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Bush's Burgeoning Body Count

Casualties of the Bush Administration, Part II.

| Mon Nov. 28, 2005 3:00 AM EST

Marlene Braun: A 13-year veteran of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), she was appointed manager of Carrizo Plain National Monument -- 250,000 acres of native grasses and Native American sacred sites, located about 120 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Once the Bush administration came to power, the BLM, under Interior Secretary Gale Norton, "began crafting a grazing policy that lifted protections for wildlife and habitat across 161 million acres of public lands in the West, including the Carrizo." In an August 2005 article the Los Angeles Times wrote, that Braun "was torn between the demands of a new boss who she felt favored the region's ranchers, and conservation policies adopted nearly a decade ago to protecting the austere swath of prairie she shared with pronghorn antelope and peregrine falcons, the California condor and the California jewelflower." That boss, said Braun, stripped her of "almost all my influence on the Plain," transferring it to those she deemed to be "pro-grazing." She repeatedly clashed with him and wrote to colleagues, "I ... can't keep fighting indefinitely, I don't think? [but m]aybe fighting is better than capitulating.... The Carrizo could lose a lot if I give up.... But hell, you only live, and die, once!!!!" When Braun contacted other officials at the Department of Fish and Game as well as the Nature Conservancy about "several public misstatements she believed [her boss] had made about federal grazing law," he found out and suspended her. Braun appealed the suspension, but on February 15, 2005, her appeal was denied. Braun remained in touch with Bureau of Land Management officials concerning issues related to management of the Carrizo Plain and was repeatedly reprimanded for it. As a result, she told friends, she was certain she would be fired from the Bureau. Braun forwarded the disciplinary memos she continued to receive to officials at the Department of Fish and Game and the Nature Conservancy. She wrote, "I will no longer be participating in this mess.... I will not take being treated like a whipping girl..." The next day she put a .38 caliber pistol to her head and pulled the trigger. Committed Suicide, May 2, 2005.

The Used: An Honorary Fallen Legionnaire

Pat Tillman: A defensive back in the National Football League who turned down a $3.6 million contract to join the military after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he died in a hail of bullets in Afghanistan. Tillman, following in the tradition of the long-ago cast aside Jessica Lynch, was embraced by the administration as a poster-boy for the American war effort. His name was invoked by the White House as well as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as a "symbo[l] of our country's courage and determination." But even in death, Tillman proved too tough for the administration to tame. Steve Coll of the Washington Post revealed that, while "records show Tillman fought bravely and honorably until his last breath," they also revealed "that his superiors exaggerated his actions and invented details as they burnished his legend in public, at the same time suppressing details that might tarnish Tillman's commanders." In fact,"the Army kept the soldiers on the ground quiet and told Tillman's family and the public that he was killed by enemy fire while storming a hill," reporting that "Tillman was part of a coalition combat patrol that was ambushed" by enemy forces. It turned out, however, that he had been gunned down by U.S. troops and that fact was simply covered up by military officials. Soon his family spoke up. Said his mother, Mary Tillman:

"Pat had high ideals about the country; that's why he did what he did. The military let him down. The administration let him down. It was a sign of disrespect. The fact that he was the ultimate team player and he watched his own men kill him is absolutely heartbreaking and tragic. The fact that they lied about it afterward is disgusting."

His father, Patrick Tillman Sr., was equally furious, stating:

"After it happened, all the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this. They purposely interfered with the investigation, they covered it up. I think they thought they could control it, and they realized that their recruiting efforts were going to go to hell in a hand basket if the truth about his death got out. They blew up their poster boy."

And from beyond the grave, the administration's would-be propaganda puppet (who, it turns out was a major Noam Chomsky fan) had the last word -- via the recollections of his close friend, Army Specialist Russell Baer, who served with Tillman in Iraq:

"We were outside of [a city in southern Iraq] watching as bombs were dropping on the town. We were at an old air base, me, Kevin [Tillman, Pat's brother] and Pat, we weren't in the fight right then. We were talking. And Pat said, ?You know, this war is so f____ illegal.' And we all said, ?Yeah.' That's who he was. He totally was against Bush."

The Fallen?

Numerous readers sent in possible additions to the list of "the Fallen." Among them were cases of high officials who left government service under somewhat ambiguous circumstances. Did they or didn't they resign in protest? Were they forced out? Was it cover-your-ass infused political self-preservation or total revulsion with administration policies? You make the call:

Christine Todd Whitman: A favorite of readers who want to believe the best about humanity, Whitman was appointed by Bush in 2001 as chief of the Environmental Protection Agency and served two-and-a-half years before resigning. Her tenure was plagued by scandal over an alleged cover-up concerning the air quality in lower Manhattan following the 9/11 attacks and, according to Jeff Ruch, the executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), she also "presided over the greatest rollback in environmental enforcement in history? [and] pushed pollution control policies that put corporations rather than public health considerations in the driver's seat." Whitman noted that she sometimes had arguments with the White House that were "a little awkward" -- and, after leaving office, she authored a book, It's My Party, Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America in which she mildly criticized the current state of the Republican party. It didn't stop her, however, from becoming co-chair of Bush's 2004 reelection campaign in New Jersey and one of the campaign's "Rangers" -- an elite group of fundraisers, each of whom was responsible for gathering up more than $200,000 for the president.

Colin Powell: A professional soldier for 35 years, including service as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell was appointed Secretary of State by Bush and served in that capacity for the President's entire first term in office. During his tenure, Powell was said to have been a lone voice advocating diplomacy in the rush to war with Iraq. Despite this, it was Powell who appeared before the United Nations Security Council and made the case for war on the basis of supposed weapons of mass destruction that were later proved to be non-existent. In his letter of resignation, Powell stated that he was "pleased to have been part of a team that launched the Global War Against Terror, liberated the Afghan and Iraqi people, brought the attention of the world to the problem of proliferation, [and] reaffirmed our alliances?" In the time since, Powell has admitted that making the case for war will remain a "blot" on his record. "I'm the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and [it] will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It's painful now," he said. But as former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman said recently on a Democracy Now segment devoted to discussing "The Fallen Legion":

"The sad thing about the list? is the resignation that didn't take place. And that's Colin Powell. So, you have the great American story. And Colin Powell is that. But he's always going to have to live with the fact that he used the phony intelligence that the C.I.A. prepared for him, and he had to know that some of this was really bogus, that he was really stretching a point. And he had John Negroponte, the U.N. ambassador, sitting behind him, along with [CIA Director] George Tenet, while these lies were told to an international community, therefore jeopardizing American credibility."

Charlotte Beers: A top advertising executive who was, in the immediate wake of 9/11, tasked with "spearhead[ing] a public diplomacy campaign aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim world," she submitted her resignation in March 2003, claiming "health reasons" as the cause of her departure. CNN, however, reported that an unnamed "U.S. official" said the real reasons were due to "problems she encountered in the job."

General Kevin P. Byrnes: A Vietnam veteran, he ranked third in seniority among the Army's 11 four-star generals and headed the Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRACDOC). While Byrnes was said to have "a previously unblemished record [and] was set to retire? after 36 years of service," he was sacked -- the first case, said Army officials, of a "four-star general being relieved of duty in modern times." The official reasons for this, wrote the Washington Post, were "allegations that he had an extramarital affair with a civilian." But the newspaper also noted, "Relieving a general of his command amid such allegations is extremely unusual, especially given that he was about to retire" and some commentators raised the possibility that the "White House's need to block anti-torture legislation on detainees" figured into the general's firing. A number of others similarly called attention to the odd fact that, as Ariana Huffington wrote, at the Pentagon, "Torture is Rewarded While Sex is a Firing Offense."

The Mounting Toll

Over the years, presidents who have launched illegitimate military actions and pursued ruinous policies have often left a trail of wrecked careers in their wake. While he publicly defended Lyndon Johnson's policies, Undersecretary of State George Ball privately argued against military escalation in Vietnam, eventually resigning his post in 1966. Jimmy Carter's secretary of state, Cyrus Vance, resigned in protest over the failed military operation to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran, which he had opposed. In all, "eight of Jimmy Carter's cabinet members eventually resigned during his one term in office," while "[o]ther top administration officials, including Carter's Ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, were forced out? because of unauthorized meetings with PLO leaders." Analysis of their archives by Lexis-Nexis researchers found that Ronald Reagan "saw all but one of his cabinet positions change hands during his two terms in office from 1981-1989" and that he had a total of "four chiefs of staff and six national security advisors." Lexis-Nexis also determined that "[b]efore he finished his second term in office, [Bill Clinton] had 10 of his original cabinet members resign and several of their replacements also resign." Further, resignations on moral and ethical grounds during the Clinton Administration included "top Department of Health and Human Services officials Peter Edelman, Mary Jo Bane and Wendell Primus." They resigned in protest "over President Clinton's decision to sign a welfare bill that the officials thought would be a disaster for the poor and the country." Meanwhile, in a 1998 article in the New York Times, a then-less-known Judith Miller reported that a then-less-known United Nations weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, had resigned?[from his UN post] charging that the U.N. secretary-general, the Security Council and the Clinton administration had stymied the inspectors? ." Not exactly one of Clinton's "Fallen," but, in light of revelations since, worth mentioning nonetheless.

Over the years, many public servants from many administrations have been fired, forced out, or have quit their posts in protest. Unfortunately no one, to my knowledge, has bothered to catalogue them all. Despite a lack of precise figures, it also seems that no administration in recent memory has come close to the Bush presidency in producing so many high-profile public statements of resignation, dissatisfaction, or anger over administration policies, actions or inaction. Even discounting an entire class of ambiguously "fallen" officials and appointees, from Whitman and Powell to Valerie Plame (who is, apparently, still a CIA employee) and her husband ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson (the one-mission man), there are a seemingly endless number of legionnaires whose names have yet to be inscribed next to the approximately 217 already on "the Fallen Legion Wall." When added to the rolls of the real "Fallen" -- Iraqis and Afghans; Americans and other coalition forces; civilians, guerillas, mercenaries, and soldiers -- the human cost of the Bush administration's actions and policies will prove staggering.

Nick Turse works in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University and is the Associate Editor and Research Director of TomDispatch.com.

Copyright 2005 Nick Turse

This piece first appeared, with a short introduction by Tom Engelhardt, at Tomdispatch.com.

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