Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac river from
Washington, D.C., is at the center of a controversy over media coverage of
military funerals for those killed in the Iraq war. The complaints over restricted press access have led some to
accuse the U.S. government of trying to limit images of the human costs of a
war that most Americans now think was a mistake. But others at the center of
the controversy say the problem stems from the lack of a clear policy outlining
the parameters of media coverage - a policy the Pentagon says it is
examining. More from VOA's Bill
National Cemetery, where America pays tribute to its fallen troops. From the tomb of
the Unknown Soldier, to the final resting place of prominent Americans such as
President John F. Kennedy, Arlington Cemetery is hallowed ground that is now
embroiled in a controversy over media access.
Press coverage of military funerals is only
permitted when the grieving families give their consent. But there are complaints that access is
being restricted, with reporters kept too far away to hear or record the
funerals of those soldiers killed in Iraq.
Ami Nieberger-Miller, whose brother Christopher Nieberger was
killed in Iraq a year ago, says her family agreed to media coverage of the
burial. But she says she was dismayed
by the restrictions.
would not have taken a lot for a microphone to have been run from where the
media were, so that they could hear the eulogy," she said. "It wouldn't have taken much -- not that we wanted them shouting
questions or running up after us or anything like that. But I did want my
brother's life to be honored."
taking away the sound and really blocking the line of sight, I think you take
away some of that memory," said Gina Gray, who was the cemetery's public affairs director until June.
A veteran of the Iraq war who worked for
years in Army public affairs, Gray was fired after only three months on the job
because she says she pressed for better press access to military funerals.
been my experience that most families want the story of their loved one
told," she said. "They want to feel like that
sacrifice is not for nothing. And they
are beautiful stories, and the way that we bury people at Arlington, whether
you are for or against the war, whether you believe in the military or not, the
way the military treats the dead as they send them off, is a beautiful,
It is in
section 60 where some of those killed in Iraq are buried. And with more than 4,000 Americans
dead so far, some say the government's aim at Arlington is to limit the
public's exposure to the casualties of war.
long-standing Pentagon prohibition against media pictures of returning war dead
is cited as another example of this.
Images in this report were taken by the U.S. military and permission obtained under the Freedom
of Information Act.
Dalglish, heads the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a group that
works on behalf of journalists' legal rights.
impinges on press freedom in the sense that it makes it more difficult to cover
what's going on with the war on terror," Dalglish said. "Certainly, military burials are part of that story. It doesn't tell the
whole story but it tells a very important part of the story.
Pentagon has said little publicly about the matter. An official says Army Secretary Pete Geren is reviewing the
policy of media access. Spokesman Geoff Morrell was asked about the review
a balancing act," Morrell said. "...and it is based upon the wishes of the families. And we are trying to work out a system which
allows for the grieving families to have the privacy and the room that they
need, and the press to have the access they wish for."
But for Ami
Nieberger-Miller, a public affairs specialist for a group that supports
military families that have lost loved ones, a lot is at stake.
country has sent a group of amazing people overseas and some of them are making
the ultimate sacrifice," she said. "And they are not just a number in a newspaper with a
name. There is a lot more there, and I
think the American public could learn a lot more about them."
many say the public is not, despite the wishes of some of the grieving