Thursday, April 21, 2005
US soldiers in Iraq - wounded and hidden
Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Operation Truth, an advocacy group for veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, said the nighttime-only arrivals of wounded, along with the restrictions on coffin photos and other P.R. tactics, are designed to hide from the public the daily flow of wounded and dead. "They do it so nobody sees [the wounded]," Rieckhoff said. "In their mind-set, this is going to demoralize the American people. The overall cost of this war has been … continuously hidden throughout. As the costs get higher, their efforts to conceal those costs also increase."
There was still some daylight when the Starlifter's wheels hit the ground, but it was dark when soldiers carrying stretchers began to descend from the plane. One by one, about 10 stretchers were slowly carried down the ramp and loaded into racks in the buses. It was hard to see the condition of the wounded. A soldier in a wheelchair followed. Then came the walking wounded.
It's easy to imagine any number of reasons for taking off from Germany late in the day, which, in turn, would result in evacuations arriving in the United States at night. The flight from Germany in a C-141 can take up to 10 hours, and there is a six-hour time difference with the United States. The Air Mobility Command's off-the-record explanation did not, however, account for the consistent arrivals of nighttime flights. And its written response was vague: "Missions are scheduled to depart [Germany] in compliance with airfield operational restrictions, allowing patients a restful night before the long trans-Atlantic flight, and giving medical personnel sufficient processing time for those patients who may require special handling/treatment."
John Pike, the director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense information Web site, has spent a great deal of time trying to tease out the difference between facts and Pentagon spin. He said it is odd that the Pentagon hasn't done a good job of explaining the late-night flights. "It is puzzling because there are perfectly sensible explanations for this, but those are not the explanations being offered," Pike said. "And the explanation being offered makes no sense. It makes no sense."
Pike and veterans' advocate Rieckhoff both said the Pentagon has employed a raft of techniques to manage domestic perceptions of the war. The Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms defines "perception management" as "actions to convey and/or deny selected information and indicators" to influence "emotions, motives, and objective reasoning." Although the dictionary describes such techniques only as they apply to foreign audiences, the Pentagon has come under fire for employing some pretty aggressive techniques at home, too.
President Bush himself has garnered some criticism for deciding not to attend the funerals of fallen soldiers, opting for private meetings with their families instead.
I think the Operation Truth site is really very interesting. I read a few stories that Iraq war veterans wrote, including the one at the top of the page today, where little children are encouraged to run alongside the Humvees to get a lollipop, and sometimes, even get run over...