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July 14, 2003

The Self-Licking Ice Cream Cone

Remember the story of U.S. doctors refusing to treat Iraqi children from a couple of weeks ago? Here's a synopsis, for those unwilling to part company from us for even a moment.

Sgt. David Borell tried to get U.S. Army doctors to treat three injured Iraqi children, only to have them refuse.

Like most, I bought into the story. However, I also wrote to Major David Accetta, the Public Affairs Officer for the 3D Corps Support Command to see if there was another side to the story.

Today I got a response back.


Thank you for being intelligent and reasonable enough to understand that there is more than one side to this story. You would not believe the amount of hate mail and insults that I have received from people who clearly have no idea what they are talking about.

I will tell you that I cannot change that policy, not because I don't want to but because I don't have that authority. As a Public Affairs Officer, I don't create Army policy, I merely explain it to the public. Whether or not I agree with the policy is irrelevant.

I will caution you that you can't believe everything you read in the media, especially from a reporter with a clear bias against the U.S. and its actions around the world. I was actually there when those kids arrived, the reporter was not. As for SGT Borell, who began this with his letter to the media, I cannot begin to explain why he believes he has more expert knowledge in the field of medicine than the doctors who evaluated these two children. Yes, there were only two injured children. Another error in the media.

Now, before you begin to think that I am a heartless military bureaucrat, let me tell you that I am married and have two children, a boy and a girl, about the same ages as the Iraqi children. I also know about a child's pain and suffering and the anguish a parent goes through when his child is hurt. Two years ago I lost my youngest son, Alex, at age 7 months after losing the fight with a brain tumor. I spent Father's Day, June 15th, the 2nd anniversary of his death, right here in Iraq.

I was concerned about those Iraqi children, too, but they had already been to an Iraqi clinic and now, over 24 hours later, were at our gate. There is an Iraqi hospital nearby and that's where it is recommended that they go. The military hospital is truly not set up and equipped to care for pediatric patients. It is staffed and equipped to handle adult battle casualties (trauma) and non-battle injuries and illnesses. The small hospital covers the 16,000 soldiers stationed here.

I am enclosing the original email that I sent to Donna Abu-Nasr, the AP reporter. You can see that she used only what she needed to support her angle on the story and generate more sympathy and controversy. It is a 'self-licking ice cream cone'. No matter what we say or do the facts will be manipulated to suit the needs of the writer.

We are doing a great deal here to help the Iraqi people, in a variety of ways, all the while trying to protect the innocent Iraqis, our soldiers and coalition forces and all the aid agencies and journalists here. It is a massive undertaking which is not being made any easier by the lack of cooperation on the part of the Iraqis in general and especially by the Iraqis and foreign elements who spend their days and nights shooting at us while we try to help.

Another view that I saw relating to this issue claims that we caused this and it was our fault for not protecting the hospitals from being looted. Who exactly do people think looted the hospitals? Organized criminal elements? Looting is a national pastime here and is conducted by everyone; men, women, children, old and young alike. You cannot leave your home unattended here as you can in other countries because you do not run the risk of being robbed, you run the risk of coming back and finding out that everything of even the most remote value gone. Looters here will take doors, windows, plumbing, bathroom fixtures, lights, wiring, and duct work.

You really need to be on the ground here to fully understand what it is like. I have been here for 130 days and I spent 6 months in the Persian Gulf in 90-91 during Desert Storm, including working in the refugee camp at Safwan.

I realize that this is a rather lengthy email and that it may come across as being defensive but I wanted to make you aware of the facts that you may not find in the media.

I did truly feel bad for those two kids and I wanted to see them helped. I wish we could help all the children here and maybe someday we will be able to do that. If you had the opportunity to talk to the soldiers here, you would find that the majority of the our people are sympathetic to the Iraqis' plight and are very interested in helping the these people and as quickly as possible improving their overall quality of life. In our own small way now we are doing that and we will enable the Iraqis to help themselves too. But we cannot make them help themselves. It breaks my heart to see the kids here, running around barefoot in the street, most often with absolutely no adult supervision at all. It appears to be ingrained in the culture and they don't seem to be aware of the risks. Of course it is dangerous here; it is a postwar environment and the country is littered with explosives and ordnance, most of it abandoned by the Iraqi Army. Much if it also was looted from Army bases prior to the U.S. forces arrival. We have units dedicated to policing up and safely disposing of this stuff, just as we have units dedicated to evaluating and assisting medical facilities. These children were injured because they lit the explosive substance on fire. Almost as soon as we arrived here we recognized the dangers to the civilian population and instituted a campaign to warn and educate the local population about these dangers. If I had my way, I would institute the same standards and laws to protect the safety of children that we have, such as child labor laws, seatbelt/car seat laws, nutrition and day care policies.

It appears the Iraqis have not had these in the past and it may be a long time before they have them. But in any case we are here to help and to paraphrase President Teddy Roosevelt, we are doing the best we can, with what we have, where we are.

Thank you for your continuing support of our troops.

Proudly Serving,

Major Dave Accetta

(Original letter to AP reporter)


In response to your initial question, the policy here is that we only consider treatment for patients who have emergency conditions threatening life, limb or eyesight of an acute nature, not as a result of a chronic medical condition.

The first assessment is conducted by the military police medic and if a patient is assessed as possibly meeting the criteria, the hospital dispatches an ambulance and physician to conduct a more thorough assessment.

According to the physician who responded and assessed the condition of the patients, their injuries were not life-threatening or a threat to loss of limb or eyesight. They were directed to the appropriate Iraqi civilian hospital with the level of care necessary for the injuries sustained.

In order to help the Iraqis help themselves and establish their own medical treatment facilities we are conducting a number of medical humanitarian projects. We have converted the former Ba'ath Party headquarters in the local town of Ad Dujayl into a clinic as well as other medical programs extending medical treatment to the Iraqis. All of our humanitarian assistance projects include bringing medics to treat local civilians and one medic recently treated over 80 people during one visit.

Our goal is for the Iraqis to use their own existing infrastructure and become self-sufficient, not dependent on U.S. forces for medical care. We, along with OCPA and different U.S. and international non-governmental organizations, are working to restore and improve Iraqi medical treatment facilities as well as other humanitarian projects designed to enhance quality of life for the Iraqi people. Achieving this allows the Iraqi people access to appropriate and acceptable health care as well as leaves them less dependent on our forces.

Under the Fourth Geneva Convention we have the following medical responsibility to the Iraqi civilian population:

"To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying
(Liberating) Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining, with the cooperation of national and local authorities, the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied
(liberated) territory, with particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics."

Major David Accetta
Public Affairs Officer
3D Corps Support Command


I've forwarded a copy of the Major Accetta's letter to several variations of what I would expect Ms. Abu-Nasr's email address to be. I'll post her response if I get one.

The lesson here? Probably something along the lines of "Learn to think like a Bezhnev-era Soviet citizen and assume everything you read is lies."

Or at least inaccurate. It's depressing, it's a lot of work, but what else is there to do?

Posted by Bigwig at July 14, 2003 10:15 AM | TrackBack
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I always caution people to read dispatches from the media with a very jaundiced eye and ear. I am a retired Army E8 and in my hitches with world wide army units we have always supported local orphanages. I can say with all honesty that the local population has always reccieved a lot of support from the army units and their troops.

Just as an aside to the story, I was unit rep on the orphanage board in Germany. I was in the pay line collecting Christmas contributions for the orphanage. Some of the younger troops asked about bringing the children to the mess hall for dinner. Long story short, the Mother Superior was AGHAST! What we were supporting was a home for wayward girls and the last thing she wanted was her teenagers in an army barracks. Sometime best intentions are astray.

Posted by: Al Bullock at July 14, 2003 11:37 AM

I won't say I told you so (even though I did) because the PAO's story could be inaccurate, self-serving, etc. That's what press affairs officers are paid to do.

On the other hand, I've seen how it works up close. One of my 19 year-old Privates First Class, who deployed to Iraq in 1991 despite having a cracked vertebra, lifted his rifle into the air (along with several comrades who followed suit), holding it up horizontally to stop a bum rush of Iraqi refugees from overruning our checkpoint and looting our food. (We were actually handing out our basic load of food to the clearly starving refugees. But a bunch of the benighted gourmands wanted more than one MRE). My troop's innocent act - lifting a rifle up to horizontal level in a line with his comrades, to stop a near-riot - wound up in NewsWeek a couple weeks later. He came to me in tears about a month after that, with the nasty letter his parents -- his parents, dammit! -- sent him asking him why he was beating up refugees. When I saw the picture with the screaming refugees, it looked like he had clubbed one of them, when no such thing had happened.

At the time, I remember wishing (1) that we could have executed butt stroke series to the groin on the NewsWeek reporter who plagued us for a few days, and then left with that picture; and (2) that a 60 Minutes film crew had been present to hear my troopies' plaintive moans of "I'm hungry, Sergeant Bill" for a day or two after that because we had very little food, at least until I could scrounge more food and get regular re-supply arranged. Of course, the lead photo then would have been yours truly, with a headline, "US Army Starves its Own Troops..."

Posted by: Omnibus Bill at July 14, 2003 01:07 PM


Thanks for following up on this story. I'm interested to hear the response of Ms Abu-Nasr.

I tried to respond to this yesterday but found myself going off on a bit of a rant. Ok..A huge rant.

Let it just suffice to say that I find myself looking at all news with a "who has the most to gain by this" eye.

This doesn't work for everything, but it keeps me sane :)

I also keep in mind that our "troops" aren't a bunch of heartless bastards. Though they seem to be portrayed this way quite often. They are human beings, following orders and doing a job that most of us couldn't stomach. (We just saw the pictures of Ohrdruf. imagine seeing that in person, and having it haunt your memories for the rest of your life)

Yes..I have a tendency to come down on the side of our troops (I admit wholeheartedly that I'm more than a bit prejudiced on this subject). They aren't there playing for political gain, they aren't there to get a story, or make a name for themselves. They are regular guys, your next door neighbor, a son, a husband, a daughter. They are there to do a job to the best of their ability, to survive, and then they just want to come home.

To me, they have the most to lose, and the least to gain.


Posted by: Wendy at July 15, 2003 04:27 PM

I'd like to comment on the remark "Learn to think like a Brezhnev-era Soviet citizen and assume everything you read is lies". Well, of course a lot of it was. But the best thing about propaganda is that you don't have to spin everything. Just enough. The other thing to remember is that Soviet era people didn't just sit back and think "Oh, isn't this nice. When capitalism comes my wages will be cut in half"
(Secretaries have seen their wages fall in Moscow since capitalism) - they printed their own samizdat. Admittedly, a lot of it came from the secret services in Western countries, but a lot was indigenous. So it must be with yourselves. Find the truth, do the journalists job for them, and disperse it. Before the 4am alarm call.

Posted by: Larry Lurex at July 17, 2003 10:44 AM

Socialism - plenty of money, nothing to buy

Capitalism - plenty to buy, not enough money

Judging by the great migrations of our day the capitalist econmies are the place to be.

Posted by: M. Simon at July 17, 2003 11:07 AM
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