Take Photo, Get Fired

The Pentagon doesn’t want America to see coffins coming home from Iraq. Which is why Tami Silicio is out of a job.

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Next week, one of the nation’s major news weeklies will run a photo taken by a woman named Tami Silicio. In the photo, rows of flag-draped coffins fill the inside of a military cargo plane at an airfield in Kuwait. It is exactly the kind of photo the Bush Administration wanted to keep out of the media when the Pentagon issued an order on the eve of the Iraq war prohibiting any media coverage of “deceased military personnel” at U.S. bases. And it cost Tami and her husband their jobs.

The photo was first published earlier this week on the front page of The Seattle Times. It accompanied an article by Times staff reporter Hal Bernton, in which Silicio was quoted extensively. A civilian contract employee from the Seattle area working for the U.S. military at Kuwait International Airport, Silicio tells Bernton: “The way everyone salutes with such emotion and intensity and respect. The families would be proud to see their sons and daughters saluted like that.”

Silicio didn’t take the photo to get famous, or to get rich. Instead, she sent it via email to a friend, Amy Katz, with whom she’d been corresponding since arriving in Kuwait to work for of Maytag Aircraft. Katz first met Silicio in Kosovo, where both worked for the sprawling military contractor Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton. At the time, Katz says, Silicio was driving trucks for the firm, delivering supplies to U.S. bases. Katz was the corporate photographer. Katz, who was Tami’s roommate in Kosovo and knew that Silicio is from Seattle, convinced Silicio to submit the photo to the Times.

“She very innocently sent me this picture,” Katz says. “When I saw it, I thought it was just amazing. I told her ‘this has to get out.’ So then I picked up the phone and called her hometown paper.”

Katz says Silicio had one condition for allowing the Times to run the photo: If they ran a story with it, it would have to focus on the respectful and sensitive way in which the deceased are being handled in Kuwait.

“She thought the families would want to see that she and others were doing everything they could. She thinks of herself as the representative mother there,” Katz says.

Silicio’s reward for that concern was a pink slip.

“They pulled her off the job. They told her to stay home today, and to await further notice,” Katz says. “It all happened really quickly. Within 24 hours of the photo being in the paper, they had her in the office, and they made her feel really awful about it.” After three days in employment limbo, Silicio and her husband, David Landry, himself former U.S. soldier, were fired.

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We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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