Friday, March 23, 2007

Getting Screwed

by Karen Kwiatkowski

Screwed up, screwed over, and just plain screwed. The brutality of this language sadly fails to approximate what is happening to our soldiers and Marines in Iraq, and afterwards.

We knew that the invasion of Iraq was conducted without transparent or comprehensive planning. We knew that the fundamental objectives were hidden from the American people – endless occupation, big permanent American military bases, and the destruction, fragmentation and American political and economic subjection of a once politically important Iraq.

What we didn’t know is that the administration’s recklessness, greed, and callousness extended to the American soldiers and Marines who did the administration’s dirty work.

Our American soldiers and Marines have done what our insane Washington leadership asked them to do, regardless of its fundamental unconstitutionality and idiocy. That alone, under Nuremburg rules, may ultimately be a war crime in some international court. "Just following orders" is not a valid defense. Our young men and women have killed, destroyed, and even tortured at the command of the state. For these choices – native to any war – there will be personal and private suffering for years to come.

In any war, even a corrupt state owes its soldiers a certain standard of care. It owes its veterans a debt that is more than gratitude. In the case of America’s all-volunteer military system, this standard of care for soldiers, and the debt to veterans is spelled out in a contract of sorts.

It is said that we are a nation of laws. My experience and observations as a military officer in an equal opportunity era confirmed that. But perhaps I only believe this because I was never deployed as a grunt soldier in Iraq.

When it comes to protecting our young men and women in Iraq, we seem to be functioning in a collective fugue state. If serving in a forward combat role in Iraq (and also Afghanistan), you are likely to be male. You are also lacking one or more of the following: a clear mission, quality leadership, the proper equipment, armor, and training, a functional and wise set of standard operating procedures for suppressing a hostile local populace that does not speak your language nor share your customs. When you make a mistake or crack under pressure, you will be thrown to the legal wolves. Unless, of course, you are a senior officer, in which case you have an excellent chance of being quickly promoted out of harm’s way.

If you are injured in combat, you will be rushed into the vast system of hospitals, where you will vie for the attention of an overworked, very frustrated, and yet anonymous and unaccountable set of health care professionals who are increasingly overburdened.

If you are female in uniform, and deployed to Iraq, you face all of the above plus a few more. Sexual harassment, pressure for sex from peers and superiors, abuse, rape and even the chance of dying because you cannot safely hydrate yourself for fear of being raped in the night on your way to the latrine – these additive challenges face our female volunteers.

And that’s all before they come home to Walter Reed or Smallville, USA.

The recent flurry of publicity and firings of military figureheads over the dilapidated state of medical care for our wounded and soon-to-be medically discharged Iraq and Afghanistan veterans speaks to one more Washington betrayal.

We have seen an Army General or two fired in response to late-coming national publicity of abhorrent treatment of our maimed and recovering soldiers. But the real crime is much higher than three or four stars.

The administration and the Pentagon didn’t plan for an occupation of Iraq, because that planning would belie our public optimism, betray the propaganda of cakewalks and a thousand flowers, and reveal the truth about the administration’s 2003 force-march to war. Likewise, to have planned for 25,000 injured Iraq and Afghan veterans, many permanently crippled, blinded, disfigured and brain damaged, and 100,000 psychological and emotional head cases trying to reintegrate into their former lives would have revealed the administration’s Iraq narrative to be dead wrong. No matter the cost, the Bush-Cheney narrative must be seen as the "reality."

The lack of planning for medical and hospice care, rehabilitation, counseling and therapy – as with the Congressional decision to close/replace the premier military hospital in 2005 – occurred even after the Pentagon, the administration and the Congress had recognized the bloody human costs the Iraq occupation was bringing home. Instead of attending funerals and visiting amputees and paraplegics at Walter Reed, the Administration and the Pentagon seized an opportunity to spend more tax money and get new stuff – even though that would mean an immediate cutoff of improvement and maintenance funds for Walter Reed, filled to overflowing already with sick solders.

Bush doesn’t like to veto legislation, unless it offends his religiously-couched "love of life" or prevents him from going to war with whomever he pleases, whenever he wants, and for no particular reason. We knew Bush and Cheney had nothing but contempt for the Iraqi and Afghani people. Apparently, that contempt extends to serving Americans as well. Had either Bush or Cheney, or Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz cared about the impacts of their war-play on the people of this country, they would have dealt with this well-known medical care shortfall, shown concern over what BRAC-listing Walter Reed would mean to our recovering veterans. These so-called leaders they would have demanded executable plans to ensure both the bureaucratic and medical capacity was sufficient.

But neither Bush nor Cheney care one whit for the fighting soldiers, and neither wishes to be reminded of the shattered limbs and lives left when the fighting is done. The ugly truth doesn’t fit their carefully constructed narrative of "winning" and "wars on terror" and "patriotism." As a Bush aide explained to Ron Suskind a few years ago, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."

That reality means that not only are the hapless targets of our imperialism screwed, but so is every serving soldier and Marine in Iraq. At least in the Roman Army, the milites could expect to share in the booty of conquered lands. In the American empire, that privilege is reserved for Halliburton, as our wasted foot-soldiers are buried alive.

This article originally appeared on

March 23, 2007

LRC columnist Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, has written on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for, hosted the call-in radio show American Forum, and blogs occasionally for and Liberty and Power. Archives of her American Forum radio program can be accessed here and here. To receive automatic announcements of new articles, click here.

Copyright © 2007 Karen Kwiatkowski

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