Bush had seen some of the published images, the White House said on Friday, adding that the policy of restricting publication was intended to protect the privacy of the families. 

"The president has seen the photos and his reaction is ... it's a reminder of the sacrifice that our men and women are providing in Iraq and around the world ... it's a testament to their service," White House spokesman Trent Duffy told reporters travelling with Bush to Florida. 

But Duffy added: "In all of this, we must pay attention to the privacy and to the sensitivity of the families of the fallen, and that's what the policy is based on and that has to be the utmost concern." 

The Pentagon has tightly restricted publication of photographs of coffins with the remains of US troops and has forbidden journalists from taking pictures at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the first stop for the bodies of troops being sent home. 

Dignity

Officials say the policy, in effect since 1991, was crafted with input from families to protect the privacy and dignity of the deceased.

"We have to remember the interests of the families and their privacy and their sensitivity during these tough times" 

Trent Duffy,
White House spokesman
 

But the Pentagon temporarily lost its tight control over the images when the Air Force said that, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, it released to a Web site (http://www.thememoryhole.org/) more than 300 photographs showing the remains of US service members returning home. 

The Seattle Times newspaper also printed a photograph showing soldiers tending to 20 coffins completely covered with American flags inside a military cargo plane at the Kuwait airport. A US contractor who took the picture and her husband were subsequently fired. 

Defending decision

Duffy defended the Pentagon's decision to keep more photos from being released, saying, "We have to remember the interests of the families and their privacy and their sensitivity during these tough times." 

Duffy said the somber images would not undermine support
for the war. 
"As high a price as this is, the price of failure would be that much higher," he said. "We must stay firm." 

Bush has come under fire from Democrats for not attending a
single funeral of the soldiers killed in Iraq. To blunt that
criticism, Bush has stepped up private meetings with military
families.