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Worker fired for taking photo of soldiers' coffins

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Worker fired for taking photo of soldiers’ coffins

  • A military contractor fired a woman for violating government regulations after a photograph she took of flag-draped coffins containing U.S. soldiers appeared in The Seattle Times.

April 22, 2004 — A Kuwait-based cargo worker was fired Wednesday after a photograph she took in a cargo plane of more than 20 flag-draped coffins of slain United States soldiers was published on the front page of The Seattle Times on Sunday.

Tami Silicio lost her job at Maytag Aircraft, a Colorado-based military contractor that is providing air-terminal and ground-handling services in Kuwait, for violating U.S. government and company regulations, Maytag president William Silva told the Times in an article today.

The newspaper published the photo with a feature about Silicio’s job in Kuwait and a story on the war in Iraq. According to the Times , Silicio hoped the publication of the photo “would help the families of fallen soldiers understand the care and devotion that civilians and military crews dedicate to the task of returning the soldiers home.”

Silva said the decision to fire Silicio and her husband, David Landry, was the company’s, the Times reported. But Silva told the newspaper the U.S. military had “very specific concerns” about the Maytag employees’ actions..

Since 1991, the government has banned members of the media from photographing soldiers’ coffins returning to U.S. military bases, saying it protects the privacy of the slain soldiers’ families. Families of soldiers are also forbidden access to military bases — such as Dover Air Force base in Delaware — when caskets arrive. Exceptions were made to the media ban during the Clinton administration, and the first two years of George W. Bush’s presidency. But the current administration reiterated the ban last March, just as the Iraq war began.

The news media has repeatedly criticized the policy, saying the White House is attempting to downplay the human cost of the war. Silicio’s photograph has helped bring that issue to the forefront of national attention, during the deadliest month of the war for U.S. soldiers. At least 106 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq this month, bringing the total number killed to 709.

“We would like to provide our readers access to all aspects of the war in Iraq, including the photos of those who have given their lives for their country,” Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. told Newsday.

In March, Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) submitted a resolution to Congress calling for “the removal of all restrictions from the public, the press and military families in mourning that would prohibit their presence at the arrival at military installations in the United States or overseas of the remains of the nation’s fallen heroes . . . with the assurance that family requests for privacy will be respected.”

The resolution has been referred to the Total Force Subcommittee, but no hearings have been scheduled.

Russ Kick, publisher of The Memory Hole.com, a Web site dedicated to preserving material in danger of being lost, filed a Freedom of Information Act request last year with Dover Air Force Base. After his request was initially denied, Kick won an administrative appeal and received 361 photographs on April 14 of flag-draped coffins and honor guard ceremonies. Those photos are now published on Kick’s Web site.

MG


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