Woman loses her job over coffins photo:

A military contractor has fired Tami Silicio, a Kuwait-based cargo worker whose photograph of flag-draped coffins of fallen U.S. soldiers was published in Sunday's edition of The Seattle Times. Silicio was let go yesterday for violating U.S. government and company regulations.

The Memory Hole:

Since March 2003, a newly-enforced military regulation has forbidden taking or distributing images of caskets or body tubes containing the remains of soldiers who died overseas. Immediately after hearing about this, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request [...] Not surpisingly, my request was completely rejected. Not taking 'no' for an answer, I appealed on several grounds, and--to my amazement--the ruling was reversed. The Air Force then sent me a CD containing 361 photographs of flag-draped coffins and the services welcoming the deceased soldiers.
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53 Responses:

  1. novadrome says:

    Honesty beat out protocol? Pinch me.

    Beautiful choice in music, by the by. MMM, Coil.

  2. ofsilence says:

    Wow! Pretty powerful pictures somehow. I guess it'd be too much to ask you to post them all.

  3. wsxyz says:

    Well she certainly deserved to be fired, assuming she knowingly violated workplace rules and/or regulations.

    I wonder if she did it as a matter of principle and expected to get fired, or if she is just an idiot.

    In any case, I don't see what the big deal is about coffin photos. When we read a newspaper, we know there are dead american soldiers that are coming back in coffins, whether we see a picture or not.

    Maybe it's just supposed to create a symmetrical situation with respect to the Iraqi casualties - after all, we know that 100-500 children died per day while sanctions were in force while at the same time, Saddam Hussein used the humanitarian aid that should have saved their lives to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into foreign bank accounts and to bribe France, Russia, and the UN itself into protecting him - but we don't have any photos of the hundreds of thousands of dead children Saddam and his protectors are responsible for.

    • benzado says:

      "Hi jwz! I'm a long time listener, first time caller. I just want to say --- oh crap, where did I put that sheet with all my talking points?"

    • phenyx says:

      People respond to visuals much more than numbers. Ten, fifty, a hundred - fifty thousand - they're just numbers.

      If there's no big deal about coffin photos - why, then, has the administration gone out of its way to suppress them?

      Bush&Co tried to make "Saddam statue being pulled down" and "Iraqis celebrating Freedom[tm](r) in the streets" the signature images of this (mis)adventure. "Dead soldiers coming home" and "Uprisings in the strets" aren't nearly so triumphant and heartwarming, are they?

      And sanctions => dead babies is really a non-sequitor with no relevance to the issue at hand.

      • wsxyz says:

        If there's no big deal about coffin photos - why, then, has the administration gone out of its way to suppress them?

        I should clarify to say it's not a big deal to me, and I don't understand why it's a big deal to other people. Seeing a picture of 99 flag draped coffins does not affect my opinions or judgement any more than a headline "99 Marines Die In Attack".

        Information control is nothing new with the current administration, as you should well know. If there is one thing that the war in Vietnam impressed upon all politicians, it is the need to control and/or manipulate the information that journalists have.

        And sanctions => dead babies is really a non-sequitor with no relevance to the issue at hand.

        Not at all. The very same people who moan and gripe about the war in Iraq are the ones who claimed that the sanctions were killing 150+ children per day before the war. The claims are easy to find on the internet.

        150 dead children per day equals 54,750 dead children per year, because the Iraqi Baath dictatorship was busy using the humanitarian supplies provided by the world community to 1) line their own pockets, 2) bribe France and Russia and 3) to pay kickbacks to the top UN bureaucracy. The 700 US soldiers that have died in the past year have, in part, done so to save those 54,750 children.

        If we absolutely have to see flag draped coffins on the front page, why can't we see the dessicated corpses of 54,750 dead Iraqi babies as well?

  4. belgand says:

    OMG yousa say people gonna die?!?

    It's like the military wants to cover up the fact that, well... people are dying. I guess they would like to totally cover that up if at all possible.

    Incidentally is it just me or has the coverage of this war been rather detached and bloodless? Compared to footage I've seen of Vietnam this is much more the descendent of the Gulf War's sanitized press-release footage. Are news agencies too lazy to do their own reporting only accepting what the government gives them, do they not care? Basically, where are all the gory impact-designed photos of bombed out HMMWVs?

    • harryh says:

      About 60,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam.
      About 700 Americans have been killed in Iraq.

      Foreign fatalaties were prolly about 10:1 in both cases. I'm not entirely sure though so feel free to throw some other numbers out if you disagree.

      Perhaps the difference in coverage somewhat reflects the 85:1 difference in the number of fatalaties. Or even 8.5:1 when taking into account the different lengths of the wars.

      Incidentally, during the time period in which those 700 Americans died in Iraq about 45,000 Americans died in auto accidents. I just like throwing that number out there to put things in their proper perspective.

      • Incidentally, during the time period in which those 700 Americans died in Iraq about 45,000 Americans died in auto accidents.

        We voluntarily get into our cars, we don't misrepresent satellite photos of freeways or drive to work because an administration full of chickenhawks has lied to us.

        • harryh says:

          I wasn't defending the war in general (though I could I guess...if you promise to actually listen), I was just pointing out a framework in which to evaluate one of the costs of the war. The American casualties aren't nearly as big of a deal as (some) people are making them out to be.

          • The American casualties aren't nearly as big of a deal as (some) people are making them out to be.

            To put that into perspective, tell that to a dead soldier's father, but make sure you can run really, really fast.

            Death is not something to be casually dismissed. I'm not saying you do that, but this is how your posts here have come across to me.

            And as for defending our invasion of Iraq, I'd be quite happy to listen, though I certainly don't know that <lj user="jwz">'s journal is the best place for that.

          • jwz says:

            However, the government going out of its way to hide evidence of American casualties is a big deal. While unsurprising, it is still manipulative and dishonest, and thus worthy of note.

            • harryh says:

              It's not hiding evidence though. It's not like there have really been 2000 deaths and the gov't says there have only been 700. The gov't just doesn't want pictures of the coffins on the front page of every newspaper.

              Now clearly this is being done for political reasons, but the same could be said of the people demanding that pictures be released. Those demanding that the pictures be relased are doing so because they beleive that images like the one above will go a long way towards manipulating people against the war/occupation.

              Its political football and people on both sides of the line are guilty. Though I guess that the gov't has a lot more power (in some ways) than those on the other side, and it is always worth speaking out in power (it's just the principal of the thing).

              Ultimitely, I just think pictures of caskets will lead to overly emotional responses to the war and bring down the intellectual level of discussion even further.

              • jwz says:

                The gov't just doesn't want pictures of the coffins on the front page of every newspaper.

                And who the fuck are they to decide what the media should print??

                • harryh says:

                  Ultimitely, the gov't has no control over what the media prints (the Seattle Times being de facto evidence of this). What it does have control over is access certain material. The gov't is well within its rights to not allow media photographers into an area where they would be able to take pictures like the above, and similarly well within its rights to fire someone guilty of releasing information against contract.

                  • jwz says:

                    And just because it's legal makes it right and moral.

                  • harryh says:

                    *shrug* that's obviously a much more difficult question, but as I already stated "I think it's right because pictures of caskets will lead to overly emotional responses to the war and bring down the intellectual level of discussion even further."

                    I'll freely admit that there is plenty of room for disagreement here, but hey, welcome to the RealWorld(tm) where there are lots of questions without easy answers.

                  • lanikei says:

                    i just wanted to lend a bit of support to your points. not much to add, just agreeing with your perspective and opinion.

                  • jwz says:

                    Look, the point is, this is not the govt's decision to make! The First Amendment is not just for entertainment purposes: letting the media make their own decisions about what to show and what to write is a fundamental piece of the checks and balances that are supposed to make our society function. For the govt to deny them access to these areas -- which the press obviously deem newsworthy, regardless of the govt opinion on the matter -- is an abuse of power.

                    There are no doubt occasional legitimate security, safety or privacy reasons for the govt to place limited restrictions on access, but that's not what's happening. This is not the govt saying "black out the nametags", "don't say the name of the base". This is the govt prohibiting photos of returning coffins across the board. You can't possibly argue that there is a non-political reason for this. The only reason for the embargo is that the govt doesn't want to look bad.

                    That's not a good reason. That's an abuse of power.

                    Maybe it will "bring down the level of discussion." So fucking what. Single-handedly regulating the "level of discussion" is not the government's job.

                  • mcfnord says:

                    Recently some guy was canned from Microsoft for photographing a palette of Macs coming onto campus. And now someone else was canned for photographing caskets on an airplane where they were working. You do know the government motives, and we agree there. But their right to do this, and enforce behavior standards among government employees is not hard for me to accept. It's a horrifying image to me, the rows of red and white flying back dignififed but dead. No government has stopped Michael Moore from showing Bush's face shot drawn from the faces of dead Americans. But the First Amendment does not apply to one's own employees.

                  • jwz says:

                    I wasn't talking about the woman who got fired -- I think it's fucked up and wrong that she did, but she chose to accept that job.

                    The issue of the govt not allowing the press onto the bases where the bodies are delivered is a much, much bigger deal. The First Amendment definitely applies in that case.

                  • mcfnord says:

                    All governments have long maintained an embargo privelege on photography on military bases.

                  • Mil bases are one thing, but an banning coverage at Arlington National Cemetery, which the current administration has done is as blatent as it gets.

                  • travisd says:

                    Arlington is first and foremost, a cemetary. Besides Iraq casualties there are other internments happing there constantly as well. My grandfather (A WWII Vet) and grandmother are buried there and I really don't think that I would have appeciated a media circus happening next door while the bugler was playing taps for our little ceremony.

                    I think the Shrub is as corrupt as it gets, but when it affects the families who are dealing with one of the most stressfull situations you can ever have, I think it's appropriate to mandate some level of decorum.

                    The pics here though - I think that's different. These are not individually identifiable and the families are not present while they were taken. If the media wants photos they should be REQUIRED to happen on base, before the casket gets to the family. (IMHO of course)

                  • jkonrath says:

                    Arlington is a military reservation. If the military wants to ban coverage there, it's within their jurisdiction.

                  • jwz says:

                    I find all of you people making the argument

                      "This particular anti-democratic abuse of governmental power is perfectly legal due to such-and-such technicality"

                    to be particularly unimpressive. Please stop.

                  • wsxyz says:

                    I haven't seen anyone making that argument. People are just saying that freedom of the press does not equate to freedom of access, which should be obvious.

                    Many news outlets might find it newsworthy to record the personal life of the president 24 hours a day, that doesn't mean they have a constitutional right to do so.

                  • mcfnord says:

                    Indeed so. It's a blatant administration.

                  • djinnaya says:

                    Well, first of all, let me recognize that intent has nothing to do with the legality of anything and acknowledge that such thing would be pointless to argue with. But, that aside, there is a difference between the intent behind:

                    A) You may not photograph our sooper-secret Dr. Evil Ray gun.


                    B) You may not photograph the coffins of the dead.

                    I have a hard time believing that they are worried about Iraq discovering that people are dying.

                    Does this mean that they don't have the legal right? No. But, it does provide yet another puzzle piece to look at. The point is to apply it to the whole picture, I would think, NOT to say whether there is a legal precedent.

                  • mcfnord says:

                    Your point about intent is completely valid. I did wonder this evening where an open door policy would end; should the government also allow photographs of the cold, dead faces or mutilated bodies? Michael Moore's portrait of Bush painted in the fresh faces of now-dead soldiers reminded me of the NYT's page-upon-page of dead firemen (though I am not linking these events in any real way). It is possible to show the cost of war without harming the dignity of those who pay it, and it is our duty to try. Recently photographs of Diana's dying moments were published and this I also find a bit deplorable.

                  • harryh says:

                    I'm on the verge of admitting that you're right and I was wrong. I'm gonna think about it for a bit though.

                    It's just troubling to me that unbridled publishing of images like these would likely cause an unwarranted and illogical emotional response from the public. Though, perhaps, I'm just not trusting the public enough.

                  • You do of course realize that unwarranted and illogical emotional response is what the pre-Iraq invasion speech writers were going for right? All I'm saying is this; Everyone is playing on people's emotions, it is an entire profession. I suggest learning how to do it yourself.

                    Don't "protect" the public, your children, your friends or yourself from the truth. They'll all resent you later when they find out about it.

                  • ioerror says:

                    Obviously, that's why it's a good, right, moral, and JUST reason for this war!

              • sunsetdriver says:

                i'm just curious, what scenarios showing flag drapped caskets would lead to an overly emotional response? newspapers showing caskets coming back from iraq, or bush campaign commercials showing flag draped coffins of 9/11 victims?

      • xnbu6d0v says:

        Comparing deaths in Iraq vs. auto accident fatalities is an exercise in dishonesty. There are roughly 130,000 American troops in Iraq and 290,000,000 Americans, yielding death rates of 0.5% and 0.015% respectively (35x). To put this in the proper perspective, 1.5 million car drivers would have had to die last year to have a similar effect. Also, Vietnam had upwards of a million troops deployed at a time over a decade.

        Gather data, think, post. Try it.

        • harryh says:

          I was not at all trying to claim that soldiers in Iraq faced a similar chance of death as American drivers. I was merely pointing out that 700 deaths is probably not something that we should care very much about.

          ~45,000 people die every year in auto accidents and (for the most part) no one really cares. We may hem and haw a little, but it's just considered part of the cost of doing business. 700 just isn't a high enough number that it should really matter so much to people (in my opinion anyways).

      • the_bungalow says:

        Your statistics are extremely misconstruing. 700 Americans have died in the first year in Iraq, whereas 45,000 soldiers died over a decade of fighting in Vietnam. If you compare the death rate during the first year of occupation in Vietnam, it is much lower than that of Iraq. People throwing out statistics like "700 vs 45,000" is bullshit, because this is just the beginning of the long road ahead, and there's no telling what is to come. As can be observed from Vietnam, the fighting only escalated in response to the American occupation, as is becoming the case in Iraq, where it's becoming a "hot zone" for all Middle East extremists to go and fight in.

        Or think about it this way: 10,000 innocent civilians have died during the fighting in Iraq, which is more than Saddam has killed in the last ten years.

        Also, I noticed a subdiscussion the mention of "hiding the evidence." Granted, the government has not banned reporting on the Iraq completely, but they're doing everything they can to conceal anything that might disturb or upset the public and thus hurt their chances of winning the next election. If you've noticed, acknowledging and paying respect to the return of fallen soldiers is not allowed, but showing pictures of soldiers being blown apart and dying is. Why? Well, partly because the media would go apeshit if this was restricted as well, and partly because it's easier to unload caskets in a remote location than it is to censor the media completely. But it's also because Americans equate such violence and images with movies, and are thus somewhat desensitized to it. But when the consequences are brought home for them to witness, it's not a surreality thousands of miles away anymore. When they see the actual caskets being unloaded from an airplane, those images become a reality.

        • harryh says:

          1. I dunno where you got that 45,000 number, but my 60,000 number came from rounding a quote from the Wikipedia entry on the Vietnam war: Of the Americans, 58,226 were killed in action or classified as missing in action.
          2. I fully acknowledged that the deaths in Iraq have happened over a 1 year period, but the deaths in Vietnam happened over 10 years. Did you read my post?
          3. With regards to your statement that "this is just the beginning of the long road ahead, and there's no telling what is to come" I think that's pretty clearly wrong. There is obviously some uncertainty as to what will happen in Iraq, but claiming that we cannot predict at all what outcomes are likely or unlikely is laughable. Even the most gloomy of predictions don't even come close to a Vietnam style meltdown. The two situations are fundamentally different in a huge number of ways.
          4. Finally, you mentioned that around 10,000 Iraqis have died due to the conflict (note that I admitted as such in the original post), but I take issue with your claim that Saddam caused fewer fatalities over the last 10 years. His regime was well known for being one of the worst violators of human rights in the world, and in addition there was a near constant low level conflict with the Kurds in the North. It is extremely likely that these caused more than 10,000 deaths over the course of the last decade.
          • the_bungalow says:

            1. I'm not sure where I got 45,000 from either. Obviously, I meant 60,000
            2. I read your comment, and you made no statement regarding the time periods of the statistics.
            3. Outcomes can be predicted, but there is little certainty as to which will prove to be correct. To claim otherwise is to ignore the current "unexpected" uprisings in Iraq. Are you really suggesting that one can predict the future of a place as volatile as the Middle East?
            4. Saddam's regime is known as a blatant violator of human rights primarily because of his actions 15 years ago. I'm not suggesting that he turned into Santa Clause and gave everyone candy canes, but it's been a long time since he committed any humanitarian violations on a massive, or even noteworthy, scale.

        • wsxyz says:

          Your statistics are extremely misconstruing. 700 Americans have died in the first year in Iraq, whereas 45,000 soldiers died over a decade of fighting in Vietnam. If you compare the death rate during the first year of occupation in Vietnam, it is much lower than that of Iraq.

          This is just bullshit. First off, there was never any "occupation" of Vietnam. More importantly, in the first year of US involvement in Vietnam there were very few Americans there - mostly military advisers and special forces sent by Kennedy. It wasn't until a few years later that Lyndon Johnson started ordering massive numbers of draftees to Vietnam.

  5. deafscribe says:

    Yes, an image of coffins does provoke a sharp emotional response. It should.

    As pointed out earlier, the current administration has no problem distributing images that provoke sharp POSTIVE emontional responses, but actively suppresses the distribution of images that implicitly cast the administration in a negative light.

    It's not the media who are manipulating the public. The government is manipulating the media's access, and thereby attempting to limit the public's access to the whole picture.

    There is no justification for this in a country that (allegedy) has a free press. It's free, or it isn't. Selective suppression has already begun in radio. It's not a stretch to imagine the government invoking anti-decency statues against publication of photos like these.

    An adminstration that attempts to evade and suppress the reality of a war it instigated does not deserve to remain in office.

  6. ultranurd says: says they fired her husband as well? I can understand that she may have violated company policy by taking this picture, which might have been an offense that merited firing... but her husband was just another employee! Unless he was an accomplice in taking this picture, he definitely shouldn't have been fired.

    • bassfingers says:

      Yeah, that bit bothered me as well.

    • vatine says:

      Depending on the exact details of the job (requiring a security clearance and so on), it may be taht just by being married to someone who has demonstrated herself to be "untrustworthy", he no longer is eligible for said security clearance. Now, that is admittedly widl speculation from my side, but if I was hiring people to ship *my* dead soldiers home, I'd like them vetted (taht I don't find "photograph coffins" as a bad thing per se is another matter, it's possibly bad taste but no worse than, say, keeping copies of "funny name tags").

      • zapevaj says:

        I can say with a fair amount of certainty that simply being married to someone whose record is questionable will not cost you your job, even if you have a fairly high-level security clearance. I suspect it would matter even less if you were just a laborer, even one with a low-level clearance.

  7. irma_vep says:

    How terrible to show the Americans that soldiers are dying for oil and corporate America ! Ghastly !

  8. ellyjonez says:

    weird. i was just in seattle this week and noticed this photo huge on the front page of the seattle sunday paper.

  9. jcheshire says:

    Here's an article saying several of the photos were actually of the Columbia crew remains.