James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The biggest lie, the most evil joke

“Support Our Troops” is the saddest, sickest joke and the tag line for the most vile lie ever told by politicians or government officials in this country.

Next to what the public is being told now, the claim that our government could see “light at the end of the tunnel” in Vietnam was a mere slip of the tongue.

“Support Our Troops” is, of course, the line used on lawn signs all over the country to drum up support for G.W. Bush & Co. among the ignorant and reflexively “patriotic.” It is paired with the false Bush campaign claim that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has failed to support our fighting men and women and “voted against funding our soldiers.”

The truth is that American soldiers in Iraq, and American military veterans, have had less support from the Bush administration than any U.S. troops have received from their government since George Washington’s ragtag bunch of former colonials froze and starved through the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge. The money that should be used to support and equip them is going, instead, into the coffers of Halliburton and other Bush-connected corporations.

Below are some of the facts, collected from roughly 25 to 30 different sources without leaving my home. The research was spread over about two weeks, but only as I found time between other activities. Each fact was independently reported by at least two sources and most of them are corroborated by three, four or more reports. I do not begin to tell all that I’ve found, or that can be found. That would take a book, or several books.

* Now, slightly more than a year after the invasion of Iraq, several thousands of American troops still are without the lightweight armored vests they need. More of the vests, with ceramic plates that will stop AK-47 bullets and flying shrapnel, would have saved many American lives and prevented the maiming of many more of our soldiers. About half our troops were without them in the early stages of the war. More would be without them now except that many families that could come up with the money shelled out the retail price of about $660 per vest and sent it to their loved ones in uniform. Last year, with many military families and others raising hell, Congress actually offered additional money to buy the vests for troops, but, as mentioned, as many as 5,000 to 6,000 soldiers still lack the body armor.

General John Abizaid, boss of the American troops in Iraq, was asked by Congress to explain the shortage of body armor. He said he “couldn’t answer for the record why we started the war with protective vests that were in short supply.” Fox News, of all surprising sources, reported in mid January this year (2004) that the Pentagon had missed its own Dec. 31, 2003 deadline for providing all troops with body armor. An estimated (by the Pentagon) 8,000 soldiers still were without that essential equipment. Fox also reported that families were spending up to $1,000 per soldier for equipment to ship to Iraq.

* Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to lack some of the most basic equipment of the modern soldier. Some don’t have flashlights, canteens, compasses, adequate supplies of underwear, gloves, even such truly basic items as padded straps for their packs. Global positioning equipment, cell phones and other communications equipment remain in short supply.

Families of soldiers in Iraq have banded together in several organizations. Many of them say their sons and daughters, husbands and wives can’t even get basic hygiene products such as toothpaste and toothbrushes, razors and/or blades. (Halliburton is supposed to be the supplier of a lot of that stuff. Halliburton has continued to get new no-bid contracts for work in Iraq. Halliburton also has been caught at least twice overcharging the U.S. government by tens of millions of dollars.)

*There are serious problems with malfunctioning weapons. Some people will recall that the M16 rifles supplied to our military in Vietnam became the center of a scandal. The rifles often jammed, leaving soldiers defenseless. Congress held hearings about the rifle 35 years ago and determined that they had “serious and excessive malfunctions” and that sending troops into combat with such weapons “borders on criminal negligence.” (Why just “borders?” one wonders.) Well guess what? Those weapons, or at least their newly-minted counterparts, are now in Iraq and the problems are the same. But some new weapons are said to be equally unreliable.

Such continued use of badly flawed weapons, and the failure to correct the problems, reeks of war profiteering. It reminds me of the tales in history books of the outcries against criminally negligent general officers and weapons manufacturers in Europe after World War I.

*Many of the helicopters flown by the U.S. military in Iraq still lack basic, readily available defensive equipment such as fuselage armor and jammers to throw missiles off target.

*The Humvee problem is so pervasive that even the “mainstream” press has carried some stories. A year after the invasion and many, perhaps even a majority, of the Humvees and other ground vehicles used by American soldiers in Iraq still are without body armor. And people are being maimed and are dying because of that.

In November, 2003, Sen. John Warner, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, raised hell with the military about the lack of protective armor. The Pentagon promised that troops would get body armor and all vehicles would be supplied with proper armor by the end of 2003. It didn’t happen. Administration officials blamed unspecified “production glitches.”

On Feb. 3, 2004, the Eagle Tribune of Waltham, Mass., reported that a local company, Foster-Miller, Inc., was “rushing” to fill an order for armor panels for 725 military vehicles in use in Iraq. The armor is to be attached by soldiers to the doors of the vehicles with heavy-duty Velcro. At that point, Foster-Miller had roughly two more months to complete the order, which didn’t come in until the families of soldiers and a few members of Congress started to scream about the lack of armor.

*For another example of the contempt in which the Bush bunch holds American citizenry, including our soldiers, note the fact that last August it wanted to cut the pay of troops in Iraq.

As ordered by Congress, soldiers in combat areas got $150 a month in “imminent danger pay” and $100 a month in “family separation allowances,” meant to cover such things as child care. Then Congress raised the imminent danger pay for those in combat zones to $225 a month and the family separation allowance was boosted to $250 a month. The Pentagon said in August that it couldn’t afford to keep making those payments at the higher levels and the Bushies agreed. The raises were to expire Sept. 30 unless Congress renewed them. Bush threatened to veto a bill to continue the higher payments. The families of military personnel made enough noise that the general press started to pay attention and Bush & Co. backed down. Payments continue at the higher rates.

*Probably the greatest evil of all is the treatment of the wounded under the Bush administration.
If most of the public knew the truth – if they were being told by broadcasters and most newspapers – it’s hard to believe Bush would not be impeached and removed from office. But the truth remains a secret except to those who dig at least a little.

First, no one who will talk knows how many wounded there are. The Bush administration ordered that the numbers not be released to the public. The wounded are spirited into this country, mostly from intermediate stops in Germany, in areas that are off limits to the public and the press. Estimates of the number of seriously wounded – those who have lost limbs and/or other body parts, have suffered traumatic injuries to organs and the like – vary from about 10,000 to well over 20,000.

The press gives us frequent, apparently accurate counts of the number of dead U.S. soldiers, but does not report at all on the wounded. One explanation for that is that the body count always has been regarded as the most accurate way to reflect what is happening in a war, but that fails to note that many people now survive wounds that once would have killed them. Anyway, the real reason obviously is that the Pentagon, under orders from the Bushies, won’t tell and the press won’t push them or shame them into telling.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska and a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and also a Vietnam vet, asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for information on the wounded last year. He wanted basic information, such as how many casualties there were and how the Pentagon was defining “wounded in action.” (The latter question was asked because of strong evidence that the Pentagon was attributing many combat wounds to “other causes.”)

Six weeks after asking the question, the senator said during an interview on National Public Radio, he got a letter from the Pentagon saying “At this time, we were unfortunately lacking in information and we didn’t have the information you requested.”

What? The Pentagon didn’t know how many soldiers had been wounded in Iraq?

Hagel said he found that reply “astounding.” So would any rational person.

We still don’t have answers to his questions. Public affairs officers – military public relations people – who have given out information on the wounded here and there have been “rebuked” by the Pentagon, according to an article in the Oct. 13 issue of New Republic. Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said in September 2003 that he had been stonewalled by the Pentagon and the administration when he tried to find out how many soldiers had been wounded in Iraq.

The congressmen needed to dig a little harder. Most of the wounded go from Iraq to Germany. Stars and Stripes reported Nov. 5, 2003, in its European edition that the Landstuhl military hospital in Germany has treated more than 7,000 injured and ill American service people sent there from Iraq. At the same time, the military in one of its rare statements about the wounded, said there had been about 2,000 combat casualties in Iraq. (There are numerous documented incidents in which people injured by bullets or bombs have been listed as having “non-combat” injuries.) In January of this year, the Landstuhl hospital reported that it had handled 9,433 injured U.S. military personnel from Iraq through the end of 2003. The Pentagon, at about the same time, said the number of soldiers wounded in Iraq was about 2,750.

But the hiding of information is, by comparison, a minor problem. The true ugliness lies in the treatment of the wounded or, in many cases, the lack of treatment.

First, according to reports from medical people in Iraq, the lack of equipment and proper facilities for treating the wounded is almost unbelievable. Medical units often lack absolutely essential equipment, but continue to function heroically, some reports say. One famous story, though I couldn’t verify it’s accuracy, tells of a nurse who saved the lives of upward of 50 soldiers who were in danger of dying because there was no equipment to keep their body heat at necessary levels after surgery. She scrounged a big cardboard box and a hair dryer, put the patients in the box, and used the hair dryer to heat the thing.

Even if untrue, the wide circulation of the story suggests the depth of the problem.

In October 2003, UPI reporter Mark Benjamin did a story that said the wounded from Iraq were waiting weeks, and even months for treatment after they returned to this country. His report also said many of them were living in horrendous conditions in “holding areas” not far from military hospitals such as Walter Reed near Washington, D.C., and the hospitals at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and Fort Knox, Kentucky. Benjamin quoted one Army officer as saying the wounded were “being treated like dogs.”

Several other reports confirm Benjamin’s findings and add details. Sgt. Craig LaChance, who was on “medical hold” at Fort Stewart last fall, told a House subcommittee that it “took months to get appointments” with specialists. He and other wounded service people also told members of Congress and others that many of the sick and wounded veterans of Iraq lived in substandard barracks – described as bare-walled concrete buildings that in some cases lacked air conditioning. Some soldiers have said they felt the Army was telling them they had somehow failed – a reaction typical of abuse victims. They came back missing limbs,or with guts full of shrapnel, or with severe physical or mental illnesses and lay through a Georgia summer and fall in uncooled, dank concrete garages with rows of other sick and maimed people.

Another report confirmed those stories and said that some of the sick and wounded were waiting as long as seven months for treatment, other than mere life-support maintenance.

There’s much, much more, but the point is clear, I think. Anyone who can use a computer can find hundreds of pages of evidence of the mistreatment of our troops and our sick and wounded. (There’s also plenty about the mistreatment of discharged veterans of all eras.) Several organizations of families of military people, recent veterans and others put out as much information as they can, and a number of smaller publications also are doing their best to get the word out.

National and local television, radio and newspapers have access to all of the sources I used, and many more, and they have reporters and researchers, but very few news programs or newspapers are reporting these facts.

Support Our Troops. Write or call your local broadcasters and demand they tell the story of the wounded and the story of how our troops are treated in the field. And work to get the scum out of the White House and out of Congress this fall.