Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

A Veteran’s Assessment of the Iraq War


Ten years later we are all aware of the damage caused in Iraq by the war: the thousands of civilians killed, including women and children, the destruction of the infrastructure, the millions now living under the poverty line, the high levels of corruption that make Iraq one of the countries in the world where corruption is less pervasive. Less known, or acknowledged, are the terrible effects the war had on American soldiers: those now lacking access to medical services, those traumatized by war for life or left with incapacitating sequela.

A letter sent to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney by Thomas Young, a 33-year-old American soldier who participated in the war, and who was initially featured in the movie documentary “Body of War,” is one of the most damning criticisms of a war that has destroyed so much, and created so little.

April 4, 2004, was a fateful day for Thomas Young. That day, as he sat into the back of a to-and-a-half-ton Army truck with 20 other soldiers in Sadr City, in Iraq, insurgents attacked the truck and opened fire on the soldiers. Two bullets reached him: one, from an AK-47 cut his spinal column; the second one destroyed his knee. He felt dizzy, but tried anyway to pick up his M16. When he couldn’t he suddenly realized that something had gone terribly wrong.

In a talk with Chris Hedges he gave details of his situation. Knowing that he was going to be paralyzed he wanted to ask somebody to shoot him. No words could come out of his mouth because his lungs had collapsed. Staff Sgt. Robert Miltenberger, his squad leader, bent over him and told him that he would be all right in words that later Miltenberger would recount with anguish.

Young was initially sent to an Army hospital in Kuwait and later to the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, from where he was transferred to the Walter Reed hospital in Washington, D.C. His situation steadily deteriorated. Now, close to dying, he wrote a letter to the former President and his Vice President which says in part:

“I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.”

“I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all –the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.”

“I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans –my fellow veterans- whose future you stole.”

“Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard duty. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. Your were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.”

“My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope that will be put on trial. But mostly, I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.”

When asked recently about the Iraq war, former Vice President Dick Cheney said that he would do it all over again.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.


Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 28, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Inside the Invisible Government; War, Propaganda, Clinton & Trump
Andrew Levine
The Hillary Era is Coming: Worry!
Gary Leupp
Seven World-Historical Achievements of the Iraq Invasion of 2003
Paul Street
Standing Rock Water-Protectors Waterboarded While the Cleveland Indians Romped
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel: 1984 Everlasting
Michael Brenner
American Foreign Policy in the Post-Trump Era
Luciana Bohne
Crossing the Acheron: Back to Vietnam
Robert Hunziker
The Political Era of Climate Refugees
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution was an Atrocity
Ira Helfand
Nukes and the UN: a Historic Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons
Pete Dolack
Work Harder So Speculators Can Get More
Joyce Nelson
Canadians Launch Constitutional Challenge Against CETA
John Laforge
US Uranium Weapons Have Been Used in Syria
Paul Edwards
The Vision Thing ’16
Arshad Khan
Hillary, Trump and Sartre: How Existentialism Disrobes the Major Presidential Candidates
Peter Lee
It’s ON! Between Duterte and America
Chris Zinda
The Bundy Acquittal: Tazing of #oregonstandoff
Joseph Grosso
Starchitects in the City: Vanity Fair and Gentrification
Patrick Carr
Economic Racial Disparity in North Carolina
David Swanson
Public vs. Media on War
Chris Gilbert
Demo Derby in Venezuela: The Left’s New Freewheeling Politics
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution Was an Atrocity
Sam Albert
Kids on Their Own in Calais: the Tip of an Iceberg-Cold World
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Russell Mokhiber
Lucifer’s Banker: Bradley Birkenfeld on Corporate Crime in America
Ron Jacobs
Death to the Fascist Insect! The SLA and the Cops
Cesar Chelala
Embargo on Cuba is an Embarrassment for the United States
Jack Smith
And the Winner Is….
Ken Knabb
Beyond Voting: the Limits of Electoral Politics
Matt Peppe
An Alternate Narrative on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
The Israeli Trumpess
James Rothenberg
Water Under the Bridge
Louis Yako
Remembering Rasul Gamzatov: The Poet of the People
Brian Cloughley
The US, NATO and the Pope
When Nobody Returns: Palestinians Show They are People, Too
Louis Proyect
The Outsider-Insider: Isaac Babel’s Big Mistake
Simon Jones
The Human Lacunae in Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake”
Martin Billheimer
Now and Then, Ancient Sorceries
Review: Brit Bennett’s “The Mothers”
October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade