Bush administration is deliberately concealing
from the American people the number and condition
of US military personnel who have been wounded
in Iraq. The efforts by those few politicians
and media figures who have pursued the issue
make this clear.
on the number of US soldiers, sailors and
Marines medically evacuated from Iraq by the
end of 2003 because of battlefield wounds,
illness or other reasons range from 11,000
to 22,000, a staggering figure by any standard.
Thousands of these young men and women have
been physically or psychologically damaged
for life, in turn affecting the lives of tens
of thousands of family members and others.
And the war in Iraq is less than one year
recent piece by Daniel Zwerdling on National
Public Radio (January 7) highlighted some
of the difficulties in establishing the truth
about US casualties. Zwerdling began by noting
that few Americans seemed aware of the large
number of US wounded in Iraq. He questioned
a few dozen people on the street about the
total number of American soldiers who had
died in Iraq, and most answered more or less
correctly. However, when the NPR correspondent
asked about the number of US military personnel
who have had to be evacuated with wounds,
no one was close to the actual figure. The
answers ranged from a few hundred to a thousand.
set about finding the actual number by contacting
the appropriate government and military offices.
A spokesman for Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld told him to call US Central Command
in Tampa, Florida. A spokesman there informed
him that only Rumsfeld's office had such information.
A spokesman for the Army provided with him
the number of its personnel wounded seriously
enough to be evacuated out of Iraq by the
end of 2003 - 8,848 - but he had no figures
on Marines, Navy Seals or other forces. The
United States Medical Command told Zwerdling
they were still searching for the numbers.
contacted Sen. Chuck Hagel (Republican-Nebraska),
a Vietnam veteran and former deputy administrator
of the Veterans Administration. Hagel explained
that he had been trying to obtain certain
information from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld,
including the "total number of American
battlefield casualties in Afghanistan and
Iraq. What is the official Pentagon definition
of wounded in action? What is the procedure
for releasing this information in a timely
way to the public and the criteria for awarding
a Purple Heart [awarded to those wounded in
combat or posthumously to the next of kin
of those killed or those who die of wounds
received in action]?"
Nebraska senator also wanted an updated tally
on the number of US military personnel who
had received Purple Hearts and the dates they
were awarded. Six weeks later, Hagel received
the provocative reply: the Department of Defense
did not have the requested information.
information on the number of Purple Hearts
awarded is significant because it speaks to
the total number of battlefield casualties.
December, Mississippi Democratic congressman
Gene Taylor raised the possibility that the
Pentagon was deliberately undercounting combat
casualties when he brought to light the case
of five members of the Mississippi National
Guard who were wounded in a booby-trap bomb
explosion, but whose injuries were listed
as "noncombat" by the military.
The truth emerged only because Taylor happened
to speak to the most seriously injured of
the five at Walter Reed Army Medical Center
in Washington. Taylor indicated that he would
send a memo to the other members of Congress
"and ask if anyone has had a similar
commentators have noted the discrepancy between
the number of wounded in combat listed by
the military and the large number of service
personnel medically evacuated from Iraq, an
action, one would imagine, that the military
does not encourage or take lightly. In passing,
for example, an article in the November 5
European edition of Stars and Stripes noted
that the Landstuhl military hospital in Germany
had "treated more than 7,000 injured
and ill servicemembers from Iraq." At
that time, the military had recorded some
2,000 combat casualties.
Landstuhl facility, located near the huge
Ramstein US airbase, reported January 23 that
the total of US medical evacuations from Iraq
to Germany by the end of 2003 was 9,433. The
number of hostile and "non-hostile"
wounded by that point listed by the Army was
Borger in the Guardian last August noted the
odd imbalance between combat and "non-combat"
deaths and injuries. He cited the comments
of Lieut. Col. Allen DeLane, in charge of
airlifting the wounded into Andrews air force
base near Washington, who had already seen
thousands of wounded flown in and who told
National Public Radio, according to Bolger,
"90 percent of injuries were directly
casualties mounted last summer, US military
officials did their best to suppress any discussion
of the wounded total in particular. Only on
July 10, almost four months after the launch
of the invasion, CNN reported that for "the
first time since the start of the war in Iraq,
Pentagon officials have released the number
of US troops wounded from the beginning of
the war through Wednesday [July 9]."
keeping the number of wounded from the public,
the military high command was aided by the
American media. Editor & Publisher Online
observed in July that while deaths in combat
were being reported, the many non-combat deaths
were virtually ignored and the numbers of
wounded, in and out of battle, were being
under-reported. Questioned by E & P Online,
Philip Bennett, Washington Post assistant
managing editor of the foreign desk, acknowledged
blandly that "There could be some inattention
to [the number of injured troops]."
sharp increase in the number of US wounded
in the autumn - the official number of combat
wounded alone averaged nearly 100 a week between
mid-September and mid-November (lunaville.org)
- made the reluctance of the military to provide
figures increasingly problematic. Even the
servile US media was beginning to request
figures. Still the Pentagon officialdom put
up as much resistance as it could.
September 2003, the Post itself noted, "Although
Central Command keeps a running total of the
wounded, it releases the number only when
asked - making the combat injuries of US troops
in Iraq one of the untold stories in the war."
Bob Graham of Florida, one-time candidate
for the Democratic presidential nomination
and ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence
Committee, declared around the same time that
he wanted to know how many US soldiers had
been wounded in Iraq, but had been unable
to find out because the administration would
not release the information.
article in the October 13 New Republic by
Lawrence F. Kaplan noted: "Pentagon officials
have rebuked public affairs officers who release
casualty figures, and, until recently, US
Central Command did not regularly publicize
the injured total either." Ten days later,
however, E & P Online commented, "Current
injury statistics were easily obtained...through
US Central Command and the Pentagon, so getting
the numbers is no longer a problem."
that same New Republic piece, Kaplan discussed
the state of many injured soldiers at Walter
Reed Army Medical Center. He pointed out that
modern medical technique meant that a far
higher percentage of wounded soldiers now
survived who would have died in previous wars.
The use of Kevlar body armor had also reduced
deaths. The result, however, was that many
of the wounded were left with debilitating
injuries, particularly amputated limbs. Because
of the higher survival rate, information about
the seriously wounded is essential to any
accurate picture of the Iraq war.
wrote: "The near-invisibility of the
wounded has several sources. The media has
always treated combat deaths as the most reliable
measure of battlefield progress, while for
its part the administration has been reluctant
to divulge the full number of wounded."
number of "combat injuries," however,
is far from the whole story. That leaves out
the thousands who have become physically or
mentally ill in Iraq. As noted above, estimates
of the real number of US servicemen and women
evacuated from Iraq by the end of 2003 vary
British Observer newspaper asserted September
14 that the "true scale of American casualties
in Iraq is revealed today by new figures...which
show that more than 6,000 American servicemen
have been evacuated for medical reasons since
the beginning of the war, including more than
1,500 American soldiers who have been wounded,
many seriously. The figures will shock many
Americans, who believe that casualties in
the war in Iraq have been relatively light."
the end of November, Roger Roy in the Orlando
Sentinel could place the number of those "killed,
wounded, injured or...ill enough to require
evacuation from Iraq" at approximately
10,000. Roy noted that such figures were hard
to track, "leading critics to accuse
the military of underreporting casualty numbers."
Benjamin of United Press International (UPI)
has been one of the more assiduous in pursuing
an accurate total of the number medically
evacuated from Iraq. On December 19, Benjamin
reported that in response to a request from
UPI the Pentagon had provided a figure of
nearly 11,000 US wounded and medical evacuations
- 2,273 wounded and 8,581 medical evacuations.
cited the comments of Aseneth Blackwell, former
president of the Gold Star Wives of America,
a support group for people who lose a spouse
in war, who said the country had not seen
such a total since Vietnam. "It is staggering,"
pointed out that the Pentagon's official casualty
update as of December 17 reported only 364
soldiers as "non-hostile wounded."
largest estimate of the number of medical
evacuations from Iraq is to be found in a
December 30 article by retired US Army Col.
David Hackworth, "Saddam's in the slammer,
so why are we on orange?"
writes, "Even I...was staggered when
a Pentagon source gave me a copy of a Nov.
30 dispatch showing that since George W. Bush
unleashed the dogs of war, our armed forces
have taken 14,000 casualties in Iraq - about
the number of warriors in a line tank division."
The former colonel adds that the figure "means
we've lost the equivalent of a fighting division
since March. At least 10 percent of the total
number" of available personnel - 135,000
- "has been evacuated back to the USA!"
Col. Scott D. Ross of the US military's Transportation
Command told Hackworth that as of Christmas
his "outfit had evacuated 3,255 battle-injured
casualties and 18,717 non-battle injuries,"
a total 21,972 servicemen and women. Ross,
however, cautioned that his figure might include
some of the same service members counted more
major categories of "non-battle"
evacuations included orthopedic surgery, 3,907;
general surgery, 1,995; internal medicine,
1,291; psychiatric, 1,167; neurology, 1,002;
gynecological (mostly pregnancy-related),
concludes that "it's safe to say that,
so far, somewhere between 14,000 and 22,000
soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have
been medically evacuated" from the war
zone in Iraq.
back in the US, the injured are stored in
dozens of military medical facilities around
the country, their existence virtually ignored
by the administration, their plight largely
unreported by the media.
a public outcry improved matters, many wounded
veterans, UPI reported in October, had to
wait "weeks and months for proper medical
help" at military facilities such as
Fort Stewart in Georgia and were "being
treated like dogs," according to one
officer. The indifference of Bush, Cheney
and Rumsfeld to the fate of US servicemen
and women is a part of their general contempt
for the broad layers of the working population,
Iraqi and American.
deliberate obscuring of the human toll of
the war and occupation in Iraq is an indication
of considerable nervousness within the Bush
administration. Despite the official claims
of overwhelming popular support, the political
and media establishment knows full well that
opposition to this war is growing, and that
an accurate picture of the war's devastating
consequences would further turn the tide of
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