The Pentagon has released more images of the honor guard ceremonies for American war casualties, and agreed to process “as expeditiously as possible” ongoing Freedom of Information Act requests for such images, as part of a settlement of the FOIA lawsuit brought by University of Delaware professor Ralph Begleiter with legal representation from the National Security Archive and the firm of Jenner and Block.
On July 18, the parties filed a joint status report. On July 20, Begleiter received from the Department of Defense a CD containing more than two dozen images that had been censored in the April 2005 release of 721 images, as well as five photographs that were not previously released. On July 22, he received the Pentagon’s written assurance that it would continue to process further FOIA requests for images and video of honor guard ceremonies taken in the period since the lawsuit was filed. On July 28, the parties filed with U.S. District Judge Emmett Sullivan their joint agreement to dismiss the case, and this week received the court’s assent to the dismissal.
Ralph Begleiter, the long-time CNN correspondent who is Rosenberg Professor of Communications and Distinguished Journalist in Residence at the University of Delaware, stated, “The Pentagon’s decision to release these images is a significant victory for the honor of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in war for their country, as well as for their families, for all service personnel and for the American people. I applaud the government’s decision to abide by the law – the Freedom of Information Act – without forcing a court order in the case; it’s always better to avoid contentious litigation by making the right decision.”
Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, said, “We joined this lawsuit with Ralph because the Pentagon claimed any release of the honor guard images was a mistake and contrary to policy. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, we won this lawsuit, not just for the principle of open government, but also for the public honor and respect that is due to our fallen soldiers. Hiding these ceremonies is just wrong.”
Daniel Mach, counsel at the law firm of Jenner and Block who represented Begleiter pro bono in this case, commented, “Public access to images of war, and its costs, is crucially important in a free, democratic society. The Pentagon’s release of hundreds of previously undisclosed photographs not only helps promote that access, but also honors the ultimate sacrifice of the nation’s fallen soldiers.”
The newly released images are posted on the National Security Archive website, at www.nsarchive.org, together with the legal documents in the case, the 721 previously released images, a chronology of events, and a history of the Pentagon’s ban on photography of the honor guard ceremonies, which dates back to an order by then-Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney just prior to the first Gulf War in 1991.