Lies, Damned Lies, And War
By Frida Berrigan

"The first casualty, when war comes, is truth." --Senator Hiram Johnson, World War I
"We are learning to do what the British used to do so well - Lie." --U.S. Intelligence Officer, November 2001
The papers are full of news of Johnny "Mike" Spann from Alabama. The Central Intelligence Agency officer, who served in the Directorate of Operations, is being described as a hero and a patriot. He is also being described as "the first American combat death" in Afghanistan. He was killed during fighting at the Qala-I-Jhangi mud fort near Mazar-I-Sharif. Five American soldiers were seriously wounded in the same raid, when an U.S. bomb landed too close to them. Until Thursday, the CIA and Pentagon were denying reports that Spann had died. Now that they admit it, they say he is the first.
According to a November 17th UPI article this is not true. Reporter Richard Sale quotes an unnamed U.S. administration official as saying that between 25 and 40 U.S. Special Forces have been killed so far, mostly in fighting in southern Afghanistan, around Kandahar. While Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said no Americans were killed in these operations, a State Department official retorted "that's crazy."
Besides Mike Spann, the Pentagon acknowledges four other American deaths in incidents related to the war on terrorism, but not in Afghanistan. Two soldiers were killed on October 20th when their helicopter crashed in Pakistan. Two others died in accidents, one, Bryant Davis, stationed on the USS Kitty Hawk fell overboard on November 7th and was lost.
John Pike, president of Washington-based GlobalSecurity. Org, referred to a press conference last month where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was quizzed about the Taliban displaying a wheel of a helicopter, torn off in an accident, but which the Taliban claimed was shot down. According to Pike, at the end of his explanation, Rumsfeld looked at the reporters and stated the equivalent of: "This is the last time I'm telling you the truth."
At a press conference on Monday, November 26th, President Bush warned, "Americans must be prepared for the loss of life," in Afghanistan. Prepared or not, here they come. A Taliban spokesman claimed in early November that ninety-five American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. The Pentagon claims five. Somewhere between those two figures lies the truth. Americans can't prepare for loss of life without the truth about who, where, when and why. Only then can we judge if this loss of life is worth it. And maybe that is why they aren't telling us the truth.
The truth in war is as necessary as it is elusive. The support from 95% of Americans hinges on the war's antiseptic perfection, its remoteness and incomprehensibility. When the war begins to come home-- when the stories of missed targets, friendly fire incidents, the brutality and lawlessness of our Northern Alliance allies and foot soldiers are told-that overwhelming support will falter and crumbled.
Frida Berrigan is a Research Associate with the World Policy Institute's Arms Trade Resource Center.


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