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Still lying about real Iraq deaths

Al-Jazeera | May 14, 2006

Bush ordered that no pictures be taken of the coffined and flag-draped dead

In the on-going vicious occupation of Iraq, the American and British are seemingly meticulous about reporting their own casualties – as opposed to Iraqi casualties, whom they refuse to count, despite obliged under international law to do so.

As of 13th May 2006, the U.S. military states its casualties as 2,436 deaths of US soldiers and 17,648 injured. These very precise figures are updated daily. The problem with these statistics is that they are misleading and wrong and deliberately so. To arrive at these figures, the following deaths and casualties are excluded:

• Soldiers killed or injured in any other way other than a direct bullet or bomb. In other words, if a pilot or driver crashes because he had to evade a missile or bomb, it would not be counted as a death.

• The dying and critically wounded are listed as en route to military hospitals outside of the country and not reported on the daily postings. This means a soldier who was shot and/or wounded but died on a flight to a U.S. military hospital would not be counted.

• Anyone who dies in hospital or a U.S. military base.

• Anyone who suffers from severe mental illnesses as a direct result of the war. This category includes those who are medically diagnosed as depressed and/or suicidal.

• Anyone who is seemingly not seriously hurt at the time of a bombing or battle but who has long term physical or mental problems as a result. The most common example of this are soldiers who survive a road side bomb but who suffer long term brain damage.

• Soldiers in the U.S. Army who are not U.S. citizens. These are commonly citizens of poor South and Central American countries who are persuaded to fight in the hope of U.S. citizenship after years of risking their lives.

The Pentagon has followed this deliberately deceitful policy from the time of the invasion. It is now admitted that in the six month period from the pre-planned date of the invasion of Iraq on 20th March 2003 till September 2003, the true scale of American casualties in Iraq was far higher than officially stated.

During those six months, more than 6,000 American servicemen were evacuated for medical reasons, including more than 1,500 American soldiers who have been wounded, many seriously. The figures shocked many Americans, who believed that casualties in the early period of the invasion of Iraq were relatively light. Even when these figures came to light, it did not persuade the Pentagon or the Bush administration to be any more honest about what followed.

On June 29 2005, the Veterans Administration (an official U.S. body) admitted to the U.S. Congress that there were over 103,000 U.S. military casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The estimated costs of looking after the injured and disabled was estimated at $2.6 billion more than originally budgeted. The official figures at the time were showing 13,000 casualties – meaning that the true figure was many multiples higher.

The U.S. Defence Department admitted in November 2004 that there have been over 15,000 troops evacuated from Iraq for medical reasons that have never been counted in official statistics. Only 20% of those ever evacuated for medical reasons are ever returned to active service.

Amongst the 15,000 evacuated and never counted as official casualties were those with serious spinal injuries, bone fractures, heart problems and mental illness.

The most serious exclusion, however, was and is traumatic brain injury, or TBI. Because of the body armour worn by U.S. troops, many soldiers survive a road side bomb but with the brain damage caused by the bombs often undetected. The explosions often cause brain damage similar to "shaken-baby syndrome," according to neurologists at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. The injury is often hard to detect immediately after being hurt. Many soldiers may look fully recovered, but their brain functions are damaged and often deteriorate over time. An explosion can cause the brain to move violently inside the skull and the shock wave from the blast can also damage brain tissues. To try to identify cases of TBI, doctors at Walter Reed screened every arriving service member wounded in an explosion, along with those hurt in Iraq or Afghanistan in a vehicle accident or fall, or by a gunshot wound to the face, neck or head.

They found TBI in about 60% of the cases. Till January 2005, 437 cases of TBI were diagnosed among wounded soldiers at the Army hospital.

Slightly more than half had permanent brain damage. Similar TBI screening began in August at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., near Washington. It showed 83% — or 97 wounded Marines and sailors — with temporary or permanent brain damage. TBI may come to characterize this war, much the way illnesses from Agent Orange typified the Vietnam War according to doctors. The numbers involved make it a serious long term problem for the U.S. as the financial and social cost are yet to be fully calculated.

The Pentagon refusal to be honest and open about the human cost on U.S. servicemen and women has led several members of Bush’s own Republican Party who are members of the U.S. Congress to write to Bush on 7th December 2005. In the letter they state that there have been “50,000 cases of mental trauma. Moreover, 101,000 of the 431,000 troops who have returned home from service in Iraq and Afghanistan and who have separated from the military have sought help. This figure shows the Pentagon's official Iraq casualty count of 2,082 U.S. troops killed, and 15,477 wounded as of today, to be inaccurate by several multiples”.

Terrified of losing public support for what is already a highly unpopular war, President Bush personally ordered that no pictures be taken of the coffined and flag-draped dead under any circumstances. The justification of this was to protect the bereaved relatives but is obviously designed to keep the huge number of arriving bodies secret.

Yesterday, a senior Pentagon official confirmed on the condition of anonymity that the actual death toll of U.S. service personnel as of 1st May 2006 in Iraq is in excess of 12,000. The real number of casualties – i.e. those unable to return to active service - is in excess of 150,000. He also confirmed that all reports from the U.S. military in Iraq confirmed that Iraqi resistance to the occupation growing better organized and more deadly by the day.

Whatever the Americans do, it seems that the British army have an irresistible urge to follow - which includes hiding casualties figures. In January 2006, the British Defence Minister claimed that there were only 230 British wounded since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. That figure was too low for anyone to take seriously and within 2 months of constant pressure, the more accurate figure of 6,700 British servicemen and women needing hospital treatments was given by the British Ministry of Defence.

The UK government was forced to admit that 4,000 British soldiers were seriously injured enough to be flown back to the UK for medical treatment in the previous three years. It is worth bearing in mind that the total British contingent is 8,000. With an admitted 4,000 casualties, the figure of 109 military deaths seems incredibly low and could only be reached if the Bush method of calculating casualties is used.

However hard the Americans and British try to hide the true human cost of the invasion to the world, of both Iraqi and their own; the true figures will emerge one day.

With the large majority of the U.S. public already having lost faith in their Commander in Chief, it remains to be seen if the invasion of Iraq will be viewed as another Vietnam or whether future American invasions will be dubbed ‘another Iraq' due to the huge financial and human losses that were inflicted.



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