05/31/2007 Filed by Michael Roston
VoteVets chairman criticizes Pentagon's explanation
After the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff appeared to significantly underestimate the number of US armed service members killed in the Iraq War on Memorial Day, a spokesman for his office defended his remarks in an interview with RAW STORY. General Peter Pace meant in his Memorial Day media appearance to distinguish between US troops killed in action and the hundreds who who have died from 'non-hostile' causes in the Iraqi theater of combat.
"You only have a few minutes when you're doing short interviews on morning shows, and General Pace was trying to be very precise," Lieutenant Colonel Gary Tallman from the Public Affairs Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Wednesday.
"He was referring to American service members killed in action as of May 25, which at that date was 2815, and there additionally have been 619 non-hostile deaths, and that puts you over 3,400."
Pace had appeared to say that fewer than 3,000 US soldiers died since the US invaded Iraq in 2003.
"When you take a look at the life of a nation and all that's required to keep us free, we had more than 3,000 Americans murdered on 11 September, 2001. The number who have died, sacrificed themselves since that time is approaching that number," he said in the CBS News performance on Monday morning, which RAW STORY reported later in the day.
The remark was criticized by one Iraqi veterans group.
"Memorial Day is a time to remember anyone who lost their lives in military service to this nation. The ultimate sacrifice doesn’t discriminate as to whether a hero is a combat death or non-combat," said Jon Soltz, the Chairman of VoteVets.org, a political action committee that supports veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who are running for public office.
"All those who gave their lives deserve to be treated with equal honor and respect. It’s simply wrong to leave out those who were non-combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan when speaking of those who gave their lives in service to the nation."
Spokesman admits General's remark 'made us say hmmm...'
Lt. Col. Tallman admitted in the interview with RAW STORY that even General Pace's staff was surprised by the remark that he made in the appearance with Harry Smith.
"Col. Haddock [another Joint Chiefs spokesperson] spoke to him about that specifically afterwards, and he said, 'That made us say ''hmmmm...,'' that made us stop and think, because the media reports well over 3,000, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense reports everything,'" Tallman explained.
But, apparently Pace defended himself to his staff.
"He said 'no, no, I'm right. I'm speaking to those who were killed in action,'" Tallman added.
As of Wednesday, the Iraq Casualty Count database RAW STORY had earlier used showed 618 US armed services members had died of 'non-hostile causes.' A count showed that 52 had died of a number of health-related causes. Additionally, 48 had died of 'non-hostile' causes without any particular explanation in the Iraq Casualty Count database, 2 had died of 'non-hostile - not reported,' and 29 had died from 'non-hostile - unspecified cause.'
A sizable number of the remainder had died from vehicle accidents, or helicopter crashes.
Additional so-called 'non-hostile deaths' included a variety of subcategories: accidental overdose; airplane crash; building fire; drowning; electrocution; homicide; heatstroke; lost at sea; maintenance accident; ordnance accident; suicide; weapons discharge; and, weapon malfunction.
The spokesperson insisted to RAW STORY that General Pace was not discounting the 'sacrifice,' as he said in the interview, of those who died from these so-called 'non-hostile' causes.
"Not at all, he's not trying to underestimate or downplay the circumstances of any fatalities.
There have been heart attacks, and some folks have gotten sick, and they did so in the line of duty for their country, and it's catastrophic for their families," Lt. Col. Tallman insisted.
"General Pace felt that and he's conveyed that, but the way question the was asked, as he read it, he was trying to be precise."
However, Tallman had no explanation as to why it was so important for the Joint Chiefs Chairman to emphasize those who were killed as opposed to those who died under other circumstances.
"I can't speak for him specifically," the spokesman said.