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[casi] Maybe 8,000 US Wounded In Bush's Iraq War>

Maybe 8,000 US Wounded
In Bush's Iraq War - Report
US Troops - Wounded, Weary And Disappeared

By Bill Berkowitz

        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.

        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 Bethesda..."

        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 therapy."

        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 soldiers."

        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."

        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 dead.

        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.

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