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Betrayal of our troops.

If hypocrisy were a drug, Washington would be the crack capital of the world. Congressional and White House leaders these days seem to get up every morning and inject, smoke, snort, and otherwise mainline a doozy of a dose of hypocrisy to get them through their day.

On no issue is this addiction more obvious than in their treatment of America's ground soldiers and veterans. Politicians constantly bellow: "Support our troops!" They're particularly quick to hurl this Red-White-and-Blue shout at any of us who dare question the motives and rationale for their bloody war in Iraq.

Most recently, Bush positioned himself as the soldier's president during his 2004 State of the Union speech, declaring, "Many of our troops are listening tonight. And I want you and your families to know ... my administration, and this congress, will give you the resources you need to fight and win the war on terror."

What a hypocrite! If you want to know how the Bushites "support our troops" check with any of the thousands of stunned military families' who have learned that Bush's Pentagon has failed to provide essential equipment needed by our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan--everything from life-saving body armor to warm gloves, from rifles that work to flashlights. The families, having received desperate calls, emails and letters from the front lines, literally have had to go to their local stores, buy equipment and ship it to their loved ones!

Yes, the same Pentagon that sops up 400 billion of our tax dollars every year (plus the $87 billion add-on it was given last year to pay for Bush's Iraqi occupation), is shamelessly shortchanging the grunts who're putting their lives on the line every day. The damning fact is that Bush and the congress, in their rah-rah rush to war, sent our men and women into the deadly fray without the proper equipment.

One of the important innovations for ground troops is a simple, relatively light vest that contains ceramic plates made of boron carbide--capable of stopping powerful AK-47 bullets and flying shrapnel. Simply put, these vests are life savers in a fire fight or an explosion. The vests were readily available to the Pentagon from U.S. manufacturers.

This is why Joe Werfelman was dismayed to hear from his son that he and other soldiers in Iraq didn't have the vests. "He called us frantically three or four times on this," Werfelman told the Washington Post. Instead, the troops had been issued Vietnam-era flak jackets that, as one soldier put it, "couldn't stop a rock." So Werfelman scrambled, found a New Jersey company that makes the ceramic gear, paid $660, and shipped it off to Iraq. "If the Army is not going to protect him, we've got to do it," says Joe.

Enraged military families later learned that even the small contingent of troops that Mongolia sent to help the United States in Iraq came with life-saving vests. "If Mongolia can do it, why not America," they asked? Hauled before a house committee, the head of U.S. forces in Iraq, General John Abizaid, said he couldn't "answer for the record why we started this war with protective vests that were in short supply."

Thanks to the howl and heat from the grassroots, Congress added money to the Pentagon's already-bloated budget last fall, requiring body armor for all soldiers in Iraq. Finally, nearly a year after Bush started his war--and after an untold number of unnecessary deaths--our troops are receiving the vests.

Pentagon budgeteers are quietly skimping on even the small stuff for our soldiers. A Houston father visited his marine son at Camp Pendleton a year ago, just before the son shipped out to Iraq. "I was shocked and outraged to hear the list of items the Marine Corps was not going to provide." The father rushed to a surplus store and bought $250 worth of essentials--mosquito netting, flashlight, canteen, undershirts, assorted hitches and straps, etc. "I was really taken aback" he says, "I was sure the military would support the troops in all the equipment they needed. How wrong I was."

It's not like the Pentagon, the White House, and Congress were unaware before the Iraq invasion that our ground troops would be ill equipped. The same thing had happened in 2002 when the infantry was sent into Afghanistan to do the dirty work of going cave to cave, often under fire, in search of al Qaeda and Taliban forces. Families of the GIs created a miniature shopping boom as they were forced to buy gloves, cushioned socks, cargo belts, flashlights, padded rucksack straps, hydration systems, satellite position-finders, and other basics to send to the troops--things the Pentagon didn't provide.

Washington lavishes billions on fat-cat weapons makers (whose sons and daughters mostly don't go to war) while it tells our troops on the ground to send their military shopping lists home to their families. In 2002 the Pentagon spent $690 million just on the cost overrun charged by Lockheed-Martin for the F-22 jet fighter it is developing--a plane widely condemned as unneeded. That same sum of money would have fully outfitted 87,000 ground troops from head to toe.

To further plumb the depths of Bushite hypocrisy, check out their sickening treatment of seventeen American prisoners of war from the first Iraq war in 1991. These men were brutally tortured by Saddam Hussein's henchmen: punched, kicked, clubbed, burned, electrically shocked, starved, you name it. But they endured, returning home in '91, where they were welcomed by then defense secretary Dick Cheney: "Your country is opening its arms to greet you," he gushed.

A decade later the POWs found some measure of justice in a law that allowed them to sue the Iraqi government for the physical and psychological damage they had suffered, with payments to be made from frozen Iraqi assets that the ruling elites had stashed in foreign banks. In 2002 a judge ruled for the seventeen POWs, and last July he awarded them damages of nearly $1 billion.

Good! But wait. Only two weeks later Bush's justice department asked to intervene in the POWs' case with the intention not merely of reversing the monetary reward but also of wiping the case from the books, as though the torture never happened!

Their rationale? They said that by executive order Bush had confiscated these frozen assets last March when he launched his war on Iraq, so therefore the money technically was no longer an Iraqi asset but instead belonged to the U.S. government.

The White House said that, while it could choose to use the money to pay the POWs, it chose not to, claiming that it needed the money "for the urgent national security needs of rebuilding Iraq." Now the attorney general is even appealing the judge's original ruling that held Iraq responsible for the torture, asserting that with Hussein gone all U.S. sanctions against Iraq must be removed--apparently retroactively. One of the POWs, Jeff Fox, stated the obvious: "It sends a very bad message that a commander in chief would place veterans and prisoners of war second behind a foreign nation."

Progressive populist Jim Hightower is a nationally known columnist, radio commentator, and public speaker. This article is an excerpt from his new book, Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush, to be published in July.
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Title Annotation:Up front: news and opinion from independent minds
Author:Hightower, Jim
Publication:The Humanist
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2004
Words:1220
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