by Don L. Durivan
(Swans - February 13, 2006) Senator Robert Byrd said it best when he stated four years ago that the Bush administration was the most secretive one he had ever witnessed in his half-century in the United States Senate. Many of us know some prominent cases: Cheney's secret Energy Task Force, or the recent attempt to prevent the media from showing dead bodies from Hurricane Katrina, or the returning coffins of soldiers killed in the War on Iraq. The Bush administration's clear effort to keep from the American public the true extent of the American wounded and dead in Iraq is repulsive, and especially revealing of their near obsession with concealment, message control, and outright deception.
In the fall of 2003, only six months following Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq, the administration began weaving a deliberately-controlled version of reality in Iraq in terms of the number of wounded. The Pentagon provided the tale, and the Associated Press (AP) relayed what the Pentagon offered. AP told us that approximately 3,000 soldiers had been wounded, and other major news outlets parroted the figures.
The truth was that as of late fall 2003, approximately 9,000 American soldiers had been so seriously wounded that they had to be evacuated to Germany's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, then home to the States. We know this because of the determination of investigative reporter Daniel Zwerdling of National Public Radio, who relentlessly went from pillar to post in Washington before he found military representatives who were willing to speak the truth. Zwerdling's story appeared on the program All Things Considered, (1) "Measuring Costs Of Iraq War," January 7, 2004. That spring, award-winning journalist Mark Benjamin, then writing for United Press International (UPI), reported similar numbers but proportionately higher given the later reporting. He also won acclaim for exposing the gruesome nature of injuries, and many incidences where soldiers did not receive proper care.
In May of 2004, NBC News originated a program from Landstuhl, and stated flatly that "over 12,000 American soldiers" had had to be airlifted to that medical center for care. At the same time, the administration continued to offer vastly smaller numbers in order to prevent public alarm.
Since then, of course, there have been countless attacks across Iraq every week, and the forces of opposition to occupation detail them. The reporting exposes American casualties only when witnesses have been on the scene.
The number of wounded has ballooned to perhaps minimally 30,000 - 35,000, and these of course include amputees, soldiers with severe burns, missing eyes, extreme psychiatric disorders including suicidal or homicidal behavior, and every casualty known to warfare. The administration's official count as of early February 2006 is approximately 16,500. (2)
The apparent strategy of the "information specialists" whom the administration employs for communication purposes is to present the news about casualties in limited doses. The limited dose approach protects Bush and his administration from further fallout on credibility regarding the Iraq policy.
Sadly, most of our major media compound the distortions by the administration. Major outlets will completely contradict themselves. NBC News, for example, the source in spring 2004 of the Landstuhl examination, ran a story a year ago (February 2005) in which its own Baghdad correspondent stated that "10,000 Americans" had been wounded in Iraq.
This past September, as prominent a newspaper as The Boston Globe stated that the number of Americans wounded in Iraq was 14,000. (3) A simple extrapolation from the described work of Zwerdling, Benjamin, or NBC News' Landstuhl investigation would underscore the extent of this understatement.
What about the dead?
If the wounded totals are so manifestly understated, the totals for the dead are equally, if not more so. The political price for a dead soldier, after all, is much steeper than for a wounded one.
During the week of October 24, 2005, the world's major media, from CBS News to Al Jazeera, signaled that America had just crossed "the threshold" of 2,000 dead American soldiers from the Iraq war and occupation. The administration naturally supported this figure because it was the ultimate source of it.
The reporting suggested that the experience of utterly false claims about weapons of mass destruction had yielded no sense of the necessity to challenge other claims being made by this administration about this war. A public that should know better accepted the 2,000 figure headlines in newspapers and on television.
This administration apparently believes that it has the freedom to report the numbers however it wishes because, absent a leak, an attuned media, or a challenging public, no one will have the means to discover the truth.
So, on what basis might we conclude that the numbers are significantly higher? And, what might they really be? The administration's official count as of early February, 2006, is approximately 2,250. (4)
Here are some means of getting at the truth:
Inference: It is politically far easier to offer the truth over the wounded than the dead, but we have seen the former distorted so grossly. It is completely reasonable to conclude that the numbers offered to the public on those killed have also been utterly distorted.
The military: Since Vietnam, the military has significantly improved its ability to save soldiers wounded in war. ABC Evening News of Sunday, January 29, 2006, stated that advancements in care mean that only 1 in 11 who is wounded will not survive. If a minimum of 30,000 - 35,000 have been so wounded, the median estimate of the dead from that count would be between 2,900 and 3,000. If those who are killed outright are not counted by the military among those "dying from wounds," the figure, of course, greatly expands.
The forces opposing occupation in Iraq: Every day these forces detail the consequences of attacks and battles across Iraq. The American media does not cover these to any extent, partly because the military prevents media coverage and photos from battle scenes, especially where Americans have been wounded or killed. The opposition details location, time of day, and the nature of attacks.
While one would assume that the figures provided of Americans killed must be tempered because they come from sources that are hostile to America, the detailed reporting of attacks and the use of witnesses from Iraqi military, police, and civilians on the ground lends credence to the claims. The sources also often qualify results ("We are unable to confirm...."). The easiest criticism of the opposition's reporting rests in its failure to realistically indicate how many of their own forces have died. It is far more difficult to counter the detailed nature of their descriptions of American casualties.
Let's take one isolated day to expose what we receive as ordinary Americans: July 10, 2005. That day is a good choice because there was total consistency in reporting from one network to another: major American media reported on only one incident, where four Americans had escaped a roadside bomb attack with injuries, none life-threatening. Those representing the resistance reported on this scene according to fact, and then reported on all other attacks across the country on a case-by-case basis. The details indicated 49 Americans killed across Iraq.
Even if one were to reduce the reported numbers by 25% in order to achieve increased objectivity, the numbers of Americans killed between roadside and mortar attacks, and in fighting in various cities and towns, far outstrips what the Bush administration is acknowledging. Reducing the numbers stated for July 10th by 25% leaves 35-40 Americans dead in the course of one isolated day. Yet all that we heard was that four Americans had escaped death during one attack.
July 10, 2005 is a reasonably representative day in terms of the number of attacks across Iraq.
The unwillingness of the Bush administration to come clean on the number of Americans wounded or killed in Iraq dishonors those soldiers who have lost limbs, mind, or life itself. It represents a crime against the public's right to know and is a clear violation of one of the most cherished tenets of our founding fathers, namely, the role of an informed public as a safeguard for our democracy. The administration hypocritically pontificates about democracy across the globe, but demonstrates at home just how willing it is to undermine the very institution.
Undermining the "institution," eh? We're a tiny rampart against the invaders.