For the past five years, since shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I have chronicled -- often a lonely pursuit -- the deaths of nearly one thousand U.S. military personnel who have died in that war from "non-hostile" causes. These include deaths from illness, accident, friendly fire and suicide. The suicide rate has surged in the past few years, as multiple tours increased, and this has always seemed especially haunting for me.
Word emerged yesterday of another mysterious, non-hostile fatality. His name is Jeremiah Hughes. The army is investigating.
But the final "mood" icon on his MySpace page, I discovered today, was a frown -- with the word: "Crushed."
Army Spc. Jeremiah Hughes, 26, left for Iraq in December with the Stryker brigade from Hawaii -- three years after a previous tour. An article in the Honolulu Advertiser yesterday quotes an entry from his MySpace page just before he was deployed: "I'm gonna hate being away from my wife for over a year. And I'm gonna hate not being able to spend time with her, or my friends, or my dogs. I'm really gonna dislike not being able to drink every once in a while when I get irritated by the things around me. And then of course, I can't say that I'm gonna be too fond of people shooting at me again, or trying to blow me up again, or any of that stupid stuff."
The Pentagon announced that he died Wednesday in Balad, Iraq, "from injuries sustained in a noncombat incident in Abu Ghraib." His wife survives him.
Often, as I have written, local newspapers are first to reveal the true causes of death, gathering information from family or friends. There are several chapters about these sad cases in my new book on Iraq and the media, including the story of Alyssa Peterson (which I recently highlighted here) who took her life after refusing to engage in torture interrogations.
Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. It has been hailed by our own Arianna, Glenn Greenwald, Bill Moyers and features a preface by Bruce Springsteen and a foreword by Joe Galloway.