[Media-watch] Maimed but not mute
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.
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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
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,
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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.
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
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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