September 02, 2003

Wounded, Weary And Disappeared

The Bush cabal's cavalier attitude toward the plight
of those men and women in the military, who are paying
the physical and psychological cost of this war, is a
simply an abomination. Hopefully, one of the would-be
anti-Bushes will articulate it. Hopefully, the
electorate will repudiate it whether the would-be
anti-Bushes have the courage and clarity of mind to
articulate it or not. Of course, there is another
abomination, you should not have to read this story on It is a tremendous resource, but
telling truth to power should be the responsibility of
major city newspapers and the network evening news

Wounded, Weary And Disappeared

Bill Berkowitz is a long time political observer and

The nation reached a sad milestone in late August.
With the death of an American soldier in a roadside
bombing on August 29, the number of soldiers killed in
Iraq after the official end of the war reached 139,
exceeding the "postwar" casualty count. Nightline
aired a feature; the Associated Press posted a story
on the war dead -- but most media outlets continue to
ignore an equally dreary reality.

In a summer dominated by the Bryant sex case, Arnold's
debut in California's recall election and the killing
of Saddam Hussein's sons, no hordes of television
cameras await the planeloads of wounded soldiers being
airlifted back to the states, unloaded at Andrews Air
Force Base, and stuffed into wards at Walter Reed Army
Medical Center and other facilities. We see few photos
of them undergoing painful and protracted physical
rehabilitation, few visuals of worried families
waiting for news of their sons or daughters. The men
and women injured in Iraq and Afghanistan have become
the new disappeared.

The men and women injured in Iraq and Afghanistan have
become the new disappeared.

Liz Swasey of the conservative media watchdog Media
Research Center (MRC) confirms this perception. "There
have been no feature news stories on television
focusing on the wounded," she says. "While there have
been numerous reports of soldiers getting wounded,
there have been no interviews from hospital bedsides."

The numbers of soldiers wounded in action are hard to
come by. Since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom,
the Pentagon has put the figure at 827. But
Lieutenant-Colonel Allen DeLane, the man in charge of
airlifting the wounded into Andrews Air Force Base,
recently mentioned much higher numbers in an interview
with National Public Radio.

"Since the war has started, I can't give you an exact
number because that's classified information, but I
can say to you over 4,000 have stayed here at
Andrews," he said. "And that number doubles when you
count the people that come here to Andrews, and then
we send them to other places like Walter Reed and

Some journalists also dispute the Pentagon's official
count. Julian Borger of The Guardian claims
"unofficial figures are in the thousands." Central
Command in Qatar talked of 926 wounded, but "that too
is understated," Borger maintains. And in fact, a
mid-August report in The Salt Lake City Tribune claims
that Central Command has acknowledged 1,007 U.S.
wounded. (The Pentagon did not respond to inquiries.)

Whatever the actual numbers of wounded, military
hospitals are being overwhelmed. "Staff are working
70- or 80-hour weeks," Borger reports. "[T]he Walter
Reed army hospital in Washington is so full that it
has taken over beds normally reserved for cancer
patients to handle the influx, according to a report
on CBS television." Some of the outpatient wounded are
even being placed at nearby hotels because of the
overflow, according to The Washington Times.

Inside these hospitals, there's no shortage of
compelling narratives for the interested TV reporter.

For example, an accident in western Iraq threw Sgt.
Robert Garrison of Ithaca, N.Y., from his Humvee,
according to a June story by the Associated Press. He
landed on his head, fractured his skull and slipped
into unconsciousness. Garrison "can't speak at more
than a faint whisper and breathes with the help of a
tube jutting from his neck. A scar runs across the
back of the head, and the left side of his face droops
where he has lost some control over his muscles."

Sgt. Kenneth Dixon, of Cheraw, S.C., was in a Bradley
fighting vehicle when it plunged into a ravine. He
"broke his back, leaving him unable to use his legs."
These days he's at a veteran's hospital in Richmond,
Va., "focusing on his four hours of daily physical

What is it about the wounded that makes us
uncomfortable? Why have they been left out of the
coverage of the war by the broadcast media?

Marine Sgt. Phillip Rugg, 26, recently had his left
leg amputated below the knee, caused by a grenade
"that penetrated his tank-recovery vehicle March 22
outside Umm Qasr, nearly shearing his foot off."

The stories of these injured soldiers obviously
straddle party lines and should sadden Americans from
all walks. So what is it about the wounded that makes
us uncomfortable? Why have they been left out of the
coverage of the war by the broadcast media?

The consensus seems to be that the wounded are too
depressing a topic -- and also that they might
threaten Bush's popularity.

"The wounded are much too real; telling their stories
would be too much of a bummer for television's news
programmers," says Norman Solomon, media critic and
co-author of Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't
Tell You. "Dead people don't linger like wounded
people do. Dead people's names can be posted on a
television honor role, but the networks and cable news
channels won't clog up their air time with the names
and pictures of hundreds and hundreds of wounded

Former L.A. Times television critic Howard Rosenberg
reflects this sentiment, and adds that giving the
wounded air time could be perceived as too
controversial. "Since 9/11, there is a general feeling
among many media outlets that they need to stay away
from anything that could be interpreted as disloyal to
the country," he says.

John Stauber, author of the recently released book The
Weapons of Mass Deception, says the war was sold on
television as a sanitized war with minimal U.S.
casualties -- which was exactly what the Bush
administration tried to engineer. "Showing wounded
soldiers and interviewing their families could be
disastrous PR for Bush's war," he says. "I suspect the
administration is doing all it can to prevent such
stories unless they are stage managed feel-good events
like Saving Private [Jessica] Lynch."

Tod Ensign directs Citizen Soldier, a GI rights
advocacy organization. He thinks the failure to cover
the wounded indicates an implicit loyalty to the White
House, and a reluctance to address a failed Iraq
policy. "The American media is by and large controlled
and dominated by corporations that line up politically
with the Bush administration," Ensign says. "They
appear to be increasingly incapable of grappling with
such a highly charged issue as the wounded."

The consensus seems to be that the wounded are too
depressing a topic -- and also that they might
threaten Bush's popularity.

President Bush landed on the U.S.S. Lincoln on May 1
and declared an end to major combat operations in
Iraq. Since that overhyped media event, the president
has repeatedly visited with troops that have returned
intact, and he has issued statements honoring the

But the president has not shown up at Walter Reed Army
Medical Center to shake hands with the recovering
Robert Garrisons or Kenneth Dixons. Journalists should
pay these visits for him, to tell us the stories of
these men and women, whose problems will stretch into
the coming years. And they should ask the president
why he is so reluctant to see these troops he sent so
confidently into battle.

Click here to subscribe to our free e-mail dispatch
and get the latest on what's new at
before everyone else! You can unsubscribe at any time
and we will never distribute your information to any
other entity.

Published: Aug 28 2003

Posted by richard at September 2, 2003 10:20 PM