Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Invisible Wounded: Injured U.S. Soldiers Arrive Home Under Cover of Darkness

Adding a little visibility here where mainstream media seems to prefer not to address and how much 'support the troops' is this for our American public when even the number of wounded and the severity are shrouded?

from Democracy Now!

We are joined in our DC studio by Mark Benjamin. As the UPI investigations editor - Mark Benjamin closely covered the stories of wounded American soldiers.

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AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Let's start on this issue of the nighttime flights into the U.S. of wounded soldiers. How does it work?

MARK BENJAMIN: Well, the way it works is soldiers are flown out of Iraq on giant gray jet planes called C-141 Starlifters. They land at the – a large air base in Germany, Ramstein Air Base. From there, they're taken by bus to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the military's biggest hospital outside of the United States. From there, they're stabilized for a few days and then they’re flown from Germany into the United States. Now, all of the wounded that are coming from the war land at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, just out of Washington. Some of the most severely wounded from there are taken by bus or ambulance from Andrews to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which is in Washington, D.C., or Bethesda Naval Medical Center (that’s for the Marines) that’s just outside of Washington

What is interesting about this whole process is that all of the flights of wounded into the United States are scheduled to land at night. The wounded are arriving under the cover of darkness. Also, at least at the two hospitals, Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Medical Center, photographers and the press are barred from seeing, watching, or taking photos of the wounded arriving. So, if you take those two facts, the fact that the wounded are only arriving at night at Andrews Air Force Base, and you take the fact that we in the press are not allowed to see them when they go to the two main hospitals here, we have a situation where we're several years into the war now, and we've seen essentially no reporting or no images of these wounded arriving; and to give you just a idea of the scope of this situation, if you take the wounded soldiers and then you add in the number of hurt soldiers that the Pentagon doesn't generally report (in other words, soldiers that are hurt in vehicle accidents and so on) we have 25,000 soldiers who have been flown out of the battlefields, mostly from Iraq, some from Afghanistan. Most of those come back to the United States — 25,000 — and images or reporting on them arriving in the United States is almost unheard of.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet you were able to see one of these shipments of wounded soldiers. Can you describe your experience and how you went about it?

MARK BENJAMIN: I saw several shipments of these soldiers, actually, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center coming in. This was without the army's consent. The army said I was not allowed to see the arrival of soldiers to protect their privacy. However, I didn't know who these soldiers were, and I even obtained some images of the soldiers arriving, and I just made sure that their identities were not clear in the photos that I obtained.

It's a pretty shocking process, to give you an idea of what it looks like. One night I was very close to the delivery of wounded at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and two soldiers, just as an example -- the soldiers arrive, as you can imagine, on stretchers. They’re unloaded out of these buses. They’re white buses that stack the wounded in the back on stretchers. They also arrive in ambulances, sometimes even in unmarked black vans, which is a very strange twist. One night, for example, I saw two soldiers unloaded from these vans that were apparently intubated, meaning they could not breathe on their own. They were sort of swollen looking, very young. I mean, to me they looked like kids, of course, and they -- in other words, there's a large machine strapped over the top of their bed and a tube into their mouth. They looked like they were totally unconscious. One of them looked like there might have been --could have been blood in a urine bag on the side of the bed. I mean, these soldiers were in very, very bad shape. I didn't even know that they could transport people overseas that couldn't even breath on their own. So we’re talking about very, very seriously wounded people coming into the United States, and we just -- we don't see them.

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see entire transcript at
Democracy Now! | The Invisible Wounded: Injured U.S. Soldiers Arrive Home Under Cover of Darkness

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President George W. Bush's statement in March 2006 after 3 yrs of war "a future President will have to resolve war in Iraq"


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