Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Trump & Pence at arrival of caskets for Green Berets killed in Afghanistan

Two American soldiers from the Army's 7th Special Forces Group (popularly known as "Green Berets") were killed on Saturday in Afghanistan. The bodies of SFC Javier Jaguar Gutierrez and SFC Antonio Rey Rodriguez returned to the states last night. When the plane carrying their caskets arrived last night, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were waiting for them at Dover Air Force Base.

You can see a short video of the caskets being removed from the plane here. Trump and Pence, along with the honor guard and other military attendees, are dignified and somber as the caskets are transferred into a waiting vehicle.

Now nearly two decades into American wars in the Middle East, it's worth remembering that the last Republican president -- George W. Bush -- supported a Pentagon policy preventing these kind of events from being photographed or recorded. The Bush administration cited the privacy of families of the deceased as the primary reason, though there was always question about how politics played a part. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on, some wondered whether Bush didn't want Americans to be reminded of the human cost of war with photographs of each returning plane.

Joe Biden accused the administration of sneaking in deceased American heroes "under cover of night." Whether the Bush administration meant for it to be political or not, it became political. The Obama administration overturned the ban relatively quickly, in April 2009. The new policy allowed families to decide if they would allow caskets to be photographed.

Perhaps the Bush administration chose to prevent the press from photographing the caskets out of respect of the families, or perhaps it was done for political purposes. Perhaps the Obama administration sought to be more transparent, or felt like it found a way to differentiate itself from the Bush administration's handling of the wars.

Perhaps Donald Trump and his administration attend these events out of deep respect for the soldiers who were killed. But perhaps it was done with a camera nearby as an opportunity for the president to use the military as a prop. Photographing caskets as they exit the plane for a political purpose can cut both ways.

Either way, this probably wasn't what either the Obama or Bush administration had in mind with their decisions on military caskets more than a decade ago.

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