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Deaths, injuries kept from public view 

Few American communities have paid a higher price for the war in Iraq than Fort Carson has.

By the time this issue of the Independent went to press, 31 men and women from the Mountain Post had been killed. They all died after George W. Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1, standing in front of a banner that read, "Mission accomplished." It is the post's highest death toll from a conflict since the Vietnam War.

Judging from past conflicts and from current opinion polls, the deaths -- and the grief experienced by families and friends left behind -- matter as much to the American people as any other aspect of the war. As more GIs die, the polls show more Americans turning against the Bush administration's occupation policies.

But while the Pentagon was eager to show the public its successes on the battlefield by "embedding" reporters with military units during the March invasion, it has not been equally accommodating in helping the public see the effects the war is having on the home front.

As reported by the Washington Post last month, the Bush administration has banned news photographers and TV cameras from Dover Air Force Base, Del., the arrival point for the remains of U.S. service members killed in Iraq. The images of flag-draped coffins that helped turn public sentiment against the Vietnam War won't be televised this time around.

The Pentagon says the ban is meant to protect the privacy of the families of those killed. Critics attribute more cynical motives to the administration, calling it a spin-control effort to hinder the erosion of public support for the war. Images speak far more loudly than words, and if the public doesn't see the caskets, it's as if they never existed.

Other practices by the administration seem to support the spin-control theory: While previous presidents have witnessed the arrival of coffins at Dover and attended memorial services for those killed in wars, Bush has done neither.

And as noted by the Toronto Star, the Pentagon won't even use the term "body bags" anymore. The bags have been renamed "transfer tubes."

Covering the services

At Fort Carson, spokeswoman Kim Tisor says she has accommodated TV camera crews who wanted to film the return of soldiers' remains returning to the Colorado Springs Airport. She says she's unaware of any orders from the Pentagon barring such coverage.

Reporters are also allowed to cover the memorial services and ceremonies held for each Fort Carson soldier who is killed. However, photographers and TV cameras are not allowed inside the chapel where the ceremonies take place -- a change from past practice. Military escorts also keep a close eye on reporters and photographers outside the services.

Like the Pentagon, Tisor cites privacy as the main reason why photography is banned inside the chapel during services.

"None of the families wanted it," she said.

The decision was made locally by the post, Tisor said.

Injured in action

The images of caskets and grieving families during services are not all that's been kept out of the public view. For months, little media coverage was devoted to the growing numbers of service members being wounded in Iraq. Many of those injured have lost limbs or sustained brain damage. A great number are likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder over time, experts say.

Media interest began to pick up late last month, however. On Oct. 23, the Associated Press reported that more than 1,900 GIs had been injured.

That number had grown to 2,424 by Nov. 25, according to The Lunaville Group, a research team whose Web site, www.lunaville.org, tracks both deaths and injuries of American and allied troops. The number of wounded troops was growing by an average of almost 10 per day, and the overwhelming majority of them were being injured "in action," according to the group.

Lunaville also reported that 433 U.S. troops had been killed, along with 78 allied troops.

Meanwhile, still largely unreported by the media is the number of Iraqis killed in the war. Asked about such numbers early in the conflict, the commander of the U.S. forces, Gen. Tommy Franks, infamously replied: "We don't do body counts."

Another group of U.S. and British researchers and activists is trying to fill the information gap. The group's Web site, www.iraqbodycount.net, publishes continuously updated estimates of the number of civilians killed. As of Nov. 25, the team's estimate was between 7,898 and 9,729.

And on Nov. 11, a British activist group made up of health professionals, called Medact, issued a report claiming the total death toll from the war was somewhere between 21,000 and 55,000, when both Iraqi soldiers and civilians were counted.

"The number of people affected by the aftermath of the war is still rising as the Iraqi people continue to pay the price in death, injury and mental and physical ill health," a press release by the group stated.

The report is available at www.medact.org.

-- Terje Langeland

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