On Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said media would be allowed to take photos of caskets at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware where the remains of war dead are returned to the U.S.
“These kinds of decisions should be up to the families,” Gates said at a news briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday.
When asked what led to the change, Gates said he called for a review of the ban a year ago but was told at the time that family members may be uncomfortable with the idea or feel obligated to attend despite high financial costs.
On Thursday Gates said that conversations with families about the policy did not confirm that.
“I would say that the reaction from the organization associated with the families strongly reinforced the decision of where I was headed,” Gates said.
Critics of the policy say its main purpose was to shield the public from the reality of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bloomberg reported.
“All too often, the sacrifices of our military are hidden from view,” said Paul Rieckhoff, the executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “The sight of flag-draped coffins is, and should be, a sobering reminder to all Americans of the ultimate sacrifice our troops have made and the high price of our freedom.”
But not everyone was happy with the change.
“This is a complete disregard for the will of America’s military families and the need for their privacy during this solemn moment,” said Meghan Tisinger, spokeswoman for Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission, an organization of military families.
Former President George H.W. Bush installed the ban in 1991, which was upheld by subsequent Democratic and Republican administrations.
After President Barack Obama took office, Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey asked him to revisit the ban.
According to the White House, President Obama supports Gates’ decision.
Some exceptions have been made to the policy and in 2005 the Pentagon released photos from Dover Air Force Base after a Freedom of Information request and lawsuit.
A Pentagon working group is expected to develop guidlines for the new policy.