagon’s concern is that media coverage would compel some families to attend memorial ceremonies at Dover. That could delay the return of the dead service members home and create a financial hardship for some families.

The Pentagon says that 4,241 U.S. service members have died as a result of the war in Iraq while another 576 have been killed in Afghanistan.

Reporting by David Morgan, editing by Vicki Allen