Dear President Bush:
On June 30, 2004, I wrote you an open letter urging that your Administration include, in the U.S. casualty toll, in Iraq: (1) injuries in non-combat situations; (2) personnel who have come down with disabling diseases; and (3) cases of mental trauma requiring evacuation from Iraq. You did not respond, nor did Senator John Kerry, who received a copy of the letter.
I should have added three additional categories which are also not part of the official casualty count -- (4) fatalities that occur after U.S. military personnel are brought stateside; (5) soldiers committing suicide in Iraq; and (6) injuries and fatalities incurred by corporate contractors operating in the Iraqi war theatre.
On November 21, 2004, CBS' 60 Minutes led its program with a segment on the subject of uncounted "non-combat" casualties. They interviewed badly injured soldiers who were upset by their being excluded from the official count, even though they were, in one soldier's words, "in hostile territory…" The Pentagon declined to be interviewed, instead sending a letter that contained information not included in published casualty reports. "More than 15,000 troops with so-called 'non-battle' injuries and diseases have been evacuated from Iraq," wrote the Department of Defense. John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org told 60 Minutes that this uncounted casualty figure "would have to be somewhere in the ballpark of over 20, maybe 30,000".
What's your problem here? The American people need to know the full casualty toll of U.S. personnel in Iraq and know it regularly and in a timely fashion. Not to do so is disrespectful, especially of the military families, but none more so than of the soldiers themselves. As a severely wounded Chris Schneider told CBS: "Every one of us went over there with the knowledge that we could die. And then they tell you -- you're wounded -- or your sacrifice doesn't deserve to be recognized or we don't deserve to be on their list -- it's not right. It's almost disgraceful."
Soldiers like Chris Schneider, Joel Gomez and Graham Alstrom want to know whether you are going to continue to stonewall their desire for official respect. What shall we tell them and others who seek that simple, decent official recognition? Please do not think that because you are a chronic non-responder to critical questions, you will be able to delay this growing demand indefinitely. Your hit and run photo opportunities with the troops just doesn't cut the mustard. Stand up and face it. It is the right thing to do by them.
Ralph Nader ran for President of the US as an Independent in 2004. He is America’s leading consumer advocate and founder of numerous public interest groups including Public Citizen. His latest book is The Good Fight: Declare Your Independence and Close the Democracy Gap (Regan Books, 2004). He can be reached through www.votenader.org.
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