How an American war hero is taking his battle over Iraq to Washington
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
05 December 2003
The left leg of retired Colonel David Hackworth still carries a bullet that he picked up while fighting in the Vietnam War. Wounded a total of eight times, he claims to be America's most highly decorated soldier, his chest weighed down by honours such as eight Purple Hearts, nine Silver Stars and eight Bronze Stars.
While no-one doubts Colonel Hackworth's patriotism or service to his country, there are plenty of people who do not appreciate what he has to say about the United States' occupation of Iraq and the way it was carried out. Donald Rumsfeld is likely to be among his critics: Colonel Hackworth, 72, described the US Defence Secretary as "an arrogant asshole".
It is not just his outspoken comments and personal invective that have established the swaggering retired soldier as a persistent thorn in the side of the Pentagon. It is also because he acts as a lightening rod for the complaints and criticisms of soldiers on the ground, for the lowly grunts and GIs whose comments would otherwise go largely unheard.
These complaints gain wide exposure on Colonel Hackworth's two websites, www.hackworth.com and www.sftt.org. Entries may discuss subjects ranging from shoddy food and badly performing equipment to a lack of ammunition. He says he receives up to 2,000 such messages a week from troops whose anonymity he scrupulously protects. His website currently carries a letter from a veteran helicopter pilot, discussing the recent attack that brought down two Black Hawk helicopters.
The veteran's self-chosen role as the Pentagon's harshest critic and a powerful, uncensored source of what American soldiers are experiencing on the ground has never been more important. In the aftermath of America's worst month in Iraq, when 79 of its soldiers died, Col Hackworth this week received an email from a "combat leader" involved in the firefight in the city of Samarra in which US forces claimed to have killed 54 attackers. Local people insisted that only eight people, mostly civilians, had been killed.
In his email to Colonel Hackworth, who he has known for eight years, the soldier with the 4th Infantry Division wrote of Sunday's incident: "Hack, most of the casualties were civilians, not insurgents or criminals as being reported."
He added: "We are probably turning many Iraqi against us and I am afraid instead of climbing out of the hole, we are digging ourselves in deeper."
Speaking from his home in Greenwich, Connecticut, the white-haired veteran said yesterday of the man who sent the email: "I have known this soldier for eight years, since he first came into the US Army and I have watched him develop and have full confidence in the validity of his report." (Cont.)
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