The same day news came that President Bush had been named Time Magazine's "Person of the Year," Reuters reported that "suicide car bombers struck Iraq's two main Shi'ite holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala... killing at least 62 people and wounding nearly 130, in coordinated attacks," six weeks before elections are scheduled to take place.
The other evening, I finally got to see "The Fog of War," last year's academy award-winning documentary. At one point, former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara admits that the firebombing of Tokyo toward the end of World War II -- which killed nearly 100,000 civilians -- was a war crime. That wasn't the only war crime that McNamara was involved in during his career. As one of the chief architects of President Lyndon Johnson's escalation of the Vietnam War, McNamara came to know war crimes up close and personal. Nevertheless, seeing him ruminate about those days, and thinking about the more than one million Vietnamese that were killed as well as more than 50,000 US troops killed and hundreds of thousands wounded, put a reality-based face on this holiday season.
In that spirit, here's an end of the year inventory of the "Person of the Year's" Iraq War.
* Grisly Truths: The photos are gruesome but they must be seen: There's one of "mangled legs from a blast injury"; another of a "gunshot wound to the abdomen, passing through the liver"; there's a shot of a "transpelvic gunshot wound requiring pelvic packing, diverting colostomy, and temporary abdominal closure"; and one of a "wounded soldier receiving rehabilitation care" at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. These photos and more are currently displayed on the web site of The New England Journal of Medicine. ("Caring for the Wounded in Iraq -- A Photo Essay" by George E. Peoples, M.D., James R. Jezior, M.D., and Craig D. Shriver, M.D. )
* Cascading Death: 136 US troops were killed in November (exceeding the previous high of 135 in April 2004), and approximately 71 of them were killed during the assault on Falluja. (For more see the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count web site.) As of this writing, 43 US service members have been killed thusfar in December.
Have you noticed that the names of US casualties in Iraq have been shunted to the back pages of our daily newspapers?
Did you know that more than half the US casualties in Iraq have occurred since the capture of Saddam Hussein?
* The Nuclear Waste We Leave Behind: At the Conference on Nuclear Arms in Hamburg, October 2003, Dr. Katsuma Yagasaki, Prof. of Science at the University of Ryukyus, Okinawa, "reported the US had dropped on Iraq the equivalent of 250,000 times the radioactive nuclear waste dropped on Nagasaki," according to a recent report by Stephan Smith, an Iraqi-American artist and activist whose new album "Slash and Burn" is out on Artemis Records. Smith, also known as Stephan Said, writes that unlike Nagasaki, "the contamination in Iraq is widespread, dispersed over entire regions of the country, bullets, strewn casings, armor, fragments, shrapnel ... all containing radioactive waste."
* Falluja as Dresden: If during the near twenty-one months since the US military began pounding Baghdad with bombs you've often wondered about the misinformation, disinformation, lies and distortions the administration has rained down upon the US public, consider the case of Falluja. Surely you remember Falluja? After months of claiming that the key to thwarting the insurgency was the stabilization and reconstruction of Falluja, reporting on the epic battle for the city came and went, and the reports were was about as accurate as John Wayne's screwball 1968 movie, "The Green Berets" was during the height of the Vietnam War. For the average Fallujan, however, it has never been about media coverage. And now, the city's devastation has taken on the appearance of the aftermath of Dresden during World War II.
Consider the following from Tom Engelhardt, the editor and prime mover for TomDispatch.com: "A week after the assault on Falluja began in early November, our military announced that the city had been secured -- at the cost of a thousand or more dead Iraqis and 51 American soldiers. Articles about the "reconstruction" of Falluja soon began appearing in our papers and tales of fighting fell away. You had to turn to the inside pages and read deep into articles to discover by early December that, somehow, in secured Falluja, the fighting hadn't ended and another 20 Americans had died. Then all discussion of American casualties in Falluja itself disappeared, while greater numbers of casualties were suddenly reported more generally in al Anbar province (where Falluja is located), including 8 Marines [recently] killed... .On [the same]... day... ,missile-armed jets were once again called in to 'pound' neighborhoods where insurgent holdouts were still clearly fighting tenaciously. 'Although the Marines did not specify where or how their men died in al-Anbar, citing operational security,' writes Knight Ridder's Tom Lasseter, 'a top officer there confirmed that efforts to pick through every house in Fallujah are plagued by ambushes and gun battles... [Lt. Col. Dan Wilson, deputy of operations for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Fallujah] emphasized that the number of attacks last week was 58 percent lower than during the assault on Fallujah, Nov. 4- 11. 'We have the insurgents on the run,' he said."
Will the 250-300,000 residents be allowed to return to their city? And if so, what will they be returning to? Will they be coming home to "live in the now poisoned homes, water, earth, and air," Stephan Smith asks? (For more see "Iraq: A Silenced Majority" by Stephan Smith.)
* Miscounting the Wounded: The Pentagon has an unorthodox way of counting the wounded. There have been some 25,000 troops that have been wounded in Iraq, although the Pentagon's preferred statistic is 9,556 soldiers, "a number," writes Occupation Watch's Andrea Buffa, "that includes only those who have been 'wounded in action.'" At the end of November, the Pentagon admitted to CBS' news show "60 Minutes" that more than 15,000 troops have been evacuated from Iraq due so-called "non-battle" injuries.
* Veterans' Mental Health Crisis: A recent Army study "shows that about one in six soldiers in Iraq report symptoms of major depression, serious anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, a proportion that some experts believe could eventually climb to one in three, the rate ultimately found in Vietnam veterans," according to a report in the New York Times. With one million American troops having already served in Iraq and Afghanistan that could mean 100,000 will be in need of mental health services.
* Shameful Medal Giveaway: Last week, President Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to three of his Iraq war henchmen: former CIA Director George (WMD in Iraq is a "slam dunk") Tenet, former Iraq administrator L. Paul (occupation czar) Bremer and retired Gen. Tommy (the invasion went well but what about the current quagmire) Franks.
According to the Associated Press, "Bush lauded all three for playing 'pivotal roles in great events' and for advancing the cause of liberty in Afghanistan and Iraq." "Did George Tenet get the Medal of Freedom for his 'slam dunk' case for war based on weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist? Did Paul Bremer clinch this honor for speaking out against the administration's bungled war planning only after he'd left the job?" asked David Wade, a spokesman for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. "My hunch is that George Bush wasn't using the same standard when honoring Tenet and Bremer that was applied to previous honorees like the pope, Mr. Rogers, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr."
* Anti-Missile Shield Poops Out, Again: The first test in nearly two years of President Bush's multibillion-dollar U.S. anti-missile shield -- a scaled-down version of a ballistic missile shield first outlined in March 1983 by President Ronald Reagan and derided by critics as "Star Wars" -- failed, costing taxpayers more than $85 million. The failure once again set back a program the president assured the public would be up and running by the end of this year. According to Reuters, "the system is designed to counter North Korean missiles that could be fired at the United States and tipped with nuclear, chemical or germ weapons."
* Rummy Watch -- Part 1: During a visit to troops in Kuwait that were deploying to Iraq, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, aka Rummy, was backed into a corner when he "got an earful of complaints about poor combat equipment, personnel policies that keep soldiers in the Army beyond their terms of enlistment, and other issues that reflect the strains the war in the Middle East is placing on the U.S. military," Occupation Watch reported.
In the most publicized exchange, Spec. Thomas Wilson, an airplane mechanic with the Tennessee Army National Guard, told of how he and his fellow soldiers were forced top hunt through junkyards to find improvised armor for their military vehicles to protect against bomb blasts and small-arms attacks: "Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up- armor our vehicles, and why don't we have those readily available to us," Wilson asked Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld's reply was classic: "As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time."
* Rummy Watch -- Part 2: Donald Rumsfeld was once dubbed a "matinee idol" by an adoring media. His press conferences were "must see" events. Now, he sends condolence letters to family members of US soldiers killed in Iraq with his signature affixed by a machine. The incredibly busy Rumsfeld has changed after sending out more than 1,000 condolence letters with his phony signature.
''While I have not individually signed each one, in the interest of ensuring expeditious contact with grieving family members, I have directed that in the future I sign each letter,'' Rumsfeld said in a statement released on Friday, December 17.
I understand that being chosen "Person of the Year" by Time Magazine doesn't mean that you're a good guy, or that you're a uniter and not a divider. It doesn't even mean that you're the "best" human being of the year. After all, Richard Nixon was named "Man of the Year" twice, in 1971 and 1972 (he shared this one with Henry Kissinger), and Newt Gingrich was named in 1995.
As 2004 drifts off into the ether, we are left wondering a) when will Bush's henchmen be held accountable for the quagmire in Iraq? and, b) when will Donald Rumsfeld be receiving his Presidential Medal of Freedom?
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
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