>>> During the first Gulf War, under Bush Sr. in 1991, the Pentagon sent a memo to military bases forbidding them from releasing photos of coffins containing remains of the incoming war dead. (The memo also nixed letting outsiders, including family members and the press, take photos.) After the US and its allies invaded Iraq in spring 2003, the Pentagon reiterated this still-standing memo. That got me thinking. If they're forbidding the release of such photos, it must mean that such photos exist. Given that the military has long been chided for documenting everything in triplicate, it made sense that they'd visually document the arrival of the war dead.

So I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for those photos, specifically with Dover Air Force Base, home of the military's main mortuary and, thus, the destination of most overseas military fatalities. Dover passed the request to the Air Force's main FOIA office, which promptly issued a denial. I appealed, arguing against all three reasons/exemptions the Air Force had invoked. In my experience, FOIA appeals rarely work, so I forgot about it. Time passed. One day in my PO Box I found, among other things, a small parcel from the Air Force. They had released to me 288 photos of the war dead in their coffins, along with 64 photos of the deceased Columbia astronauts. I uploaded the contents of the CD to The Memory Hole that night, sent a handful of emails to media people, and went to bed.

I woke up to front-page coverage around the world, heavy rotation on the 24-hour news channels, and interview requests from, among others, Good Morning America, CBS Evening News, and Anderson Cooper 360 (I was able to do the first two). The Pentagon called the release "a mistake" and vowed it would never happen again. Which turned out not to be true. University of Delaware professor Ralph Begleiter successfully sued for the release of more photos in 2004/2005. In December 2009, the ban was officially lifted.

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