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The phrase Transfer tubes is a euphemism was incorrectly believed to be the most recent propaganda term employed by the George Walker Bush Pentagon to describe the return of soldiers' remains from the War in Iraq. Although the term Transfer tubes became widely reported, it was never used officially, and stems from a misunderstanding between a reporter and a military official.
- "In order to continue to sell an increasingly unpopular Iraqi invasion to the American people, President George W. Bush's administration sweeps the messy parts of war -- the grieving families, the flag-draped coffins, the soldiers who have lost limbs -- into a far corner of the nation's attic."
- "But today's military doesn't even use the words 'body bags' -- a term in common usage during the Vietnam War, when 58,000 Americans died. ... During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the Pentagon began calling them 'human remains pouches' and it now refers to them as transfer tubes."
- "But last March, a directive came down reaffirming the banning of cameras, likely in anticipation of the sheer volume of casualties being repatriated. ... At Dover, Lt.-Col. [Jon] Anderson says the policy is strictly in place to respect the privacy of the families, although he is well aware that there are those who think it was a political decision. ... 'The administration has clearly made an attempt to limit the attention that would build up if they were showing Dover every day,' says Joseph Dawson, a military historian at Texas A & M University. ... The White House policy works -- to a point. ... If there are no pictures of caskets being delivered to U.S. airbases, citizens don't think of them, analysts say. ... Dawson says television pictures of the wounded at Walter Reed would be a jolt to Americans as they head out to dinner or are thinking of the week's NFL matchups."
Journalist Tim Harper admits that the above article was based on a misunderstanding of the term Transfer Cases, referring to the metal containers which hold the body bags during transport.
Background on Photograph Ban
The Seattle Times Ray Rivera writes April 22, 2004, that "Images of war dead a sensitive subject":
- "The Pentagon has banned the media from taking pictures of military caskets returning from war since 1991, citing concern for the privacy of grieving families and friends of the dead soldiers. The Bush administration issued a stern reminder of that policy in March 2003, shortly before the war in Iraq began."
- "Military censors instituted a virtual blackout of such photos in World War I. That ban continued until nearly the end of World War II. ... Images of war dead proliferated in Vietnam, and throughout the 1980s, the government regularly allowed the media to take pictures of coffins returning from Lebanon, Grenada and Panama to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the primary arrival point for returning American soldiers killed overseas.
- "But in 1991, as the United States embarked on its first major war since Vietnam, the policy shifted. In January of that year, the administration of the first President Bush began prohibiting media outlets from taking pictures of coffins being unloaded at Dover. It instituted a total ban in November of that year."
- "In 1996, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., upheld the ban after media outlets and some other organizations sued to have it lifted. Citing the need to reduce the hardship and protect the privacy of grieving families, the court held that the ban did not violate First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press."
- Nick Childs, "No cameras for US war dead's return," BBC/UK, November 4, 2003.
Seattle Times' Coffins' Photo, April 18, 2004
- Hal Bernton, "Woman loses her job over coffins photo," Seattle Times, April 22, 2004: "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, said William Silva, president of Maytag Aircraft, the contractor that employed Silicio at Kuwait International Airport."
- Gene Johnson, "Cargo worker fired over photo of soldiers' flag-draped coffins," Chicago Sun-Times, April 23, 2004: "Maytag Aircraft Corp. fired Tami Silicio, 50, and her husband, David Landry, because they 'violated Department of Defense and company policies by working together' to take and publish the photograph, company president William Silva said in a news release Thursday. ... The firing was first reported Thursday in the Seattle Times, which published the April 7 photo on Sunday. ... The picture shows several workers inside a cargo plane parked at Kuwait International Airport securing 20 flag-draped coffins for the trip to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Silicio, who took the picture, told the newspaper she hoped it would portray the care and devotion with which civilian and military crews treat the remains of fallen soldiers."
The Memory Hole Posts Photos via FOIA
- Link for Memory Hole photos plus mirror site for photos.
- Hal Bernton and Ray Rivera, "Air Force adds to controversy with its own coffin photos," Seattle Times, April 23, 2004: "The week before Kuwait cargo worker Tami Silicio lost her job for releasing a photograph of soldiers' coffins, the Air Force made its own release of several hundred photographs of flag-draped coffins to the operator of an Internet site. ... The Air Force photos were shot by personnel at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and released -- reluctantly -- in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by a 34-year-old First Amendment activist. ... Release of the more than 360 photographs further erodes a 13-year-old ban on the media taking photos of the transport of coffins from overseas battle zones to Dover, site of the military's largest mortuary."
- Blaine Harden and Dana Milbank, "Photos of Soldiers' Coffins Revive Controversy," Washington Post, April 23, 2004.
- Bill Carter, "Pentagon Ban on Pictures of Dead Troops Is Broken," New York Times, April 23, 2004: "The Pentagon's ban on making images of dead soldiers' homecomings at military bases public was briefly relaxed yesterday, as hundreds of photographs of flag-draped coffins at Dover Air Force Base were released on the Internet by a Web site dedicated to combating government secrecy. ... The Web site, the Memory Hole (www.thememoryhole.org), had filed a Freedom of Information Act request last year, seeking any pictures of coffins arriving from Iraq at the Dover base in Delaware, the destination for most of the bodies. The Pentagon yesterday labeled the Air Force Air Mobility Command's decision to grant the request a mistake, but news organizations quickly used a selection of the 361 images taken by Defense Department photographers." NOTE: NYT runs 3 pics of an estimated 361 photos of the coffins.
- Caroline Overington, "Photos released in error," The Age (Australia), April 24, 2004: "The US Air Force released 361 photographs of the flag-draped coffins of American soldiers to an internet website yesterday, angering the Pentagon. ... The photographs - which Department of Defence photographers took at an air force base that doubles as a soldiers' mortuary in Dover, Delaware - were apparently released in error to a website called The Memory Hole. ... Media organisations across the US, which are banned from taking similar photographs - quickly picked up the photographs. ... Several US newspapers were planning to use the images - mostly of coffins containing the remains of soldiers killed in Iraq - on their front pages." [Note 4/24/04 The Memory Hole link is not working properly.]
- Randal Chase, "Bush: Privacy of families outweighs photos," AP, April 23, 2004: "'Quite frankly, we don't want the remains of our service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice to be the subject of any kind of attention that is unwarranted or undignified,' said John Molino, a deputy undersecretary of defense."
- "US concern over war dead photos," BBC/UK, April 23, 2004: "Pentagon lawyers are examining the release of photographs of the coffins of dead American soldiers repatriated from Iraq."
- Anne E. Kornblut and Bryan Bender, "Pentagon to review photo ban. More debate over images of US coffins," Boston Globe, April 24, 2004.
- Bill Gallagher, "Bush Afraid to Let American People See Deadly Reality of Needless War," Niagara Falls Reporter, April 27, 2004: "As of Sunday, April 25, a total of 718 American sons and daughters have come home from Iraq in flag-draped coffins, 117 in April alone. While President George W. Bush does not seem to be concerned about this -- he hasn't attended a single military funeral since launching the war -- he does seem to be concerned about the American people seeing images of the carnage his disastrous policies have wrought." Warning: Article contains language which some might find offensive.
Related SourceWatch Resources
- Iraq Coalition Casualty Statistics
- Jessica Lynch
- Operation Iraqi Freedom: Year Two
- Post-war Iraq
- war propaganda
- Tim Harper, "Pentagon keeps dead out of sight. Bush team doesn't want people to see human cost of war. Even body bags are now sanitized as `transfer tubes'," Toronto Star, November 2, 20003.
- Elisabeth Bumiller, "Issue for Bush: How to Speak of Casualties?," New York Times, November 5, 2003.
- Photograph published by BartCop and posted by the Democratic Underground, March 12, 2004.
- Anthony Hecht, "Coffins," Slapnose, April 24, 2004: "I think it's also interesting to point out, as Ted Koppel did tonight, that the one time recently that a similar image -- one of a flag draped stretcher being carried out of Ground Zero -- has been used in what most people agree is a disrespectful way was in a campaign ad for George W. Bush. ... The message? Using images of fallen heroes to inform the public and to illustrate their sacrifice and our respect for their service is disrespectful to their families. Using those images to further one's political career, that's okay."
- David D. Perlmutter, "U.S. can't block coffin photos. Defense officials are wrong even to try to keep the public from seeing such images," Newsday, April 27, 2004.
- Sean Aday, "The G-Rated War. The media have covered up the casualties - and we've got the data to prove it," The Gadflyer, April 29, 2004.
- Ward Sanderson, "Ramstein now adhering to DOD guidelines banning photos of coffins," Stars and Stripes, May 13, 2004.
- Helen Thomas, "Pictures of caskets show public the awful costs of war," Hearst Newspapers (Houston Chronicle), August 12, 2005; also Boston Globe.
- Benjamin Zimmer, "How Does the Pentagon Say `Body Bag'? Hint: It's not `transfer tube'." Slate Magazine, April 4, 2006