Congress to Bush: Stop Under-Counting Casualties

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Today, seven members of Congress wrote President Bush asking him to stop under-counting U.S. casualties in Iraq (see letter below). The Bush Administration has done its best to hide the realities of war from the American public. Photographs of the dead returning to the United States are hidden. Litigation is needed to get photographs released. The wounded are brought to military hospitals late at night so reporters and the public can’t see them. In Iraq, reporters are prevented from taking video and photographs of the dead. And, the Administration minimizes the number of soldiers who have been seriously injured in the war. They do this in various ways:

  1. Not reporting the trauma or illnesses — physical or mental — combat and non-combat presents an incomplete picture of the human toll resulting from the Iraq war and occupation. "Most Americans haven’t seen the growing legion of wounded troops returning from Iraq who are cared for at military facilities sealed off from the public. The media, in turn, have focused on the hit-and-run guerrilla attacks that claim one or two GIs in Iraq almost daily. Little attention has been paid to the long, difficult and very personal struggles that ensue in wards at BAMC and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington." Christenson, Sig. “Soldiers, Marines work to recover from war injuries at BAMC.” San Antonio Express-News, 18 Aug 2003. To get a sense of some the physical injuries inflicted on US soldiers visit the photographic display at The Memory Hole.
  2. Mark Benjamin, UPI Investigations Editor, who has been closely following the hidden casualties of the Iraq War says: "what that number does not include is the number of soldiers who are wounded or ill, or injured in operations that are not directly due to the bullets and bombs of the insurgents. So, for example, as of mid-September, if you take actually Afghanistan and Iraq together, there were 17,000 soldiers who were injured or ill enough to be put on airplanes and flown out of theater, and none of those casualties, and I call them casualties because they fit the Pentagon’s definition of casualties, none of those casualties appear on any public casualty lists."
  3. Source: "The Forgotten Casualties of the War: Over 17,000 US Troops Wounded, November 10, 2004, Democracy Now Interview with Mark Benjamin; See also: The Department of Defense, Director of Information, reports Military Casualty Information. See also: Casualties in Iraq, The Human Cost of Occupation, citing The Department of Defense, CENTCOM Casualty Reports, http://www.centcom.mil/CENTCOMNews/casualties.asp.

  4. Leishmaniasis, also known as "Sandfly Disease" or "Baghdad Boil" is faced by the U.S. military in Iraq. The disease is caused by parasites transmitted via sand fly saliva (when female sandflies bite humans), and comes in three forms: cutaneous, affecting the skin; mucosal, affecting the mouth, nose and throat; and visceral, affecting internal organs, which can be fatal if untreated. Symptoms may include fever, frontal headache, lethargy, malaise, retroorbital pain, conjuctivitis, photophobia, neck rigidity, low back pain, myalgia, meningitis, encephalitis, confusion. No complete list of U.S. military affected by Sandfly Disease is available, press reports indicate over 2,000 have been affected. Specialists also warn that blood donations from the affected could infect public blood banks.
  5. Source: Deployment Health Clinical Center, Common Endemic Diseases: Sandfly Fever; Centers for Disease Control, Leishmaniasis. See also: Lisa Burgess, Troops Being Treated For Leishmaniasis, Stars and Stripes, March 20, 2004.

  6. Some of the illness from the first Gulf War and the current Iraq war and occupation will not be seen for years. Concerns have been raised about depleted uranium, used in missiles as well as armor of soldiers. As reported by researchers in the Netherlands, "both the Pentagon and the British Ministry of Defense officially deny that there is any significant danger from exposure to DU ammunition. And whilst it is conceivable that the US-led attacks on Iraq’s nuclear power stations could be a contributory factor, most reseachers point to DU as the most likely source of both deformities and cancers. The rising number of cases in Iraq, particularly in the South where the greatest concentration of DU was fired, is simply staggering. Iraqi physicians have never encountered anything like it, and have made the perfectly reasonable point that similar increases in cancer and deformities were experienced in Japan after the two US atomic bomb attacks. Cancer has increased between 7 and 10 fold; deformities between 4 and 6 fold."

    Source: Extreme Birth Deformities, The article contains disturbing photos of birth defects allegedly caused by exposure to depleted uranium.

Falsely minimizing the number of casualties is no way to show support for the troops who have sacrificed for this war of choice.

December 7, 2005
The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We are concerned that the Department of Defense has been under-reporting casualties in Iraq by only reporting non-fatal casualties incurred in combat. We write today to request that you provide the American people with a full accounting of the American casualties in Iraq since the March 19, 2003 invasion, including a full accounting of the fatalities, the wounded, those who have contracted illnesses during their time overseas, and those suffering from mental afflictions as a result of their service in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. We are concerned that the figures that were released to the public by your Administration do not accurately represent the true toll that this war has taken on the American people.

On November 21, 2004, CBS’ 60 Minutes led its program with a segment on the subject of uncounted “non-combat” casualties. They interviewed badly injured soldiers who were upset by their being excluded from the official count, even though they were, in one soldier’s words, “in hostile territory…”. The Pentagon declined to be interviewed, instead sending a letter that contained information not included in published casualty reports. “More than 15,000 troops with so-called ‘non-battle’ injuries and diseases have been evacuated from Iraq,” wrote the Department of Defense. John Pike, Director of GlobalSecurity.org told 60 Minutes in that segment that this uncounted casualty figure "would have to be somewhere in the ballpark of over 20, maybe 30,000."

As you know, more than one in four U.S. troops have come home from the Iraq war with health problems that require medical or mental health treatment. Thus, with more than 300,000 troops having served in Iraq, this amounts to at least 50,000 cases of mental trauma. Moreover, 101,000 of the 431,000 troops who have returned home from service in Iraq and Afghanistan and who have separated from the military, have sought help. This figure shows the Pentagon’s official Iraq casualty count of 2,082 U.S. troops killed, and 15,477 wounded as of today, to be inaccurate by several multiples. What we cannot understand is why you are only reporting the total American casualty figure at just over 15,000 when you know that this figure is not an accurate representation of the facts and does not represent the entire picture of American lives affected by the war. We also need to understand where your numbers are coming from and how you arrived at them given the facts and data that has been released from the Pentagon.

Based on the data that have been released by your Administration and the unofficial data that are coming out of the Pentagon, what we can be certain of is that at least tens of thousands of young men and women have been physically or psychologically damaged for life. To be exact, the figure ranges somewhere between 15,000 and 101,000 today. This is a staggering range of casualties by any standard, as these casualties will affect the lives of at least hundreds of thousands of family members and others. We cannot emphasize enough how important it is that we understand the gravity of the situation that we are faced with.

Since the March 2003 invasion, our troops have been dying at a rate of about 800 a year, with most killed in action by crude but powerful roadside bombs. More than 90 percent of the deaths have come after you declared an end to “major combat operations” on May 1, 2003. Moreover, the Pentagon reports that of the service members returning from the Iraq war this year, 47 percent saw someone wounded or killed, or saw a dead body. This is no small matter that can be downplayed by superficial reassurances designed to temporarily assuage the uneasiness of the American public. The effects of this war will remain for many years to come and each and every one of us will have to cope with it.

The American people have sacrificed a great deal as a result of this war and they deserve to know what you know. Those who have sacrificed deserve to know that their sacrifice counted and that their service abroad was as recognizable as that of our fallen soldiers. Further, the failure of your Administration to acknowledge the loss of Iraqi lives prevents the American people from having a complete picture of the cost of this war. We urge you to honor your duty as our Commander-in-Chief to keep the American people regularly informed of the true human cost of the Iraq War.

Sincerely,

Rep. John Conyers, Jr.
Rep. Sam Farr
Rep. Raul M. Grijalva
Rep. Carolyn Maloney
Rep. Betty McCollum
Rep. Jim McDermott
Rep. Jan Schakowsky

Kevin Zeese [send him mail] is Director of Democracy Rising. You can comment on this article by visiting the blog.

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