U.S. wounded may number 8,000

News reports continue to focus on U.S. combat deaths in Iraq, which now hover around 140 since May 1.

There is an equally horrific and sad story that is being neglected—the rapidly growing number of wounded American soldiers.

When the number of combat deaths topped the “postwar” casualty count, the national media did strong coverage. But when the planeloads of wounded GIs touch down at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, there are no representatives of the press on hand.

Very few media outlets have reported that Walter Reed Army Medical Center is bulging at the seams. Other medical facilities also are packed.

Yet, there are no bedside interviews on television, and President Bush does not stop by to shake hands and wish the soldiers a speedy recovery.

“There have been no feature news stories on television focusing on the wounded,” said Liz Swasey of Media Research Center, which keeps an eye on media efforts. “While there have been numerous reports of soldiers getting wounded, there have been no interviews from hospital bedsides.”

According to the Web site Tom Paine.com, the total number of Americans wounded in combat in Iraq is difficult to get, and the tally released by the Pentagon is generally regarded as untrustworthy.

The Pentagon claims only 827 Americans have been wounded since hostilities began in Iraq. However, Lt. Col. Allen DeLane, who is in charge of flying combat victims to Andrews Air Force Base, recently had a much different assessment.

In an interview on National Public Radio, he said: “Since the war has started, I can’t give you an exact number because that’s classified information, but I can say to you over 4,000 have stayed here at Andrews. And that number doubles when you count the people that come here to Andrews, and then we send them to other places like Walter Reed and Bethesda.”

Julian Borger, a reporter for Britain’s The Guardian, says “unofficial figures are in the thousands.” The military’s Central Command in Qatar spoke of 926 wounded, but Borger said that number also is “understated.” The Salt Lake City Tribune, in an article last month, said the Central Command has admitted to 1,007 American casualties.

Whatever the real numbers are, Bush’s war in Iraq is flooding military hospitals in this country.

“Staff are working 70- or 80-hour weeks,” Borger said. “Walter Reed Army hospital in Washington is so full that it has taken over beds normally reserved for cancer patients to handle the influx, according to a report on CBS television,” he said.

The Washington Times reported some of the outpatient wounded are being housed at nearby hotels because of the lack of space.

There is no end of touching and compelling stories from these troopers, so why don’t we see or hear them on the national news? What makes us uncomfortable about the wounded?

From the news executives’ viewpoint, one major reason is that such coverage might threaten Bush’s popularity, which already is in decline, and that the wounded are too depressing a topic.

“The wounded are much too real; telling their stories would be too much of a bummer for television’s news programmers,” said Norman Solomon, co-author of Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You.

“Dead people don’t linger like wounded people do. Dead people’s names can be posted on a television honor roll, but the networks and cable news channels won’t clog up their air time with the names and pictures of hundreds and hundreds of wounded soldiers,” he said.

Howard Rosenberg, former television critic for the Los Angeles Times, agreed and added that giving the wounded air time would be too controversial. “Since 9-11, there is a general feeling among many media outlets that they need to stay away from anything that could be interpreted as disloyal to the country,” he said.

Author John Stauber, who wrote The Weapons of Mass Deception, notes that what the US public has been shown was the Disney war, sanitized and neat, where nobody bleeds, just as the Bush administration wanted.

“Showing wounded soldiers and interviewing their families could be disastrous PR for Bush’s war,” he said. Stauber added: “I suspect the administration is doing all it can to prevent such stories unless they are stage-managed feel-good events like Saving Private [Jessica] Lynch.”

Citizen Soldier is a rights advocacy group for American GIs. Its director, Tod Ensign, thinks the media’s failure to cover the wounded indicates a strong loyalty to the White House and an unwillingness to address a failed policy in Iraq.

“The American media,” said Ensign, “is by and large controlled and dominated by corporations that line up politically with the Bush administration. They appear to be increasingly incapable of grappling with such a high charged issue as the wounded.”

Someone should ask the media why they are ignoring this aspect of the war in Iraq and they should ask President Bush why he avoids confronting the reality of his policy’s results.

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