Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton called the Bush administration "incompetent" when it came to protecting the troops in combat and called the lack of adequate body armor for soldiers and Marines "unforgivable."
So far in Iraq, more than 2,100 American troops have been killed. Critics like Clinton, D-N.Y., say that many of these deaths are the result of inadequate body armor. A secret Pentagon study of 93 Marines who were killed in Iraq found that 74 died after they were hit by a bullet or shrapnel in the torso or shoulders -- areas unprotected by the armor most are issued.
"We perhaps could have avoided so many of these fatalities with the right body armor," said Clinton, who recently wrote letters to Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee; Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee; and Francis J. Harvey, secretary of the Army, calling for an investigation into why troops were not being protected.
Clinton pointed to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney as the culprits. Some have said that supplying Marines and soldiers with armor that covers their sides is too expensive -- costing about $260 for each person. Clinton said that considering the United States' defense budget was half a trillion dollars, the additional protection was affordable. She said the administration had refused to listen to people in the field like Paul Bremer, former ambassador to Iraq, who said the United States needed more troops in Iraq to pacify the country.
"This is Bush/Cheney policy. … I've been one of the leading critics pointing out all the failures, the incompetencies," Clinton said. "I am just bewildered as to how this president and this vice president continue to isolate themselves from different point of views. He's [President Bush has] got three more years in office. Some of us wish this wasn't the case."
Congress recently passed a law to reimburse troops who purchased the armor themselves, but Clinton said not all of those people had been given their money.
"It's our duty to protect our men and women in uniform," said Clinton, who is rumored to be considering a run for the White House in 2008. "They are protecting us, our interest. They have been sent there by our president. The very least we can do is give them the very best body armor and armored vehicle."
The lack of adequate armor has been a hot topic during the war in Iraq. In 2004, a soldier confronted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during a Q&A session in Iraq about the issue. The question turned out to be planted by a journalist. Recently, Howard Dean, former presidential candidate and president of the Democratic National Committee, called for Rumsfeld to resign.
The Defense Department and Army said that they needed more time to acquire the armor and that publicly discussing issues of body armor aided the enemy -- claims that Clinton dismissed as out of hand.
She said it was now incumbent on the president to stand up for the men and women fighting overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The president speaks out strongly and even harshly from time to time about issues he thinks are important," Clinton said. "Let's hear him speak about men and women who wear the uniform of our country."