Top US General in Iraq to Soldiers: Shut Up!
July 18, 2003

by Mike Ewens

UPDATE (7/18/03: 6:00 EDT)

Pentagon Retaliates Against GIs Who Spoke Out on TV

The General's warning (see below) was not empty:

"It was the end of the world," said one officer Thursday. "It went all the way up to President Bush and back down again on top of us. At least six of us here will lose our careers."

First lesson for the troops, it seemed: Don't ever talk to the media "on the record" -- that is, with your name attached -- unless you're giving the sort of chin-forward, everything's-great message the Pentagon loves to hear.

The coalition forces commander – General Abizaid – declared that American troops must silence their criticism concerning the President and Defense Secretary. The New York Times quoted the general:

"None of us that wear this uniform are free to say anything disparaging about the secretary of defense or the president of the United States. . . We're not free to do that. It's our professional code. Whatever action may be taken, whether it's a verbal reprimand or something more stringent is up to the commanders on the scene and it's not for me to comment."

What's all the fuss? After months of previous delays, soldiers from the beleaguered Third Infantry Division – some who have been in the Middle East since September 2002 – were told that their stay in Iraq will extend into late fall. The Pentagon has persistently promised the soldiers and their worried families a quick return. Coupled with these prevarications, the "guerilla warfare" that has killed 33 American troops since the "end of hostilities" has clearly strained their patience and resolve. Given an opportunity to tell reporters how they feel, some soldiers could not contain their anger about the broken promises and lies of a "quick return home":

""The aces in my deck are Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and Paul Wolfowitz," he said."

"If Donald Rumsfeld were sitting here in front of us, what would you say to him?" I [ABC reporter Jeffrey Kofman] asked a group of soldiers who gathered around a table, eager to talk to a visiting reporter.

"If he was here," said Pfc. Jason Punyahotra, "I would ask him why we're still here, why we've been told so many times and it's changed."

In the back of the group, Spc. Clinton Deitz put up his hand. "If Donald Rumsfeld was here," he said, "I'd ask him for his resignation."

If the trend of fatalities continues – now an average of one death a day – the call for the troops' return will only become louder and more forceful.

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