[Media-watch] Maimed but not mute

David McKnight david at milwr.freeserve.co.uk
Sun Oct 17 17:19:04 BST 2004


Featured in a new ad by Operation Truth, former soldier Robert Acosta appears 
in the video documentary "The Ground Truth."

Maimed but not mute
A politically diverse group of Iraq vets say it´s time for Americans to face 
the ugly truths about the war.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Mary Jacoby

Oct. 13, 2004 | It´s the obvious political ad that has just been waiting to 
be made -- a young Iraq war veteran, missing a body part, talking simply and 
directly to the camera about the sacrifice he made in the service of official 
lies. The idea didn´t come from the Democratic Party, or MoveOn.org, or the 
Kerry campaign. The new ad is the creation of a group of some 20 Iraq war
operating on a shoestring budget. Their organization, Operation Truth, ( 
http://www.optruth.org/main.cfm) a nonpartisan, nonprofit group of 150
members, is 
dedicated to elevating the perspective of soldiers and holding elected 
officials accountable for their policy decisions.

"I was called to serve in Iraq because the government said there were weapons 
of mass destruction -- but they weren´t there," Spc. Robert Acosta, 21, who 
was an ammunitions specialist with the 1st Armored Division in Iraq, says in 
the thought-provoking ad. "They said Iraq had something to do with 9/11 --
the connection wasn´t there ... So when people ask me where my arm went, I
to find the words, but they´re not there." The ad ends with a shot of Acosta 
removing his prosthesis, revealing a stub where his right hand should be.

In Washington on Tuesday, Acosta, Operation Truth founder Paul Rieckhoff, 29, 
and Operation Truth board member David Chasteen, 25, made the media rounds to 
promote the ad and their group. After a morning news conference at the 
National Press Club, they were at CNN´s studios, talking on camera with Wolf 
Blitzer, and then trucked back to the Press Club for more interviews,
including one 
with Salon.

The ad "is meant to wake people up," Rieckhoff told me. "And if people are 
uncomfortable [with the image of Acosta´s missing hand] for a few seconds,
OK with that. Because Robert´s going to be uncomfortable for the rest of his 

Rieckhoff declined to say how much money Operation Truth has raised for the 
ad campaign but said it was less than $100,000. Most of the donations come in 
amounts of $25 or less over the Internet, he said. The major goal of
publicity swing was to raise more money to broadcast the ads, which the group 
plans to air on cable television in swing states.

"We needed a splash. That´s the only way to get attention like this," 
Rieckhoff said, citing as a kind of role model the Swift Boat Veterans for
attacks on John Kerry´s record. "But we don´t have millions of dollars,
like they 
did," he said, laughing.

Rieckhoff, a political independent, looks like the former football player 
that he is: 6 feet 2 inches, and 250 pounds. His head is shaved bald. At
College he played tight end, and after graduating in 1998, he enlisted in the 
U.S. Army Reserves. Later, while working for J.P. Morgan, he transferred to 
the New York Army National Guard. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was in his Manhattan 
apartment when the first plane hit the World Trade Center; he rushed to
zero to join volunteer rescue efforts. His Guard unit was formally activated 
that evening.

In January 2003, Rieckhoff went to Iraq, where he was assigned to lead the 
3rd Platoon, B Company, 3/124th INF (Air Assault) FLNG. For the next 10
he conducted combat operations in the Adamiyah section of Baghdad on the 
eastern bank of the Tigris River. He was released from active duty in March. 
Returning to the United States, he was struck by what he calls the
between how most Americans viewed Iraq and veterans issues and how the

"All you ever see on TV here is the burning Humvees. People aren´t hearing 
about the [Department of Veterans Affairs funding] cuts, the overextension of 
the military. They weren´t hearing soldiers´ voices, or learning about the
areas that we live in every day. Like what do you do if you see a child in an 
alley and you think he´s armed? Now that we´re off active duty, we can voice 
our opinions," Rieckhoff said.

Operation Truth´s mission is to get that point of view out, but its members 
span the spectrum politically. Acosta, a soft-spoken young man with a goatee 
and a metal hook in place of his right hand, is so discouraged by the
process that he doesn´t even plan to vote in November. Rieckhoff, a political 
independent, believes the goal of overthrowing Saddam Hussein was worthy, but 
he argues that the postwar planning was a disaster. Operation Truth board 
member Chasteen, a financial advisor in Washington who was a chemical weapons 
specialist in Iraq, is a registered Republican and evangelical Christian
who says 
he is "leaning" toward Kerry because he believes George W. Bush´s policies 
have severely damaged national security.

The issues upon which all Operation Truth members agree, the three men said, 
are that the politicians in Washington should not send troops to war without 
outlining a clear mission and equipping them properly. And when soldiers come 
home, the politicians should adequately fund veterans´ services, they said. 
Rieckhoff was once asked in an interview if it wasn´t just an "urban myth"
some troops didn´t have body armor. "I can tell you it´s not. I was there." 
Acosta said he has been forced to navigate a confusing bureaucracy to obtain 
healthcare services. And Chasteen said he wants Americans to know that
failure to 
plan for postwar Iraq has brought such chaos that the effort to build a 
democracy may be beyond salvation.

Before the invasion, Chasteen said, he reviewed a stack of documents a foot 
thick describing the combat plan. "No part of the order told us what to do 
afterward," he said. Troops kept asking about the post-combat orders. "When
finally came, they were this thick," he said, squishing his fingers
together to 
indicate a thin stack of paper. "I thought, You´ve got to be kidding."

Chasteen´s specialty is chemical weapons, and he recalled the moment he 
realized that Saddam didn´t have any. It was when he crossed the Euphrates
He had his bubble suit on, to protect against a chemical or biological
He held his chemical-detecting instrument in the air, watching to see if 
anything registered. "There was nothing. We knew that Saddam wanted more than 
anything to hold on to power, and so if he had the weapons, he would have
used them 
then. But there was nothing." And yet, he noted, it was only last week that 
Iraq weapons investigator Charles Duelfer officially notified Congress that 
Saddam had no WMD.

Acosta is less steeped in the policy nuances; his contribution to Operation 
Truth is sharing the emotional and physical toll of combat. He was injured in 
July 2003, when an insurgent tossed a grenade into the Humvee in which he
was a 
passenger. Acosta and the driver had left their base at Baghdad International 
Airport to purchase ice from a roadside stand; Acosta saved the driver´s life 
by grabbing the grenade and tossing it out of the vehicle. It exploded in his 

The strange thing about getting your hand blown off, Acosta said, was that it 
doesn´t hurt. "As soon as the grenade flew, the adrenaline started pumping, 
and it was like that adrenaline took over. Then there was just like a tingly 
feeling, like my hand had fallen asleep. But I knew it was gone right away. I 
saw my hand gone, I saw my bones coming out. I looked down at my foot, and my 
foot was turned completely backwards. I knew my legs were hurt. I didn´t
know if 
I was going to keep my leg. I knew my hand was gone, no matter what. And I 
said to myself, ´OK, my hand´s gone. What next?´ I tried to grab my rifle,
it fell apart."

Acosta added, "So I´m sitting there thinking, My hand´s gone. My leg -- I 
don´t know. And I´m looking down at the ground, at asphalt, because there´s
more bottom to the Humvee. I was thinking, We´re not going to make it, and I 
told my buddy, ´Just tell my parents that I love them.´ And he cussed me out, 
telling me I was going to be OK. He was saying, ´Don´t worry, I´m going to
you back.´ And he got me back. I don´t know how, but he did. He just drove."

A few months ago, Acosta heard Rieckhoff interviewed on a California radio 
station, and he contacted Operation Truth. He said he agreed to appear in
the ad 
"to raise awareness, to let people know what´s really going on. You see on 
the news that one solider got injured, two soldiers got injured, and you
OK, it will be all right. But the reality is they come back missing limbs or 
their eyesight, and they´ve got families and their parents, people that care 
about them. People should know how these soldiers are affected physically and 

Operation Truth has found that some conservative media outlets don´t 
appreciate its point of view. Rieckhoff said he has appeared only once on
Hannity´s Fox News show and only once on Laura Ingraham´s talk radio show.
"They were 
happy to have us when they thought we were just some dumb soldiers," 
Rieckhoff said. "But when they realized that we could talk and we were
educated, that 
we´d been on the ground in Iraq, and that it was hard to challenge us, they 
didn´t ask us back." 

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