A US soldier in Iraq, March 22, 2003. (AP Photo/John Moore)
Phil Donahue introduced me to the story of Iraq War vet Tomas Young a number of years ago, when Phil and Ellen Spiro were finishing what remains the most powerful of all documentaries on the war of whim into which George Bush and Dick Cheney led the United States a decade ago—and the consequences of that war.
That 2007 documentary, Body of War, followed the physical and emotional struggles of Young, a veteran paralyzed by a bullet wound to the spine, and juxtaposed them with the Congressional debate on whether to authorize President Bush to invade Iraq.
The most dramatic moment in the film comes when Young meets West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, who argued so passionately against going to war—during the authorization debate, and in the final weeks before Bush ordered the invasion that would cost thousands of American lives, as many as a milloin Iraqi lives and trillions of dollars. In the film, the two men, one so old and one so young, read the names of the twenty-three senators who opposed authorizing Bush’s war. Then Byrd tells the young soldier, who was wounded just days after arriving in Iraq, that he wished that he could have done something more, anything more, to avert the war.
Byrd is now gone.
And Young’s story is coming to a close.
“Tomas Young has been fighting for the last nine years, fighting his government, fighting the Veterans Administration and fighting his own deteriorating body,” notes his local paper, The Kansas City Star. “But soon the struggle will be over. The Kansas City man who was paralyzed from the chest down by a sniper’s bullet during the Iraq war is now in hospice care and preparing to die.”
Young is not going quietly, however.
He has written a remarkable last letter, addressed to former President Bush and former Vice President Cheney, which first appeared on the TruthDig website.
“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,” Young explains. “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.“