The vast scale of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan and the full devastation they have wrought are poorly understood by the US public and policymakers. It is imperative that we know who has been killed, what kinds of wounds and health declines have been suffered, and what kinds of economic costs and consequences have been incurred or profits made, and by whom. All of the costs of these wars have been consistently minimized, misunderstood, or hidden from public view.
A wide variety of goals – from saving lives to enhancing democracy to holding people accountable – require more specific knowledge about these (and any) wars. The US public should know what the decision to go to war in each of these cases has wrought. The US government’s arguments about national security are a poor excuse for leaving everyone but the people of the warzone itself ignorant of what the use of force accomplishes. Because information facilitates democratic deliberation and effective decision-making, the US should increase transparency by:
- recording all deaths and injuries in the war zones; this includes the deaths of US troops (not just those who die in the war zone or military hospital) and contractors (whether US citizens or not), civilians in the war zones, enemy combatants, and prisoners. Records should be completed promptly and systematically and made public on a regular basis. Adequate health care should be provided for the injured and ill;
- continuing to track the war-related post-deployment deaths (such as suicide) and injuries (such as toxic dust exposure) of servicemembers, whether or not they go on to receive VA treatment;
- tracking and disclosing toxic exposures for civilians from US military operations or the consequences of those operations;
- fully disclosing the number and nature of detentions at home and abroad in a timely manner;
- insisting that the Pentagon meet accounting standards that every other department of government meets; making spending more transparent by setting up separate appropriations for war funding, as the Congressional Research Service recommends;
- including in the accounting of war costs the additions to the "base" Pentagon and Veterans Administration expenditures that are clearly war related, such as the New GI bill, death gratuities and insurance;
- fully describing and auditing the use of private contractors;
- providing a real time assessment of waste and profiteering, something which would require a permanent Special Inspector General charged with such;
- regularly disclosing the Pentagon's fuel consumption for each war zone and supporting operations, including the transportation of fuel;
- making public the National Intelligence Program budget that is directly related to war (e.g. the CIA drone surveillance and strike program).
Transparency and accountability for war budgets and costs must include not only what has been spent, but the amounts that the US will be obliged to spend by virtue of the fact of going to war. The US should make comprehensive estimates of the budgetary costs of these wars by:
- including the future obligations to veterans;
- refraining from funding the wars through special or emergency appropriations;
- including the estimated costs of paying the interest on war borrowing and the estimated difference in cost between borrowing for war versus raising taxes or selling war bonds;
- estimating the costs of war that are passed on to state and local governments and to private individuals;
- estimating the macroeconomic effects of war spending on the US economy.
Finally, the research reported here is only a beginning: an independent non-partisan commission should make a thorough assessment of the human, financial, and social costs of the wars of the last decade for the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, the United States and other countries directly affected by the wars.