DOD Misidentifies Photos of Columbia Crew Remains Arriving at Dover AFB as Being Iraq War Dead

By Keith Cowing
April 23, 2004
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DOD Misidentifies Photos of Columbia Crew Remains Arriving at Dover AFB as Being Iraq War Dead

If you look at the originating website titled “Photos of Military Coffins (Casualties From Iraq) at Dover Air Force Base” for the controversial photos of war dead being returned from Iraq (loads very slow), you will see that most of the first page of photos are of Space Shuttle Columbia crew remains arriving at Dover Air Force Base on 5 February 2003.

You see, that is Deputy NASA Administrator Fred Gregory in the light brown slacks and dark jacket standing to the left of the honor guard. The images in the first 18 rows, and one image in the 19th row, are all images taken on that day.

According to a notice on thememoryhole.org (which is very hard to reach) a FOIA request was sent to the Department of Defense asking for “All photographs showing caskets (or other devices) containing the remains of US military personnel at Dover AFB. This would include, but not be limited to, caskets arriving, caskets departing, and any funerary rites/rituals being performed. The timeframe for these photos is from 01 February 2003 to the present.”

The Department of Defense complied with the request but did not differentiate between photos dealing with “the remains of US military personnel” and the remains of NASA (or Israeli) astronauts. As such, a resonable person might well assume that the photos were all of military activities. They clearly are not.

SpaceRef featured several of these photos on 5 February 2003: Deputy Administrator Meets Space Shuttle Columbia Astronauts’ Remains at Dover AFB

  • 25 April 2004: Correction/Amplification Regarding Dover Casket Photos, The Memory Hole

    “Among the 361 Dover casket photos are a minority of images showing coffins of the Columbia astronauts. I didn’t realize this at the time that I posted them, mainly because when the Air Force asked for clarification during the process, I specifically told them that I wasn’t requesting photos of the Columbia astronauts, only military personnel killed overseas.”

    “(Not that I have anything against astronauts. One of the tricks for writing successful Freedom of Information Act requests is to make your request as narrow as possible. I was afraid that including the astronauts in the request would give the Air Force another excuse not to release the photos. As in: “Well, since you want the astronaut photos, we’re going to have to clear that with more federal agencies…..”) I’ve since been told by a reporter that NASA released the astronaut casket photos at the time and has never objected to their use. Quite a marked difference from the battlefield dead, who are swept under the rug by the Pentagon.”

    Editor’s note: The Washington Post has printed a photo on page A10 of Deputy Administrator Fred Gregory on the tarmac at Dover AFB with the caption “About 350 photos of coffins at Dover Air Force Base were released under the Freedom of Information Act”. No one in the photo is identified – nor is the date of the photo or the event noted.

    Editor’s note: Reuters is also distributing a photo of the Columbia crew remains without identifying it as such -instead captioning it as “Coffins of U.S. military personnel are offloaded by Air Force honor guards at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware in this undated photo.” Update: Reuters has since withdrawn the incorrectly captioned photo and issued a correction

    Editor’s note: AP has a screen grab of the first page of photos – all of which are of Columbia crew remains. AP titles the image as “A page from the Memory Hole.org’s homepage shows photographs of American war dead arriving at Dover Air Force, the nation’s largest military mortuary, Thursday, April 22, 2004.” Update: AP has an article up which they posted at 4:50 pm EDT today and then revised at 8:30 pm which now mentions their own error.

    Editor’s note: As of 5:00 pm EDT yesterday CNN Headline news was flashing several pictures of NASA Deputy Administrator Fred Gregory standing on the tarmac receiving the bodies of the Columbia crew at Dover Air Force Base in February 2003 and claiming that the photos are of caskets containing war dead arriving home from Iraq in 2004. NASA and CNN are aware of this and I expect that the photos in question won’t be running again.Update: The Columbia photo was shown once again today on Wolf Blitzer’s show at noon EDT on CNN.

  • SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.