Spinning American Casualties in Iraq

The headline in the Saturday, December 10 edition of Salon.com (ad watching required for non-sunscribers) was a strong statement of the publication’s belief. “The Pentagon is underreporting the number of American soldier casualties in Iraq”. This article, written by Salon "national correspondent" Mark Benjamin, then proceeds to report on a letter written to President George W. Bush by seven House Democrats. In that letter the Democrats express their concern “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.” The article then examines the various statements made in the letter. It asserts this is a “shocking charge” and “The letter writers argue that Pentagon casualty reports only show a sliver of the injuries, mostly physical ones from bombs or bullets.” Benjamin goes on to comment that “war doesn’t work like that” and that the Pentagon fails to report “a horrible panoply of accidents, illnesses, disease and mental trauma.” In point of fact, the government has never made public reports of illnesses, diseases or accidents either in combat zones or at its military bases in the United States and around the world. In a combat situation it will give numbers of dead and wounded, including those who die from causes other than combat. The writer does admit that the lack of reporting on non-combat casualties did not start with the Bush administration. It acknowledges reports from previous wars “also appear to exclude non-combat injuries and illnesses.” Those who have been in combat know that casualty reports are linked to operations against enemy forces. It is not even logical to suggest the armed forces should report on every illness and accident that takes place inside a combat zone. For example, when I was struck by a mortar blast, I was hospitalized and my family was informed I had been wounded in action against the enemy. Again, when a truck in which I was riding hit a land mine, I was hospitalized and my family was notified. Both of these wounds were reported as combat casualties. My most extensive hospital stay took place in Tuy Hoa, Vietnam when 38 of us suffered food poisoning and amebic dysentery after eating contaminated vegetables. All of us required extensive hospitalization. That stay was far longer than those for both wounds combined. But, in this case none of us were reported as wounded in action, nor were we battle casualties. The only notification our families received were in letters we wrote home. Further understanding of how casualties are regularly reported might be gained by examining the news reports from any city with about 150,000 population. This would be equivalent to the American troop strength in Iraq. The nightly news in any such city will report killings, shootings, serious accidents and catastrophic events. It will not report those hundreds of people in hospital beds, nursing homes, under home health care or filling the waiting rooms seeking medical services. The apparent shock at this supposed false reporting of casualties seems to be reflect the continued bias of some media outlets, which refuse to find anything favorable about the Administration’s conduct of the war. All seven of the signatories of the letter are Democrats. The first of these is Representative John Conyers, Jr., followed by Representatives Sam Farr, Raul M. Grijalva, Carolyn Maloney, Betty McCollum, Jim McDermott and Jan Schakowsky. Of the seven, only Conyers and McDermott have served in the armed forces and neither of them was ever in combat.