One measure of the Bush administration’s efforts to hide the human toll of the war in Iraq is a recent news photograph of commercial airline passengers peering down from their windows as a flag-draped coffin unexpectedly emerges from the cargo bay. Their faces register surprise and grave wariness at this encounter. The Pentagon has worked hard to make sure that such moments of truth are rare. During the Vietnam War, photographs of the coffins of military casualties were permitted when the dead arrived home. But a photo ban was imposed during the 1991 Gulf, and continued by Bush administration. The result is that the return of more than 4,000 dead Americans has been treated as a virtual state secret.

A worthy proposal that would lift the veil is drawing bipartisan support in the House. It would require the Pentagon to allow journalists access to commemoration services and, most pointedly, the arrival ceremonies for flag-draped coffins coming home.

The sponsor, Walter Jones, Republican of North Carolina, focuses instead on the moment of homecoming and honour that has been denied the nation’s notice. “I hope that anyone who sees a flag-draped coffin will remember this individual gave his or her life

for this country and revere that sacrifice,” he said.

Congress should approve his bill. — International Herald Tribune