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Stop Hiding the Toll of War


By Nancy Lessin and Gordon Clark, AlterNet


President Bush's rationale for taking us to war in Iraq has crumbled. The truth about supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction is being told. At the same time, another truth remains hidden by the Bush administration: the 550 troops who have returned from Iraq in caskets and the thousands returning with severe physical and psychological damage.


The military planes carrying human remains fly into Dover Air Force Base in Delaware under cover of darkness. Unlike Vietnam, when Americans could see the consequences of war, the media are now banned from Dover Air Force Base by military order, reinforced for the Iraq war by an edict from Mr. Bush.


One does not need to be a historian to know that the image of dead Americans, returning day after day in body bags, helped turn America against the war in Vietnam. This administration has gone to great lengths to prevent a repeat by keeping images of lifeless and broken bodies away from the cameras and the consciousness of the American people. Mr. Bush has not yet attended a single funeral for anyone killed in Iraq not a single one. Spain and Italy held state funerals for their countrymen who died in Iraq, but the Bush Administration's policy for our own war dead is to hide them.


The media blackout extends to the legions of wounded who have returned from Iraq as well. Media stories on wounded troops often use Pentagon figures for those officially wounded in combat, numbering around 3,000. These numbers ignore the well over 7,000 troops who have been injured or made ill as a result of the war. According to Disabled American Veterans, an additional 6,891 troops were medically evacuated between March 19, 2003 and Oct. 30, 2003, for everything from vehicle accidents to attempted suicides.


The Bush administration is trying to hide the reality described by an Army Nurse Corps captain stationed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in a recent message to the Bring Them Home NOW! campaign: "[It is] so sad to see young wives cry over their honey who was in Iraq less than one month before losing both legs and having several abdominal surgeries leaving his belly crisscrossed with staples, and now he is fighting for his life from the infection that the injuries caused."


As hard as it may be, these are images the American people need to see, to make informed decisions about this war and its costs.


In their effort to keep this reality from the public, the Bush administration has gone so far as to restrict access of professionally trained and accredited representatives of Disabled American Veterans from military hospitals access that the DAV has had for more than six decades to counsel and work with service members. The few visits that have been allowed are with pre-selected patients, and closely monitored.


An administration that was honest about the true cost of this war would have increased budget allocations to support the troops and their needs. Instead, in a continuing effort to deny the reality and consequences of the war in Iraq, Mr. Bush's priorities add insult to grave injury. Last year he proposed cutting $1.5 billion from military family housing, while the troops were at war, and also tried to roll back increases for combat pay for soldiers serving in combat zones. This year's budget shortchanges veterans' health care so egregiously that the Commander-In-Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars called it a "disgrace and a sham."


The President is trying to hide damaging revelations about pre-war intelligence by postponing reports until after Election Day. He will try to hide the human costs of this war, if the American people let him.


On March 14 and 15, as we approach the first anniversary of this war, military families, including those who have lost loved ones in Iraq, veterans, clergy and peace activists will gather at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to begin a Memorial Procession for Mourning and Truth. We will pull back the veil, honor and mourn the dead and acknowledge the wounded both U.S. military personnel and the tens of thousands of Iraqi casualties.


The memory of these individuals will then be brought to the White House, along with the plea: Start telling the truth, stop hiding the toll, and bring an end to this war.


Nancy Lessin is co-founder of Military Families Speak Out; Gordon Clark is coordinator of the Iraq Pledge of Resistance.


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