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An antiseptic war
As American deaths near the 1000 mark, the horror is covered up with obfuscation, intimidation, and lies

ON TUESDAY, the Defense Department released the names of the latest four American soldiers to die in the Iraq war. They were James Michael Goins, 23, of Bonner Springs, Kansas, a second lieutenant in the Army; Mark Anthony Zapata, 27, of Edinburg, Texas, a specialist in the Army; Fernando B. Hannon, 19, of Wildomar, California, a private in the Marines; and Geoffrey Perez, 24, of Los Angeles, also a private in the Marines.

Those names brought to 943 the number of US troops who have been killed since the war started, on March 19, 2003. Sometime soon — probably in September, or October at the latest — that tragic figure will pass 1000, a milestone that will no doubt occasion considerable introspection. It should, as should estimates that more than 10,000 Iraqi citizens have lost their lives as well.

Specifics — names, ages, the total number killed — are important in this most antiseptic of wars. Antiseptic for those of us who are trying to learn about what’s happening through the media, that is. It certainly isn’t for those doing the fighting and the dying. And that’s just the way George W. Bush wants it.

This is a war in which it is unusual to see dead bodies, unusual to see military or civilian casualties, unusual to see the maiming and carnage that both sides — or, rather, all sides — have suffered. Bush went to war for false reasons, and his handling of it has become increasingly unpopular with the public. So, to the extent that he can, he has made the war go away.

We don’t see the flag-draped coffins of American soldiers arriving at Dover Air Force Base, thanks to the Pentagon’s rigid enforcement of a policy banning news photographers. And the media, either out of squeamishness or a desire not to be accused of being unpatriotic, have all but ignored those who have been seriously injured. In Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 there is a segment on soldiers who have lost limbs and who are undergoing slow, painful rehabilitation. What’s almost shocking is the realization of how little of this we’ve seen in the mainstream media. Young men and women are giving their lives and their limbs in a war that was launched under false pretenses, to ferret out weapons and terrorists that didn’t exist. And now those who actually paid the price for Bush’s war are being forgotten. The media must be held accountable for not showing the war’s true face, regardless of the obstacles. Their failure stands as yet another example of caving in to Bush and company.

The cover-up deepens. The American-installed puppet regime, led by the thuggish prime minister, Ayad Allawi, has recently taken to threatening journalists with death. Eager to crush the uprising led by the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr by any means necessary, the government has announced that it will shoot any foreign reporter who attempts to cover the fighting in the holy city of Najaf. Reuters quoted a police lieutenant as telling journalists, "We will kill you if you leave the hotel. I will put four snipers on the roof to shoot anyone who leaves."

New York Times reporter John Burns, interviewed earlier this week on PBS’s The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, said, "It’s come to the point where it’s really too dangerous for journalists to even enter Najaf." Noting that the Iraqi government also shut down Al-Jazeera recently, Burns added, "It begins to look as though Dr. Allawi’s government, for all its profession that it wants to protect journalists, is not very keen on giving us too close a coverage to what’s going on down there."

On that, you can be sure that the Allawi regime and the White House see eye to eye.

JUST AS the Bush administration’s surrogates are crushing dissent in Iraq, so is it attempting to intimidate those who would speak out against its policies at home. This week comes the remarkable news that the FBI has been questioning dissidents across the United States in hopes of keeping them away from the Republican National Convention in New York later this month.

According to a report in the New York Times, the FBI claims its efforts are aimed at preventing crime, not stopping protest marches. Yet its heavy-handed tactics could very well persuade many activists to stay home. Sarah Bardwell, a 21-year-old intern for a Denver anti-war organization affiliated with the pacifist American Friends Service Committee, said she had been visited by six investigators.

In an even more chilling example of the FBI’s anti–First Amendment tactics, three young men from Missouri reportedly decided against traveling to both the Democratic and Republican conventions after they received subpoenas and were told they were targets of an ill-defined terrorism investigation — apparently because they had engaged in minor civil disobedience at protests. In fact, they couldn’t have come to Boston even if they had wanted to, since they were ordered to testify before a grand jury during the Democratic convention. Their ACLU lawyer, Denise Lieberman, was quoted as saying that the three "got the message loud and clear that if you make plans to go to a protest, you could be subject to arrest or a visit from the FBI."

Flag-draped coffins arrive in the United States under cover of a government-imposed media blackout. An American-installed regime threatens to kill journalists. The FBI terrorizes dissidents into not exercising their free-speech rights. If such things had taken place while Richard Nixon was president, they would have been added to the bill of impeachment against him. How have we come to this?

During Nixon’s presidency, John Kerry was a Vietnam War hero in the process of transforming himself into one of the most prominent voices against that war. Bush was serving — or rather, not serving — a stint in the Texas Air National Guard. Unfortunately, Kerry — whom this newspaper supports in his campaign for president — seems to have forgotten the lessons of Vietnam, and is thus unable to articulate a clear, consistent position on the war in Iraq. Bush, on the other hand, appears intent on emulating Nixon, only without the Trickster’s maturity, judgment, and foreign-policy expertise.

At a moment that cries out for clarity and truth, we are besieged by obfuscation, intimidation, and lies.

What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters[a]phx.com

Issue Date: August 20 - 26, 2004
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