For years, the deaths of U.S. military personnel in Iraq have often been reported to the press and public by the Pentagon on extremely sketchy ways, while remaining "under investigation." These are often cases, it turns out, involving death by illness or accident or suicide. Often, the efforts of local newspapers bring out the truth while the lengthy investigations go on and on.
Yesterday, The Huntsville (Ala.) Times revealed that Col. Stephen Scott, 54, had died on Saturday while working out on a treadmill in the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone after it was rocketed by insurgents earlier this week, according to his sister. He was only the ninth officer at his level killed in the war to date. The treadmill symbolism is painfully apt, of course.
Another officer, Maj. Stuart Wolfer, 36, who leaves behind a wife and three young children, died in the same place at the same time while exercising. He had been serving in the Army Reserves when called to duty. His name was invoked by Rep. Robert Wexler in questioning Gen. David Petraeus in Washington, D.C. yesterday.
The Associated Press earlier this week carried an item, based on the Pentagon's offiical release, which stated only that "two soldiers have died in Iraq of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked their unit with indirect fire."
Rep. Wexler said that he had talked to Len Wolfer of Boca Raton, Fla., the night before and asked what he wanted to ask Petraeus. That family was relieved that their son "was in the Green Zone, for they hoped he would be safe there. He was not." Wexler said the father wanted to know: "For what? For what had he lost his son?"
Wexler urged Petraeus not to simply say it had been "to remove a brutal dictator."
"That's not good enough," Wexler said. "There are many dictators in the world. For what did Stuart Wolfer and the other 4,024 sons and daughters (killed in Iraq) die for? And how do we define victory so we can bring this never-ending war to a close?"
Petraeus told Wexler and members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that "what we are fighting for is the national interest....Ambassador Crocker and I, for what it's worth, have typically seen ourselves as minimalists, we're not after the Holy Grail in Iraq and we're not after Jeffersonian Democracy."
Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. It includes a preface by Bruce Springsteen and foreword by Joe Galloway, and has been hailed by our own Arianna, Bill Moyers, Glenn Greenwald and others.