Published on Saturday, December 27, 2003 by the Boulder Daily Camera
White House AWOL on Casualty Numbers
by Christopher Brauchli
Ring out the old, ring in the new/Ring, happy bells, across the snow:/The year is going, let him go;/Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Year end is a time for reflection and three columns this year have generated responses that deserve to be addressed.
The most useful was from Joanna Clark, a Vietnam veteran who was prompted to write in response to my column that was published shortly after President Bush courageously landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in an S-3B Viking to announce that the war against Iraq had been won. That was, of course, before we learned that although it had been won, thousands more brave service members would die or be injured.
In the column I observed that notwithstanding the thrilling sight of Mr. Bush emerging from the plane in full flight regalia, it also brought to light Mr. Bush's actual military service, which consisted of staying out of Vietnam by joining the Texas Air National Guard, then avoiding service even in that unit by moving to Alabama. There, he began working on the U.S. Senate campaign of one of his father's friends while simultaneously, so he said, serving as a member of a Montgomery Alabama Air National Guard Unit. The unit's records do not show that he ever served there.
I observed that as a result of this conduct he was AWOL and should have been disciplined. Ms. Clark pointed out that my knowledge of military law was deficient. She pointed out that "AWOL is 30 days or less. Over 30 days it becomes desertion. Under the UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice] and Texas Code of Military Justice, there is no statute of limitations for the offense of desertion. Furthermore, both codes carry the death penalty if the offense occurs during time of war. In this case, the Vietnam war was still being waged, so Bush theoretically could be subject to arrest (if someone had the nerve to arrest him)."
I am grateful for the correction and am pleased to share Ms. Clark's observation with my readers. Like her, I consider it unlikely that anyone will arrest, much less charge, Mr. Bush for his infraction and, his affection for the death penalty notwithstanding (as repeatedly demonstrated when he was governor of Texas) it is unlikely he would willingly accept its application to him, were he found guilty. What's sauce for the goose is not always sauce for the gander, especially if the gander happens to be the president of the United States.
The article in which I compared former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's speech which I perceived to be strongly anti-Semitic in tone and General Jerry Boykin's attack on Muslims drew heated responses from a number of people who hate Muslims and a virtually identical number who hate Jews, and a number of people who said that as a result of the column they hated me, thus suggesting that my comment that both men help us understand why people hate people was not far off the mark. In fairness, I must say I was astonished at the number of people who took the time to set forth their thoughts at great length and in non-impassioned form. Hatred has not, apparently, replaced reason throughout the world.
The column in which I described the number of dead and wounded in Iraq that was an outgrowth of an excellent article by Yaroslav Trofimov in The Wall Street Journal on Oct. 29 generated a number of responses suggesting that the figures Mr. Trofimov used and I quoted were woefully short of the actual number of injured. In my column I referred to the number of injured in Iraq since the declared end of war in May 2003 as 1,737. A reader forwarded to me a copy of a story from the European Edition of Stars and Stripes by Marni McEntee that was published on Nov. 5, in which it was reported that the military hospital in Landstuhl "has treated more than 7,000 injured and ill service members from the Iraq war." A hospital staffer at the German hospital reportedly used that same figure when being interviewed on CBS' Early Show in early November.
U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee recently learned that five members of that state's National Guard serving in Iraq were injured by a booby trap shell that exploded as their convoy passed a tree in which it was hidden. Authorities classified their injuries as "noncombat" injuries and declined to award them purple hearts. When Mr. Taylor pointed this out to Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the men received purple hearts. Mr. Taylor expressed concern that Iraq combat casualties were being understated. The general told him he was aware of similar oversights. Such oversights may explain the discrepancy.
It is impossible to know who to believe when it comes to numbers. Whether the number is 2,150 (as reported in mid-December) or 7,000 is less important than the fact that the administration does not want us to know. We may not know it now. We will know it when the injured return and ask us why we did not demand to know.
Christopher Brauchli is a Boulder lawyer and and writes a weekly column for the Knight Ridder news service. He can be reached at email@example.com
Copyright 2003, The Daily Camera