Woman fired for photo of flag-draped coffins

/ Source: NBC News

A photograph of caskets containing remains of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq has cost a Washington state woman her job at a military base. The Pentagon forbids that kind of photo — a policy again coming under scrutiny.

As casualties mount among U.S. troops in Iraq, a haunting image was published in Sunday’s edition of the Seattle Times — an image the Pentagon does not want the public to see.

The newspaper obtained it from Tami Silicio, a cargo worker in Kuwait, where the caskets were being shipped home.

“It was a very compelling image of coffins.… It was just such a touching photo that we felt compelled to run it,” said Seattle Times executive editor Michael Fancher.

Three days later, Silicio’s employer, Maytag Aircraft, fired her and her co-worker husband.

The front page of the Sunday, 18 April 2004, edition of the Seattle Times displays the lead picture of US flag-draped coffins containing the bodies of US soldiers killed in Iraq being secured inside a cargo plane 07 April 2004 at Kuwait International Airport. The image was used amid debate over the US administration's strict prohibition on the media taking photographs of soldiers' coffins being offloaded at US military bases. The photograph was by Tami Silicio, a Seattle-area resident working on contract at the US military section of Kuwait International Airport, who was also dismissed from her job 21 April 2004. == CREDIT MANDATORY: THE SEATTLE TIMES VIA AFP ==The Seattle Times / SEATTLE TIMES

That was not the end of it.  Thursday hundreds more photographs of flag-draped military coffins began showing up on a Web site — photos the Web site’s creator legally forced the Air Force to release under the Freedom of Information Act. At times Thursday the site was jammed with visitors.

In earlier administrations, presidents were shown paying their respects, but in 1991 the Pentagon imposed a ban on media coverage of coffins coming home and in March of last year clamped down again.

The Seattle Times printed the photo despite the ban, which the Pentagon says is to prevent undue harm and grief out of respect for the families.

According to Leona Silicio, Tami’s mother, “It was not a statement against the war, it was a way to show the respect and love those boys get.”

Her former employer issued a statement saying, “Maytag deeply regrets these actions and fully concurs with the Pentagon’s policy.”

“This is a war of images and a war of ideas, and I think the administration and the Pentagon are reluctant to give the other side what they want,” said Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Affairs.

The Seattle Times says public reaction to the photo has been mostly favorable.

“Because they saw this as honoring these soldiers, not in any way trying to intrude on the families’ grief,” says Fancher.

Thursday night the Pentagon insisted its policy is what the families want — and not an attempt to hide the human toll of war.