- WASHINGTON -- Charles H.
Buehring came home last week.
- He arrived at the air force base in Dover, Del., in the
middle of the night, in an aluminum shipping case draped in an American
- When the military truck drove his remains across the
tarmac, workers paused and removed their hats.
- He was met by a six-member honour guard acting as pallbearers,
to allow a "dignified transfer" to the Charles C. Carson mortuary,
where he became one of an estimated 60,000 American casualties of war that
have been processed there over almost five decades.
- "It reminds us we are at war," says Lt.-Col.
Jon Anderson, who describes business at the Dover mortuary as "steady."
- But America never saw Lt.-Col. Buehring's arrival, days
after a rocket from a homemade launcher ended his life at age 40 in Baghdad's
heavily fortified Rasheed Hotel last Monday.
- Americans have never seen any of the other 359 bodies
returning from Iraq. Nor do they see the wounded cramming the Walter Reed
Army Medical Centre in Washington or soldiers who say they are being treated
inhumanely awaiting medical treatment at Fort Stewart, Ga.
- In order to continue to sell an increasingly unpopular
Iraqi invasion to the American people, President George W. Bush's administration
sweeps the messy parts of war - the grieving families, the flag-draped
coffins, the soldiers who have lost limbs - into a far corner of the nation's
- No television cameras are allowed at Dover.
- Bush does not attend the funerals of soldiers who gave
their lives in his war on terrorism.
- Buehring of Winter Springs, Fla., described as "a
great American" by his commanding officer, had two sons, 12 and 9,
was active in the Boy Scouts and his church and had served his country
for 18 years.
- No government official has said a word publicly about
- If stories of wounded soldiers are told, they are told
by hometown papers, but there is no national attention given to the recuperating
veterans here in the nation's capital.
- More than 1,700 Americans have been wounded in Iraq since
the March invasion.
- "You can call it news control or information control
or flat-out propaganda," says Christopher Simpson, a communications
professor at Washington's American University.
- "Whatever you call it, this is the most extensive
effort at spinning a war that the department of defence has ever undertaken
in this country."
- Simpson notes that photos of the dead returning to American
soil have historically been part of the ceremony, part of the picture of
conflict and part of the public closure for families - until now.
- "This White House is the greatest user of propaganda
in American history and if they had a shred of honesty, they would admit
it. But they can't."
- Lynn Cutler, a Democratic strategist and former official
in Bill Clinton's White House, says this is the first time in history that
bodies have been brought home under cover of secrecy.
- "It feels like Vietnam when Lyndon Johnson was accused
of hiding the body bags ....
- "This is a big government and a big Pentagon and
they could have someone there to meet these bodies as they come back to
- But today's military doesn't even use the words "body
bags" - a term in common usage during the Vietnam War, when 58,000
- During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the Pentagon began
calling them "human remains pouches" and it now refers to them
as "transfer tubes."
- One term that has crept into the U.S. military lexicon,
however, is the "Dover test," shorthand for the American public's
tolerance for wartime fatalities.
- The policy of banning cameras at Dover dates back to
the 1991 Gulf War, under Bush's father, Pentagon officials say.
- But it has been unevenly applied: You can see photos
of soldiers' bodies returning in coffins from Afghanistan at Ramstein airbase
- Clinton met returning coffins from Kosovo and, in an
elaborate ceremony, was on hand for the arrival of the bodies of his former
commerce secretary Ronald Brown 32 others killed in a 1996 plane crash.
- Pictures were allowed of incoming caskets after the terrorist
attack on the USS Cole in 2000 and President George H.W. Bush helped eulogize
Americans killed in Panama and Lebanon.
- But last March, a directive came down reaffirming the
banning of cameras, likely in anticipation of the sheer volume of casualties
- At Dover, Lt.-Col. Anderson says the policy is strictly
in place to respect the privacy of the families, although he is well aware
that there are those who think it was a political decision.
- "The administration has clearly made an attempt
to limit the attention that would build up if they were showing Dover every
day," says Joseph Dawson, a military historian at Texas A & M
- The White House policy works - to a point.
- If there are no pictures of caskets being delivered to
U.S. airbases, citizens don't think of them, analysts say.
- Dawson says television pictures of the wounded at Walter
Reed would be a jolt to Americans as they head out to dinner or are thinking
of the week's NFL matchups.
- Right now, he says, they likely equate war casualties
with highway accidents: They know both kill and don't need to see graphic
- "The administration may have to come to grips with
this in the months to come. This strategy depends on how long this war
goes on. I have to wonder whether it might be a good idea to have a monthly
remembrance to reflect on how this campaign is going."
- The need for reflection in America is important, Dawson
says, because the country seems to have lapsed back into a state of complacency.
- "The country should be asking whether these men
and women are putting their lives on the line for a justifiable purpose."
- The Bush strategy, he says, is to divert focus from the
dead and the wounded until - or if - his administration's policy can be
judged a winner, then laud the men and women who gave their lives for freedom.
- But it is really rooted in the perception in some quarters
that the media cost the U.S. the Vietnam War.
- There are parallels between Vietnam and Iraq in the words
used by the president and in media coverage, even if there is so far no
comparison in duration or casualties.
- Whereas Lyndon Johnson and his top general, William Westmoreland,
spoke of "steady and encouraging success" in Vietnam when they
knew differently, Bush last week said the car bombing of the Red Cross
showed the "progress" of the American campaign because insurgents
were becoming more desperate.
- Johnson called U.S. bombing missions "limited in
scale" or "commensurate with need" and groused about news
coverage. Bush also says the national media are not telling the truth and
keeps implying the war in Iraq is needed to prevent another attack on U.S.
- Also like the Vietnam era, more attention is being given
to U.S. victims the longer the conflict drags on.
- The Associated Press last week ran the names and hometowns
of all victims since the Iraq invasion began.
- In 1969, Life magazine published a famous, black-covered
edition consisting entirely of portraits of 250 young Americans who died
in Vietnam in one routine week.
- Dawson remembers, because his parents cancelled their
- Television images of American soldiers in combat interrupted
Americans' dinners nightly during the Vietnam War.
- Clinton took his troops out of Somalia after a photo
by the Toronto Star's Paul Watson, showing crowds cheering as a dead American
soldier was dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, was beamed around
the world on news wires.
- Increasing casualties in Iraq have had no such dramatic
effect on Bush, but that could change if more attention is paid to the
wounded coming home and the way they are being treated.
- Walter Reed officials did not return calls seeking comment,
but the crush of casualties in late summer was such that outpatients had
to be referred to hotels in nearby Silver Spring, Md., because the hospital
- The Washington Times said the hospital had treated about
1,700 patients from Operation Iraqi Freedom.
- "Rarely have we seen so many young patients at one
time," a spokesperson said.
- Montana soldier Adam McLain, recovering from injuries
when a military Humvee drove over his leg and head in Baghdad, told the
newspaper from his hospital bed: "I didn't realize how many people
were without limbs or without eyes. It's just depressing. I feel lucky.
I have all my limbs."
- The situation at Walter Reed and the administration's
perceived indifference were highlighted last week by Cher, who visited
troops there, then called an open-line show on C-SPAN, the U.S. network
that broadcasts congressional debates and other political events.
- She did not initially identify herself.
- "Why are Cheney, Wolfowitz, Bremer, the president
ó why aren't they taking pictures with these guys?" she demanded,
referring to Vice-President Dick Cheney, Deputy Defence Secretary Paul
Wolfowitz and the civilian administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer.
- "I don't understand why these guys are so hidden,
why there are no pictures of them."
- Cher also criticized the media for ignoring the "devastatedly
- "Don't hide them," she said. "Let's have
some news coverage where people are sitting and talking to these guys and
seeing their spirit."
- For every Jessica Lynch, the wounded soldier who returned
to a hero's welcome and a book and movie deal, there is a Shoshana Johnson.
- Johnson, shot through both legs and held prisoner in
Iraq for 22 days, will receive 30 per cent disability benefits, about $700
per month less than her colleague Lynch.
- Johnson is black, Lynch is white and the Johnson family
says that is the difference.
- There is also an ongoing investigation into the condition
of patients awaiting treatment at Fort Stewart, Ga., where hundreds of
sick and wounded soldiers say they are languishing in dirty barracks waiting
months for needed medical treatment.
- They say they must hobble across sand to the use the
bathroom, are housed 60 to a barracks and must pay for their own toilet
- Only recently did the Senate successfully demand the
White House stop charging wounded soldiers $8.10 per day for their hospital
- Congress also had to step in to increase danger pay and
separation pay for soldiers, as it appeared the Bush administration was
set to let them expire on Sept. 30.
- When Congress formally approved funding for military
operations and reconstruction in Iraq, it carved Bush's request for $87
billion by about $2 billion.
- Much of that money will instead be spent - over White
House objections - on improved health-care benefits for those in the military
reserve and National Guard who are serving in Iraq.
- - Additional articles by Tim Harper