ARLINGTON, Va. — The Pentagon’s plan to resume media coverage of flag-draped cases returning the remains of servicemembers to Dover Air Force Base was developed after consultations with military, veterans and family groups. But the policy is receiving mixed reviews.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Basla said Wednesday that he volunteered to lead a hastily formed Pentagon working group after Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Barack Obama announced in February that they would reverse the media ban. Basla and roughly 20 other military personnel reached out to several groups for reaction on how to implement the coverage, from senior enlisted advisers of each service to Gold Star Mothers.

Basla said the policy is the best way forward — placing the decision to allow media coverage in the hands of the families.

But many of those stakeholders are revisiting the ethical, legal and practical concerns they have faced. And while some applaud the Pentagon for achieving a difficult compromise, for others, the Pentagon decision remains unsatisfactory, reopening a national debate over how news media and the government should document the costs of war, and who decides.

In 2004, news media tried to go around the ban by requesting the military’s own photographic records of Dover under the Freedom of Information Act and suing the Defense Department when their request was denied. The Pentagon avoided a judge’s ruling by releasing some photos, but then immediately stopped taking any photos of the "dignified transfer ceremonies" at the only air base where casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan land on American soil.

Under the Pentagon’s new policy, if a family says no to the media, military reporters also will not document the event.

"I really don’t think anybody should have a veto over our nation’s ability to pay respects to the returning casualties," said Ralph Begleiter, the University of Delaware professor and former CNN foreign correspondent who filed the lawsuit. "And I say that with enormous respect for the family members who have made a terrific sacrifice. [But] I think it’s important for the nation to be able to have the opportunity to recognize, salute, and honor their sacrifice. And I think that can be done by being sure that their return is not swept under the rug, not kept secret, not kept out of view from the rest of the nation."

Media scholars also charge that the Pentagon is trying to reframe a political debate by playing off the grief of military families.

"The problem with the ban is that it seemed motivated more to protect the [Bush] administration from unpopular images than protecting the families of fallen soldiers," said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University. "There was a fairly transparent motive behind the ban: As the popularity of the war declined, the Pentagon was working hard to control any images coming out of the conflict areas."

A spokesman said that military press officers often spoke with reporters informally about the possible Dover changes, but that the working group did not reach out to journalism associations as it had military ones.

The American Legion, which did speak with the group, released a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday applauding the "common sense" policy, saying, "It is essential that the ceremonies remain dignified and that the families remain protected from unwanted media intrusion."

The nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, in a release last month said that media should guard how their photos are subsequently used, including aggressively pursuing copyright protections when photos are used by political advocacy groups, and to review policies allowing photographs to be sold for profit.

TAPS spokeswoman Ami Neiberger-Miller said no consensus exists among the families. She spoke with Basla and was pleased at the family-centric rules for Dover, but said her own experience of losing her brother in Iraq reflects the difficulties of trying to honor the deceased, their families and their nation all at once.

Her local newspaper in Florida ran a front-page story and photos her family had provided, and they were shocked.

In hindsight, Neiberger-Miller said she found unexpected value in the media coverage, as hard as it was to watch.

"I think the media coverage did permit the rest of the community to be part of mourning his loss … because the whole town couldn’t come to Arlington National Cemetery."

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