Part 1 of 2PART TWO
Chapter 3: PROLOGUE TO THE PROSECUTION OF GEORGE W. BUSH FOR MURDER
AS ADULTS, most of us have learned that there are consequences in life for our misbehavior. If George Bush, as I believe, took this nation to war in Iraq on a lie, causing catastrophic repercussions on a scale far larger than the attacks of 9/11, what should we, as a nation, do about it? As of the publication date of this book, apparently nothing. Indeed, and remarkably, there hasn't even been any investigation of Bush's conduct, nor has one even been seriously proposed,  In the chapter that follows this one, I will make my own small contribution to "doing something about" what has happened. But before I do, I want to talk in this prologue about the thousands of young American men and women who paid for Bush's conduct with their irreplaceable lives, because if these men and women were not in their cold graves, I obviously would not be recommending what I do in the next chapter. I also want to discuss how the author of these deaths, George Bush, has comported himself through the horror of it all.
My anger over the war in Iraq, some will say, is palpable in the pages of this book. If I sound too angry for some, what should I be greatly angry about -- that a referee gave what I thought was a bad call to my hometown football, basketball, or baseball team, and it may have cost them the game? I don't think so.
Virtually all of us cling desperately to life, either because of our love of life and/or our fear of death. I'm told there is a passage in a novel by Dostoyevsky in which a character in the story exclaims, "If I were condemned to live on a rock, chained to a rock in the lashing sea, and all around me were ice and gales and storm, I would still want to live. Oh God, just to live, live, live!"
So nothing is as important in life as life and death. We fear and loathe the thought of our own death, even if it's a peaceful one after we've outlived the normal longevity. We fear not only the loss of our own lives, but the lives of our parents and sisters and brothers, as well as our relatives and close friends. We don't think of our children too much in this regard because our children, in the normal scheme of things, are supposed to outlive us. When they die before us, the already hideous nature of death becomes unbearable. And that's when they die a normal and peaceful death from illness. If the death is from an accident, like a car collision, the death of the child, if possible, is even more unbearable.
So one can hardly imagine the gut-tearing pain and horror when the only child of a couple, a nineteen-year-old son, call him Tim, the center of his parents' lives, whom they showered with their love and lived through vicariously in his triumphs on the athletic field and in the classroom, and who was excited as he looked forward to life, planning to wed his high school sweetheart and go on to become a police officer (or lawyer, doctor, engineer, etc.) dies the most horrible of deaths from a roadside bomb in a far-off country, and comes home in a metal box,  his body so shattered that his parents are cautioned by the military not to open it because what is inside ("our Timmy") is "unviewable." (To make the point hit home more with you, can you imagine if it was your son who was killed in Iraq and came home "unviewable" in a box? Yes, your son Scott, or Paul, or Michael, or Ronnie, Todd, Peter, Marty, Sean, or Bobby.)
No words can capture the feelings, the enormous suffering, of Tim's parents. But I think we can say that among a host of other deep agonies, they will have nightmares for the rest of their lives over the horrifying image of their boy the moment he lost his life on a desolate road in Iraq. As a mother of a soldier who died in Iraq wrote in a May 17, 2004, letter to the New York Times: "The explosion that killed my son in Baghdad will go on in our lives forever." She went on to say that "seared on" her soul are the "screams and despair" of her family over the loss of her son and the "sound of taps above the weeping crowd at the grave site of my son."
Just as Tim's young life ended before he really had a chance to live, so did the lives of thousands of other young men in the Iraq war. Not one of them wanted to die. As one wrote in his diary before he was killed in the battle of Fallouja: "I am not so much scared as I am very afraid of the unknown. If I don't get to write again, I would say I died too early, I haven't done enough in my life. I haven't gotten to experience enough. Though I hope I haven't gone in vain." In letter after letter home by young men who were later killed in combat in Iraq were words to the effect, "I can't wait to get back home and to start my life again."
All of the young men who died horrible and violent deaths in Bush's war had dreams. Bush saw to it that none of them would ever come true. It is impossible to adequately describe all the emotions and the magnitude of the human suffering that this dreadful war has wrought. But we can at least begin to comprehend the enormity of it by looking briefly at some stories of those young men who paid with their lives for Bush's monumental crime.
As undoubtedly is the case with the reader's local paper, for several years now my hometown paper, the Los Angeles Times, every week without fail -- sometimes it seems every day; under "Military Deaths" -- has an obituary; or two or three, of young American soldiers from Southern and Central California who were killed in Iraq. Many had Hispanic names; almost all were very young and of limited education (only 3.5 percent of the enlisted men in the Iraqi war -- the men who, for the most part, do the fighting, the so-called grunts -- have a college degree); and virtually all appeared to come from low- income homes. There was a story in each obituary of their abbreviated lives, with reminiscences from their parents, brothers and sisters, wives, as well as girlfriends they were already planning to marry. I wish I had kept all of them, although they would number in the hundreds. A typical caption was "Army Cpl. (name), 20, Rialto; killed by a roadside bomb."
Here are a few random snippets drawn mostly from the Los Angeles Times, and a few elsewhere. Though not comprehensive, we can suppose they are representative of the others because they all tell the same story of a young life tragically cut short by the war.
"How long must I wait to go home?" Luis, 21, who was killed by a roadside bomb wrote. "How long must I wait to marry my girlfriend?" Family and friends said the thing they'll always remember about Luis is how easily he made them laugh. He'd recite favorite lines from movies or from comedian Dave Chappelle ..."He was scared because he was going to Iraq," his younger brother Eric said. "He was telling me he loved me. He was crying. He said he didn't know what to do." His fiancee was planning to surprise him with a scrapbook filled with photographs of themselves. The last page was dedicated to their planned wedding. She included cutouts of a multi-tiered cake, a tuxedo, a wedding dress, and a caption in fancy lettering, "And they lived happily ever after."
"He was just special," said his mother Maria about her son, Michael (20). "He was always there for me and his brothers and sisters. He did a lot for his family." His sister Sasha, 18, said her brother was her best friend, whom she would seek out for advice about boys and other teenage issues. "He would tell me that he would always be there for me," she added.
Guy (23) worked at a Home Depot store and joined the National Guard to help pay for his education. Just before he died, he told his mother that when he returned from Iraq his goal was to return to school and get a degree in computer engineering.
There was something sweetly old-fashioned about Lucente, who was among five Marines killed November 16 in combat in Ubaydi, Iraq. The nineteen-year-old Grace Valley resident went to church regularly, held down a job as a dishwasher, and never failed to tell his family that he loved them. "He was always giving us hugs, always telling us he loved us," his mother said.
Christopher (21) would flash his 1,000-watt smile and remind his sisters how pretty they were as he grew up in Vallejo, California. His parents, Rudy and Margarita, had been surprised in 2004 when their son, who had just turned 18 and completed high school, told them he had joined the Army. "He was afraid we couldn't pay for college," said his mother, who is a clerk at Target. "I said I'll work two jobs. You'll be able to go to college. He wanted to be a policeman someday. He talked about that even when he was younger." "I always thought I was going to be a kid forever," he wrote for his senior class commencement program.
Leon (20) and his fiancee planned to be married in December. He was thinking he might join the Los Angeles Police Department and maybe try for the SWAT squad. When he'd call home to his parents he wanted to know about his family and his neighborhood. He'd say; "That's the stuff that keeps me grounded, shows me there is something real, something to hold on to,"' his mother said. "He definitely had the heart of a lion and did your family name proud," wrote a Marine buddy to Leon's parents. Army Cpl. Jarred Speller, who was on the roof with Leon, wrote of the frantic moments after Leon was hit by a sniper as medics tried to stop the bleeding to his head. "I held his head in my hands the whole time and kept trying to tell him he was going to be okay."
Tom (23) was killed Monday near Baghdad in a grenade explosion. Like so many young men with dreams but not much money, he saw an opportunity: "The Army flashed dollar signs in their [Tom and his brother's] faces. They jumped at it," said Tom's stepfather. Tom wanted to be a school teacher. He and his wife, Paulette, were married for less than two years and had one child. "Tommy enjoyed life to the fullest," his stepfather said. "He was a good Christian boy. His life was cut short. Tommy won't be able to be anything anymore."
Nineteen-year-old Ryan was remembered by all as a "big kid" with a heart-melting smile. His "easy charm and athletic good looks -- he played baseball and football in high school -- made for no lonely Saturday nights." He was a "ladies man," said his older brother, Sean, noting the number of grieving young women at his kid brother's funeral. It wasn't just young ladies who were taken with Ryan. "Everybody I ever talked to loved Ryan," his father, a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, said. Ryan's job in Iraq was to root out roadside bombs, but one he didn't see killed two of Ryan's buddies near their Humvee in Ramadi, and severely injured Ryan, with third- degree burns over most of his body He was airlifted to Germany and then Brooks Army Medical Center in San Antonio where he died twelve days later. His father and mother had flown to San Antonio to spend every moment at his side. He was unconscious during most of his hospital stay but had six hours of wakefulness with his family. "I think he fought to get those six hours with us," said his father. "He had a very strong will. He's missed every day" and will be "for the rest of our lives."
In classic Southern California style, Kyle loved heavy-metal rock music and fast cars, perhaps to extremes. He carried a picture of his Camaro in his wallet and had the lyrics of a Pantera song tattooed on his back. Although he was not interested in school, he was exceptionally intelligent, scoring above 150 on an Army IQ test. He taught himself to play his father's guitar at age 11. His relatives said he excelled at it. When his sister Korra Jean was killed in a car accident four years ago, he had her full name tattooed across his chest. Kyle believed in the U.S. mission in the Middle East, relatives said. During a visit home in February, his half-sister found him quieter than usual. She said he told his friends, "If I don't come home, have a raging party for me," and told her to make sure he was buried in his military uniform. Kyle was among four soldiers killed south of Baghdad when mines detonated near the Humvee they were riding in, setting it on fire. He was 23.
[Andres, a 23-year-old Army sergeant,] "turned to the gunner in his Humvee while on patrol in Baghdad on July 15, 2006, and insisted on switching seats. When his commanding officer ordered him to stay put, he said he couldn't explain why but he knew that he needed to be sitting in the gunner's seat. His orders were coming from a higher source, he said. Moments after he made the switch, a roadside bomb exploded and killed him. The other soldier was bruised but alive. That was the story of Andres' life in Iraq, always thinking of his fellow soldiers. This is why his fellow servicemen called him a "soldier's soldier," someone distinguished by his selfless regard for others' welfare above his own. There are no plaques, medals or badges that mark a soldier's soldier. "It's a distinguished phrase you don't just give to anyone," said a peer of Andres. "It's one of those things you earn. He definitely had it." Andres had wanted to return home to become a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff. He left behind a four-year-old daughter, Grace, who lived with his former girlfriend. He doted on her, spending his few weeks at home taking her to Knott's Berry Farm and Disneyland. He would shower her with gifts -- lately she favored Winnie the Pooh. Besides his daughter, his survivors were his parents and five younger brothers.
Joseph, 21, was killed near Baghdad on July 25 in an ambush on his convoy. He had married his childhood sweetheart, Cori, 20, shortly before he left for Iraq the previous fall. In the weeks before his death, the soldier had been counting the days until he came home. He was looking forward to settling down with his bride. "We had saved like pack rats to get a house," Cori said. "He was very anxious to get home. We had spent a good part of his military career apart, and it was just time" to start their life together.
Raymond (21) was born six weeks early and weighed a scant three pounds. An accomplished basketball player, he graduated from Anaheim's Western High School, attended Santa Ana College, and dreamed of being a fire fighter. "He came home one ay," his mother, Willieta, said, and said to her, "I was talking to a couple of my professors and they said there was a long list for fire fighters. They said the only way I could be a fire fighter without being on the list is joining the military." Willieta begged her only child to talk to her first. "I said, Raymond, I don't object to you going into the military. I object to you going at this time." A few weeks later he signed up. Raymond loved hip-hop music, text messaging, video games and flashy cars. Someday, he said, he would buy a Cadillac Escalade or G.M.C. Yukon with the money he earned fighting in Iraq. Raymond had a big smile, a big heart, a big appetite, a big soul. The best of friends and the sweetest of sons. When he was home on leave, Raymond would buy flowers for his mom. "I want to go on," his mother said, "But I don't know. Do I even have a purpose anymore? It's hard. It's hard. It's hard."
In these obituaries we see, as indicated earlier, that most of these soldiers dying in Iraq come from very modest or low-income roots. That's why they found even the low pay scale of the military so enticing. That these young men from relatively poor families are fighting a war and dying for multimillionaires like Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, and that companies like Halliburton (Cheney's former company) have made billions, yes billions of dollars off their blood in contracts, is enough to make any decent human being sick to the stomach.
What makes the sickness turn into rage is to know that Bush took these young men to war on a lie, and that when they died they thought they were dying to protect their country against those who were involved in 9/11. The additional fact that these soldiers were sent into a war zone without the equipment necessary to protect them not only increases the rage exponentially but shows exactly how little regard Bush and his administration have for those who have been willing to risk their lives fighting Bush's war. As was clear after the first roadside bombs (known as IEDs, improvised explosive devices) killed U.S. troops in their very vulnerable Humvees in 2003, military vehicles designed to withstand them were desperately needed. Yet the Bush administration was unconscionably slow in replacing the Humvees or in armoring them properly. To date, IEDs have been responsible for almost 70 percent of all American combat deaths in Iraq.
Can anything possibly be more abominable than this very rich nation sending its young men off to war without providing them with the proper equipment? If the young men dying in Iraq in Humvees were the children of wealthy CEOs, wouldn't something have been done immediately in a crash program (special contracts with multiple manufacturers, twenty-four-hour shifts, etc.) to get the necessary protection for them? In reality, a year and a half after the war started, the only Humvee armoring company in America was operating under capacity because of no new orders from the Pentagon (Newsweek, December 20, 2004), i.e., although protecting our troops should be a top priority in time of war, the Bush administration was not spending the money necessary to do so, nor insuring that more than one factory was working to get the job done. As was reported many times in the media (e.g., New York Times, October 30, 2004), the situation was so bad that American soldiers in Iraq were literally writing home and having their loved ones send requested body and armor parts for the Humvees to them.
When Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld visited Iraq and spoke to a group of soldiers on December 8, 2004, one of them (National Guard Specialist Thomas Wilson) stood up and publicly complained about the lack of protection the Humvees were providing them, saying that troops had to forage for "rusted scrap metal and ballistic glass that's already been shot up, busted, picking the best out of this scrap to put on our vehicles to take into combat." He asked Rumsfeld, to loud cheers from many of his fellow soldiers, why they had "to dig through local landfills" for their armor. Rumsfeld, who himself hid out at Princeton on a student deferment when it was his generation's time to fight in Korea, blithely brushed the soldier off, saying, "you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time." But that terribly arrogant position would only apply if America, for instance, had been invaded by Iraq, in which case we would have to make do with what we had at that particular time. But Bush had all the time in the world to prepare for his war against Iraq. Not only was Iraq never, ever going to attack the United States, or help anyone else do so, but even if it were, it certainly wouldn't be doing so for a long time.
While young American soldiers were scavenging for their "hillbilly" armor to protect themselves in a war that only big corporations, like Halliburton, profited from, a story from the December 10, 2004, New York Times (just two days after Specialist Wilson's confrontation with Rumsfeld) was captioned "It's Inauguration Time Again, and Access Still Has Its Price -- $250,000 Buys Lunch with President and More." Can you imagine that? A quarter of a million dollars spent by the nation's very wealthy just for lunch, while young Americans, mostly from low-income families, were dying violent deaths on the battlefield in Iraq because of inadequate protection.
Although American soldiers, to this very day, continue to be killed by roadside bombs in Iraq, this, from the August 23, 2007, edition of USA Today: "The Pentagon said yesterday that it will fall short of its goal of sending 3,500 armored vehicles to Iraq by the end of the year . Instead, officials expect to send about 1,500. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said that while defense officials still believe contractors will build about 3,900 of the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles [MRAPs -- these are not armored Humvees] by year's end, it will take longer for the military to fully equip them and ship them to Iraq." This is particularly infuriating because the MRAPs that have been deployed in Iraq thus far have been very effective in withstanding the roadside bombs.
The marines requested the MRAPs (whose V-shaped hull at the bottom deflects a bomb's blast to the sides and away from the crew, as opposed to the Humvees whose flat underside takes the full force of a blast through the floor) way back in December of 2003. Yet because of bureaucratic wrangling and the original unwillingness of the Bush administration to adequately fund the very heavy and expensive MRAPs, which only take four months to manufacture, it wasn't until August of 2007, almost four years later, that a small percentage were available for combat operations in Iraq. As expected, by the end of 2007, only 1,500 of the approximately 14,000 the military requested had been delivered to Iraq.
And there is more. In June of 2004, the army told the Pentagon it needed 2,600 M1117 armored vehicles (again, not armored Humvees) for its military police. Yet the Bush administration only contracted with one company, Textron in New Orleans, and for only 1,250 vehicles. Why no more? "That's all they had the money for," Clay Moise, the Textron vice president, said in January of 2007. And this is from the administration that gave the super rich in America, those who don't need one dime from anyone, a $1.3 trillion tax break over ten years.
What about body armor? A Pentagon study in 2006 found that some 80 percent of the marines who were killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2005 from upper body wounds could have survived if they had had extra body armor there. As of late 2005, over two and a half years into the war, less than 10 percent of 28,000 upper armor plates on order had reached our marines in Iraq. That the Bush administration would send young American soldiers to fight its senseless war in Iraq without adequately equipping them for combat is unpardonable and criminal.
As if all of this is not bad enough, consider what the Bush administration has done with our brave young soldiers in Iraq who managed to survive the war but were seriously wounded, many disabled for life. We all know about the subpar performance of this nation's care and treatment of these soldiers as exemplified by the scandal at Walter Reed Hospital. Dr. John H. Chiles, who was chief of anesthesiology at Walter Reed, said that America's military medical system was "underfunded [to repeat, this, from a Bush administration that gave a $1.3 trillion tax break to the super rich], understaffed and overwhelmed." To quote from an Ella Fitzgerald tune, isn't that just delovely?
About the $1.3 trillion tax break for the very wealthy in the upper one percent of our society, would you believe it if I told you that the flag-waving, red, white, and blue super patriots in the Bush administration, who want us to believe they love our troops so much more than Democrats do, actually wanted to partially fund the tax give-away on the backs of these poor soldiers dying for them and their wealthy corporate friends in Iraq? Yes, you heard me right. Although it's unbelievable, it's true. Incredibly, in July of 2003, with the base pay of a private starting at only $1,064 per month, the Bush administration decided to discontinue the $75-a-month bonus that soldiers in combat zones in Iraq were getting. The $75 was called "imminent danger pay;" or "combat pay." Bush and his people just felt this was being overly generous with the soldiers at taxpayers' expense, and in the interim budget report sent to Congress by Donald Rumsfeld's Department of Defense, the combat pay was not included.
The Army Times, which is distributed widely among army personnel, immediately attacked the White House and Pentagon in editorials for their extremely selfish, callous, and outrageous position. And military families, veterans groups, and Democrats (yes, Democrats) immediately voiced their strong opposition to the Bush administration decision to cut the combat pay of American soldiers fighting in Iraq. These are soldiers, mind you, trying to survive -- on a virtual second-to-second basis in the combat zones -- deadly roadside bombs and guerilla-style attacks. Soldiers weighted down with heavy equipment and combat gear fighting sometimes in 120-degree-plus heat. And back in our nation's air-conditioned Capitol, multimillionaire Republicans in the Bush administration, most of whom were draft dodgers in the Vietnam War, wanted to cut their monthly pay by $75.00. Then-Democratic senator Joe Lieberman said that the Bush administration's proposal was "just unconscionable. The government can afford the billions they give in tax cuts to millionaires, but there's not enough to give a little something to men and women who are putting their lives on the line." Democratic representative Mike Thompson, a Vietnam War veteran, wrote a letter to Bush saying, "This is an outrageous and hypocritical affront to our soldiers who are being killed on a daily basis and to their families." Democratic senator John Edwards said, "Our military deserves every dollar they earn and more. The Bush administration should reverse itself immediately;" which is exactly what Bush and his people did, withdrawing their call for a cut in combat pay the moment they saw their proposal being met with so much opposition.
But what does Bush and his people actually wanting to cut the combat pay of American soldiers fighting in Iraq tell you about these people? Is here really anything more to say? 
Visiting the grave site of a relative in May of 2006, I noticed a nearby grave decorated much more than the others. When I walked over, there was a photo of a young soldier in uniform. He was "SPC Sergio" (Hispanic last name) and the headstone said "March 7, 1983 - December 25, 2005," so he was twenty-two years old when he died on Christmas day in Iraq. The inscription was "Beloved Husband, Father, and Everyone's Hero." Then a biblical reference: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept my faith, II Timothy 4:7." On a large backboard were written the words "1-64 Armor Battalion Desert Rogers Operation Iraq Freedom 111." Many flowers and six American flags surrounded the grave site.
Like all the others, Sergio had a story, and I wondered what that story was. Also like the others, we know he had dreams he never even had a chance to try to make come true. I thought of him in the cold earth beneath me having died, as some liberal commentators have said, "for nothing."George Bush and Karl Rove -- Chip Somodevilla/ Getty Images
But these liberal commentators are 100 percent wrong. Sergio and all the others didn't die for nothing. They died for nothing worthwhile, yes. But they died for something, make no mistake about that. Although there is an old Turkish proverb that whoever tells the truth is chased out of nine villages, doesn't someone have to tell the truth that 4,000 young Americans decomposing in their graves today died for the two men shown in the photo above, George Bush and Karl Rove, and their friend Dick Cheney? We know they didn't die for you and me. And they certainly didn't die for America. Since Hussein constituted no threat to this country and had nothing to do with 9/11, how could these young Americans have possibly died to protect this country? Indeed, America has only been greatly harmed by the war. Not only by the loss of the 4,000 American soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq, and the 30,000 who have been seriously wounded, but we have spent over $1 trillion there that could have been used to help fix the many ills of this country (Political columnist Nicholas D. Kristof got his calculator out in July of 2007 and computed that "if we take the total eventual cost of the Iraq war, that sum could be used to finance health care for all uninsured Americans for perhaps 30 years." Indeed, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Joseph Stiglitz says that "for a fraction of the cost of this war, we could have put social security on a sound footing for the next half-century or more.")
On top of all that, and to repeat what is well known, we've converted a country that was free of terrorists into one with many terrorists in it, and we've alienated almost the entire civilized world. So please don't say that Sergio and his fellow soldiers died for America.
Since we know that no American interest was being served by the war, and hence, these young men did not die for America or for you and me, whom did they die for? As ugly and grotesque as it is, the fact is that they gave up their lives to further the political interests of Bush, Rove, and Cheney. No political figures in American history ever so shamelessly exploited a war for political advantage as much as these three. Indeed, Rove built Bush's whole successful 2004 reelection campaign around the war in Iraq.
Speaking of the photo of Bush and Rove, do these two "men" look like men of real character, stature, moral strength, and dignity, the type whose word and sterling example could inspire a nation to go to war? I put "men" in quotes, because Bush is obviously not a man of stature. He's a spoiled, callous brat who became president only because of his father's good name. And Rove is a pasty, weak-faced, and mean-spirited political criminal. Neither of them are men of stature, honor, and gravitas, like many of our fine leaders of the past century such as Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, FDR, Eisenhower, JFK, Ford, and George Bush Sr. These two are human embarrassments, and it's written all over their faces who they are. There's nothing of substance and character on the inside of either of these two "men" for their faces to reflect. These "men" refused to fight for America when it was their time to fight for this country -- Bush using his father's influence to get into the National Guard so he wouldn't be sent to Vietnam, and Rove getting a student deferment. Cheney, for his part, got five deferments, later explaining that "I had other priorities" than going to war. Nonetheless, they had no hesitation sending thousands of American soldiers to die violent deaths on foreign soil against a nation that wasn't our enemy (Hussein was only an enemy of George Bush and his father, not America -- see discussion in notes) and had nothing to do with 9/11. I repeat, because I don't want anyone to make any mistake about this, these are the men whom Sergio and other American soldiers died for.
Isn't that nice, that parents raise their son, whom they love with every fiber of their being, to die for these "men"? That their son's ashes come back in a jar from Iraq or his body is too blown into pieces to be viewed in its metal container, because of George Bush, Dick Cheney; and Karl Rove? If you say our young men didn't die for Bush, Cheney, and Rove, then whom did they die for? Hey, I'm talking to you. If you don't think they died for Bush, Cheney, and Rove, I want you to tell me whom you think they died for?
Indeed, some poor soldiers expressly said they died for Bush. Like young Mariano, who wrote his parents from Iraq a week or so before he was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, "I didn't vote for Bush, but I'll take a bullet for him." Can you imagine that? Willing to die for the draft-dodging, arrogant son of privilege from Crawford. The reason Mariano said this, of course, is that because of Bush's lies, as recently as 2006, 90 percent of our soldiers in Iraq still actually believed that Hussein and Iraq were involved in 9/11. As has been said, the epitaph that could be on the gravestone of poor Sergio and other young American soldiers who died in Iraq is "Bush Lied. I Died." Virtually all of the American soldiers who died in Iraq believed they were fighting for their country The mother of one, Cpl. Sean Kelly, said what we have heard over and over from other parents: "He was proud to be there fighting for our country." Cpl. James L. Moore had told his grandmother in a phone call home from Iraq shortly before he was killed: "Grandma, I'd rather be fighting them here than to have them come there [U.S.] to fight." The mother of Lance Cpl. Robert A. Martinez (one of ten Marines killed in combat in Fallouja in December of 2005 -- typically, they were very young ["babies" many Americans have called them], two being nineteen, three twenty, and one twenty-one) -- said her son "wanted to protect his family. He said he was doing it for us. He was a true patriot who believed in his mission and President Bush."
When Pfc. Thomas Tucker (twenty-five) called home from Iraq in June of 2006 to inform his parents he was going to be gone on a mission for a while, he left a voice mail message that included the following: "Hey, Mama. I love you. I love you too Dad ... I will be back before you know it ... I worry about you guys, too. I love you, okay. I'm going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay. I'm going to defend my country. Be proud of me." A few days later, the bodies of Tucker and fellow soldier Pfc. Khristian Menchaca (twenty-three) were found, their tattered army uniforms drenched in blood. Both had been brutally tortured and their bodies severely mutilated. One of them had been decapitated, his head sitting next to his body; his chest cut open. A video released by the insurgent group responsible for the killings shows one insurgent picking up the head while another insurgent steps on the face of the other solider. According to his family, Menchaca, who had recently married, believed completely, like Tucker, in the U.S. mission in Iraq. "My little boy," Maria Guadalupe Vasquez, Menchaca's mother, cried out at his funeral.
These words were voiced over and over by the mothers of fallen American soldiers. "Please tell me that I'm going to wake up, and this is just a horrible dream," said Marina Beyer in November 2004 as she stood in the chill outside the San Francisco airport, waiting for the body of her son who was killed in Iraq on his twenty-first birthday to arrive. "In my mind he was still my little boy." When his flag-draped container was pulled on a baggage cart into the cargo area, she broke down as she leaned against it, wailing, "No! No!"
Bush, the man former Mexican president Vicente Fox has called "the cockiest guy I have ever met in my life," insists on thrusting his audacity in our face. Since he ran away when it was his time to fight for his country, one would think, for instance, that when he speaks to audiences about all "the many brave men and women" who have died for "our freedom," he'd simply leave it at that. But he has consistently gone on to use words that one would think, if he had a conscience that served as a harness, he would purposefully avoid since they compel comparisons with his own cowardly conduct during the Vietnam War. He has a fondness for saying that these dead Americans "answered the call" and "stepped forward" to serve. (Could Bush be adding to himself, "I didn't, but hey, so what? I love America. Always have"?)
Bush even has the effrontery to use letters home from innocent young American soldiers who died in Iraq for him as evidence they died for their country, reading the letters at public events. For instance, on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery in 2005, he read a letter from Sgt. Michael Evans, twenty-two, who was killed in Baghdad, to his family in case of his death: "My death," young Evans wrote, "will mean nothing if you stop now. I know it will be hard, but I gave my life so you could live. Not just live, but live free."
The outrageous nature of what has happened becomes markedly sicker when one considers the fact that many of the parents of soldiers killed in Iraq just love Bush, the man who, unbeknownst to them, was directly responsible for their son's death. When the parents of a young marine from Clovis, California, tried to e-mail their son in Iraq to give him news that Bush had been reelected, the mother said, "Jared, Bush won. Your Dad and I are so happy; but where are you? Where are you?" The parents learned the next day that Jared and his inseparable childhood friend and marine buddy, Jeremiah, were killed by the same hidden bomb near Baghdad. Jared's mother had to locate stitches in the back of her son's head in his coffin to make sure it was really her son lying before her.
Kevin Graves, whose son was killed in Iraq, told Bush in a face-to- face meeting: "It was an honor for my son to serve under you as commander in chief."
And then there are the Jennifer Hartings of the survivors' community. Harting's husband, Jay, was killed in combat in Iraq two days before she gave birth to their son. Responding to the antiwar activism of Cindy Sheehan, who lost her twenty-four-year-old son, Casey, in combat in Iraq, Harting took Sheehan to task: "I sympathize with her pain. But I think Cindy Sheehan doesn't get it," Harting said. "You can't just leave when the going gets tough. Even if tough means that soldiers are going to die." Time wrote that "Harting thinks that instead of protesting, Sheehan should take solace in knowing that a soldier's job is to follow the President no matter what."
In talking about the horrors of the Iraq war, one of the problems is that numbers on a page are so lifeless and mean little to most people. Saying that 100,000 people have died in the war in Iraq is just a number to them. But obviously, if they could have seen, up close, the horror and carnage of all 100,000 people dying, the number 100,000 would have a totally different meaning to them. As New York Times columnist Bob Herbert put it: "The extent of the suffering caused by the war seldom penetrates the consciousness of most Americans. For the public at large, the dead and the wounded are little more than statistics. They're out of sight, and thus mostly out of mind." That wouldn't be so, he says, if they, for instance, could "imagine a couple of soldiers in flames, screaming, as they attempt to escape the burning wreckage of their vehicle hit by a roadside bomb."
On September 29, 2006, I caught on CNN a young Iraqi man, in bone-deep pain, sobbing into the camera over what had happened to his mother. In the sweep of the civil strife in Iraq caused by Bush's war -- in which the Shiites and Sunnis have been slaughtering each other in great numbers -- he related that his mother had gone into a nearby grocery store where a gunman from a rival sect had shot her five times, killing her on the spot. Her son cried on TV that "I picked up her brains in my hand."
Is that personal enough? Multiply, if you can, this horror by the thousands upon thousands of Iraqi citizens finding their father, son, sister, husband, or wife dead on the street, their bodies usually mutilated, the victims often beheaded.
These are just some of the captions on the hundreds upon hundreds of articles I read the past several years chronicling the horror of the war in Iraq:
"5 U.S. TROOPS, 5 IRAQIS KILLED IN BOMBINGS"; "31 AMERICAN TROOPS DIE AS MARINE COPTER GOES DOWN IN IRAQ, 6 OTHERS ALSO KILLED"; "BAGHDAD SUICIDE BLAST KILLS 21 AT IRAQI RECRUITING CENTER"; "8 U.S. TROOPS KILLED IN BATTLE"; "BAGHDAD BOMBINGS KILL 43 IRAQIS"; "5 U.S. SOLDIERS, 22 IRAQIS KILLED ON DAY OF VIOLENCE"; "180 IRAQIS KILLED"; "12 AMERICANS ARE SLAIN IN BAGHDAD"; "30 DIE IN CAR BOMB BLAST IN BUSY BAGHDAD MARKET"; "ROADSIDE EXPLOSION KILLS 5 U.S. SOLDIERS"; "AMERICAN FIGHTER JETS KILL 20 IRAQI CIVILIANS"; "6 MARINES SLAIN BY BOMBS IN WESTERN IRAQ OFFENSIVE"; "AT LEAST 19 U.S. TROOPS DIE IN IRAQ"; "SUICIDE ATTACK AT IRAQI MARKET KILLS 20, 3 G.I.s DIE FROM HOMEMADE BOMBS"; "5 U.S. SOLDIERS DIE FROM ROADSIDE BOMB"; "SUICIDE BOMBING KILLS 4 G.I.s IN IRAQ"; "AT LEAST 5 IRAQI CIVILIANS ARE KILLED BY U.S. TROOPS"; "SUICIDE BOMBER KILLS 33 IN IRAQ"; "IRAQI REBELS KILL 5 U.S. TROOPS AND WOUND 11"; "60 IRAQIS, 7 U.S. TROOPS KILLED"; "36 DIE IN SUICIDE FUNERAL BOMBING IN IRAQ"; "U.S. STRIKES IN IRAQ KILL 19 MILITANTS, 15 CIVILIANS, INCLUDING 9 CHILDREN"; "130 KILLED IN IRAQ, 7 AMERICANS INCLUDED"; "ARMY COPTER CRASH IN IRAQ KILLS 12"; "BOMBER HITS BAGHDAD CROWD -- AT LEAST 73 DIE"; "4 U.S. SOLDIERS KILLED BY ROADSIDE BOMB"; "BOMB KILLS 10 IN BAGHDAD, 22 FOUND EXECUTED"; "5 MARINES DEAD, 11 INJURED IN AN AMBUSH BY INSURGENTS"; "45 DIE IN IRAQI VIOLENCE"; "IRAQI POLICE SAY U.S.-LED RAID KILLS AT LEAST 17 AT SHIITE MOSQUE"; "ROADSIDE BOMB IN IRAQ KILLS 5 MARINES"; "2 G.I.s, AT LEAST 28 OTHERS KILLED IN SEVERAL ATTACKS"; "9 MARINES DIE AS INSURGENTS MOUNT ATTACKS"; "THREE BOMBS KILL AT LEAST 70 STUDENTS AT UNIVERSITY OF BAGHDAD"; "8 U.S. TROOPS KILLED IN IRAQ"; 5 U.S. SOLDIERS DIE IN BAGHDAD ATTACKS"; "BOMBS IN BAGHDAD KILL 35 IRAQI CHILDREN"; "7 U.S. SOLDIERS DIE IN IRAQ"; "5 G.I.s DIE IN BOMBING"; "INSURGENT VIOLENCE KILLS 4 MARINES, 14 IRAQIS"; " 6 U .S. TROOPS KILLED IN IRAQ DURING DAY OF ATTACKS"; "BAGHDAD BLAST KILLS 35 WAITING FOR FUEL"; "ROADSIDE BOMB KILLS 7 U.S. SOLDIERS"; "2 BOMBS AT SOCCER FIELD KILL 12, MOSTLY CHILDREN IN BAGHDAD"; "100 MORE LIVES END VIOLENTLY IN IRAQ, NEARLY 30 BODIES FOUND AROUND BAGHDAD; "IRAQ VIOLENCE CLAIMS 10 U.S. SERVICEMEN"; "75 IRAQIS KILLED BY INSURGENTS"; "30 IRAQI POLICE, CIVILIANS KILLED"; "NEARLY 90 IRAQIS KILLED IN 2 BAGHDAD MARKETPLACES"; "86 FOUND DEAD IN BAGHDAD STRIFE"; "CAR BOMBINGS KILL 62 IN IRAQ"; "SUICIDE BLAST KILLS 7 MARINES"; "46 IN BAGHDAD FOUND HANDCUFFED, BLINDFOLDED AND SHOT IN HEAD"; "6 MORE GI's ARE KILLED IN IRAQ"; "25 SLAIN AND 40 WOUNDED IN IRAQ"; "TRIPLE BOMBING KILLS 78 AT SHIITE MOSQUE"; "10 MARINES KILLED IN IRAQ"; "16 POLICE RECRUITS KILLED IN IRAQ, 34 OTHER BODIES FOUND; "8 AMERICAN TROOPS KILLED"; "BOMB KILLS 10 MARINES AT FALLOUJA"; "SUICIDE BOMBER KILLS 60 IN IRAQ"; "HELICOPTERS COLLIDE, 17 U.S. SOLDIERS DIE"; "68 IRAQIS, INCLUDING 16 CHILDREN DIE IN IRAQ"; "IRAQ SUICIDE BLAST TARGETING U.S. TROOPS KILLS 24 CHILDREN"; "40 STUDENTS, MOSTLY FEMALE, DIE IN SUICIDE BLAST AT UNIVERSITY OF BAGHDAD"; "IRAQ BOMBING KILLS 4 U.S. WOMEN."
I am very convinced (based on conversations with right-wing Republicans and liberal Democrats alike on this) that these almost daily reports in the newspapers of war fatalities in Iraq mean nothing to the overwhelming majority of right-wing Republicans, and even some Democrats, most of them not even bothering to read the short articles. This is the typical response I got, mostly from right-wing Republicans, when I asked them if they became sad or depressed when they read articles in the paper like those above that people were dying horrible deaths in Iraq: "No, not really." "But what if, for instance, you read that a hundred innocent Iraqi citizens, even children and babies, were blown up and killed in a market or mosque in Baghdad. You don't feel anything at all about something like this?" "No, this is what happens during war." But when I learn of such things I am affected by all of them, since I reflexively convert the number of fatalities in my mind into the reality of real human beings -- young American soldiers (as well as Iraqi civilians) whose lives were brutally cut short -- and imagine the horror of their loved ones when they hear from one of the military representatives at their door the worst and most dreaded news they will ever hear in their lives: "On behalf of the secretary of defense, I regret to inform you ... "
Some parents don't just scream out in their home upon hearing the news of the death of their son. The Baltimore father of Staff Sgt. Kendall Watersby sobbed in the streets of his neighborhood. Holding up a picture of his marine son, he said, "I want President Bush to get a good look at this, really good look here. This is the only son I had, only son." (Young Watersby, twenty-nine, himself had a ten-year-old son who lost the only father he would ever have.)
Another father in Hollywood, Florida, overcome with grief, anger, and incomprehension, after crying out on the street and calling out, to his twenty-year-old son, "Alexander, Alexander, this is not happening," picked up a hammer and started smashing things in the van that had transported the three marines who brought him the terrible news. He then grabbed a propane torch and a five-gallon can of gasoline and set fire to the van, badly burning himself in the process to the extent of $53,000 in hospital bills. "I miss him every day that goes by," he says of his son. "I wake up and I think of him."
Some survivors can't even bear to hear the news. When the army messenger came to the door of the home in Los Angeles where the wife of army sergeant Evan Ashcroft was staying with her father, to tell her of Evan's death, Evan's wife, Ashley, stayed upstairs. "I was on the floor, screaming," she said. "I didn't want to let them tell me."
And when a soldier dies, it of course isn't only his immediate family that endures great pain and suffering, but also his extended family of cousins, uncles, nephews, nieces, even very close friends.
Then there are the great numbers of American soldiers who don't lose their lives in battle, but their arm or a leg (many times both; some all four limbs), even their eyes and eyesight. Or they come back with injuries that maim and shatter. Or they are severely burned, crippled, or paralyzed -- disabled for life.
And there's the much greater number of Iraqi veterans who sustain psychic damage from the war that will torment them for the rest of their lives. Many will probably end up, like many Vietnam veterans, as street people. Though just as real, these are the more hidden wounds of battle that have destroyed everything from marriages to careers. A March 1, 2006, report from the Journal of the American Medical Association said that more than a third of the soldiers returning home from the war in Iraq have sought treatment for mental problems including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Can you imagine trying to erase from your mind something that, as a soldier said, was "the worst thing I ever saw in my life," the last view of his close buddy who was killed in combat? "My friend didn't have a face," he said. And if you are a sensitive human being, can you actually kill another human being without killing a part of yourself?
The photos in this book attempt to capture, as much as it is possible, the enormity of what Bush has done -- and so far has gotten away with. With respect to the photos of American soldiers who have died in Iraq, in looking at them, let me quote a Cleveland mother who lost her son Augie in Iraq: "It's not faceless Marines fighting the war. Augie fought it. We want people to see Augie's picture and say 'Damn, that could have been my kid."'
How has George Bush reacted to the hell he created in Iraq, to the thousands of lives that have been lost in the war, and to the enormous and endless suffering that the survivors of the victims -- their loved ones -- have had to endure?
I've always felt that impressions are very important in life, and other than "first impressions," they are usually right. Why? Because impressions, we know, are formed over a period of time. They are the accumulation of many words and incidents, many or most of which one has forgotten, but which are nonetheless assimilated into the observer's subconscious and thus make their mark. In other words, you forgot the incident, but it added to the impression. "How do you feel about David? Do you feel he's an honest person?" "Yeah, I do." "Why do you say that about him? Can you give me any examples that would cause you to say he's honest?" "No, not really; at least not off the top of my head. But I've known David for over ten years, and my sense is that he's an honest person."
I have a very distinct impression that with the exception of a vagrant tear that may have fallen if he was swept up, in the moment, at an emotional public ceremony for American soldiers who have died in the war, George Bush hasn't suffered at all over the monumental suffering, death, and horror he has caused by plunging this nation into the darkness of the Iraq war, probably never losing a wink of sleep over it. Sure, we often hear from Bush administration sources, or his family, or from Bush himself, about how much he suffers over the loss of American lives in Iraq. But that dog won't run. How do we just about know this is nonsense? Not only because the words he has uttered could never have escaped from his lips if he were suffering, but because no matter how many American soldiers have died on a given day in Iraq (averaging well over two every day), he is always seen with a big smile on his face that same day or the next, and is in good spirits. How would that be possible if he was suffering? For example, the November 3, 2003, morning New York Times front-page headline story was that the previous day in Fallouja, Iraq, insurgents "shot down an American helicopter just outside the city in a bold assault that killed 16 soldiers and wounded 20 others. It was the deadliest attack on American troops since the United States invaded Iraq in March." Yet later in that same day when Bush arrived for a fund-raiser in Birmingham, Alabama, he was smiling broadly; and Mike Allen of the Washington Post wrote that "the President appeared to be in a fabulous mood." This is merely one of hundreds of such observations made about Bush while the brutal war continued in Iraq.
And even when Bush is off camera, we have consistently heard from those who have observed him up close how much he seems to be enjoying himself. When Bush gave up his miles of running several times a week because of knee problems, he took up biking. "He's turned into a bike maniac," said Mark McKinnon in March of 2005, right in the middle of the war. McKinnon, a biking friend of Bush's who was Bush's chief media strategist in his 2004 reelection campaign, also told the New York Times's Elisabeth Bumiller about Bush: "He's as calm and relaxed and confident and happy as I've ever seen him." Happy? Under the horrible circumstances of the war, where Bush's own soldiers are dying violent deaths, how is that even possible?
In a time of war and suffering, Bush's smiles, joking, and good spirits stand in stark contrast to the demeanor of every one of his predecessors and couldn't possibly be more inappropriate. Michael Moore, in his motion picture documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, captured this fact and the superficiality of Bush well with a snippet from a TV interview Bush gave on the golf course following a recent terrorist attack. Bush said, "I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you." Then, without missing a single beat, he said in reference to a golf shot he was about to hit: "Now watch this drive."
Before I get into specific instances of Bush laughing and having fun throughout the entire period of the inferno he created in Iraq, I want to discuss a number of more indirect but revealing incidents that reflect he could not care less about the human suffering and carnage going on in Iraq, or anywhere.
1. The first inkling I got that Bush didn't care about the suffering of anyone, not just those dying in Iraq, was from an article in the September 22, 2001, New York Times just eleven days after 9/11. Though 3,000 Americans had been murdered and the nation was in agony and shock, the man who should have been leading the mourning was, behind the scenes, not affected in the tiniest way. The article, by Frank Bruni, said that "Mr. Bush's nonchalant, jocular demeanor remains the same. In private, say several Republicans close to the administration, he still slaps backs and uses baseball terminology, at one point promising that the terrorists were not 'going to steal home on me.' He is not staying up all night, or even most of the night. He is taking time to play with his dogs and his cat. He is working out most days." So right after several thousand Americans lost their lives in a horrible catastrophe, behind the scenes Bush is his same old backslapping self, and he's not letting the tragedy interfere in the slightest way with the daily regimen of his life that he enjoys.
In fact, he himself admitted to the magazine Runners World (August 23,2002) that after the Afghanistan war began: "I have been running with a little more intensity ... It helps me to clear my mind." (In other words, Bush likes to clear his mind of the things he's supposed to be thinking about.) Remarkably finding time in the most important job on earth to run six days a week, Bush added: "It's interesting that my times have become faster ... For me, the psychological benefit [in running] is enormous. You tend to forget everything that's going on in your mind and just concentrate on the time and distance." But even this obscene indulgence after 9/11 and during wartime by the man with more responsibility than anyone in the world wasn't enough for Bush. He told the magazine: "I try to go for longer runs, but it's tough around here at the White House on the outdoor track. It's sad that I can't run longer: It's one of the saddest things about the presidency." Imagine that. Among all the things that the president of the United States could be sad about during a time of war, not being able to run longer six days a week is up there near the top of the list.
A New York Times article not long after 9/11 (November 5, 2001) reported that Bush had told his friends (obviously with pride) that "his runs on the Camp David trails through the Maryland woods have produced his fastest time in a decade, three miles in 21 minutes and 6 seconds." USA Today (October 29, 2001) reported that Bush used to run 3 miles in 25 minutes and now he was "boasting to friends and staffers" about his new time, and was "now running 4 miles a day."
So with his approval rating soaring to 90 percent in the wake of 9/11 -- and with his being the main person in America whose job required that he be totally engaged every waking hour in working diligently on this nation's response to 9/11 -- Bush, remarkably, was working diligently on improving his time for the mile. I ask you, what American president in history, Republican or Democrat, would have conducted himself this way?