- Tomas YoungIraq War veteran and the main subject of the documentary, Body of War. On April 4, 2004, his fifth day in Iraq, Young’s unit came under fire in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad. Young was left paralyzed, never to walk again. Released from medical care three months later, Young returned home to become an active member in Iraq Veterans Against the War. He recently announced that he will stop his nourishment, which comes in the form of liquid through a feeding tube — a decision which will hasten his death.
- Claudia Cuellarthe wife and primary caregiver of Tomas Young.
- Phil Donahueone of the best-known talk show hosts in U.S. television history, his show was on the air for more than 29 years. In 2002, he returned to the airwaves, but he was fired in 2003 on the eve of the war by MSNBC because he was allowing antiwar voices on the air. Along with Ellen Spiro, he directed the documentary, Body of War, which tells the story of Tomas Young, an Iraq War veteran paralyzed from a bullet to the spine. Now, at the age of 33, Tomas has decided to end his life.
We continue our interview with Iraq War veteran Tomas Young. Citing his overwhelming physical pain from wounds that left him paralyzed in Iraq, Young recently announced he has decided to end his life by discontinuing his medicine and nourishment, which comes in the form of liquid through a feeding tube. His wife and primary caregiver, Claudia Cuellar, describes Young’s challenges with the Veterans Administration medical system, and Young reflects on his mother’s reaction to his decision. We also play excerpts from the Body of War documentary when George W. Bush and Laura Bush joke at a White House Correspondents Dinner about missing weapons of mass destruction. “He has hundreds of thousands of men and women on the front line and in Baghdad, in general, fighting because of some fictional weapons of mass destruction,” Young says. “That was a shaming moment, for me.” The film’s co-director and legendary TV talk show host, Phil Donahue, also joins us.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Our guests, from their home in Kansas City, Tomas Young, Iraq War veteran, his wife Claudia Cuellar; and in studio, the legendary talk show host Phil Donahue, who made a film six years ago, in 2007, called Body of War about Tomas, about Tomas in Iraq. On the fifth day—on his fifth day in Iraq, April 4th, 2004, Tomas Young’s unit came under fire in Sadr City, a neighborhood of Baghdad. Tomas was shot, left paralyzed, never to walk again. Released from medical care three months later, Tomas returned home to become an active member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. That was then.
Now, in 2013, he has said that he will end his own life. He will stop his nourishment, which comes in the form of liquid through a feeding tube—a decision that will hasten his death. On this 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq, he has written a letter to former President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
Tomas, we’d like you to finish reading that letter for us now.
TOMAS YOUNG: Absolutely. Where was I?
“You told us [the war] could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the [Army] to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the biggest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.
“I have, like many other [wounded and many other] disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical [disabilities and] wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your [own] brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.
“I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend our country I love—the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.
“My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.”
AMY GOODMAN: Tomas Young, reading “The Last Letter.”
TOMAS YOUNG: With love, Tomas Young.
AMY GOODMAN: “A Message to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney from a Dying Veteran.” Juan?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Tomas, I wanted to go to a part of the film, Body of War, that shows a gathering of the political, corporate and media elite in Washington. It was the White House Correspondents Dinner of 2005, and it includes President Bush joking around about the missing weapons of mass destruction and is followed by the first lady, Laura Bush.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Those weapons of mass destruction got to be somewhere. Nope, no weapons over there. Maybe under here.
LAURA BUSH: I said to him the other day, “George, if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you’re going to have to stay up later.” Ladies and gentlemen, I am a desperate housewife.
CATHY SMITH: They’re so insulated. They don’t want to know about people like Tomas and the 4 or 5 percent of the population that is actually sacrificing for this war.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Cathy Smith, mother of Tomas Young, from the film Body of War; before that, Laura Bush and former President George W. Bush joking about WMDs at the 2005 White House Correspondents Dinner. Tomas, your reaction when you first heard the president joking in that way?
TOMAS YOUNG: My initial reaction was: How callous! He has hundreds of thousands of men and women on the front line and in Baghdad, in general, fighting because of some fictional weapons of mass destruction. That he decided to walk around the Oval Office and fake hide-and-go-seek with WMD, that was a shaming moment, for me. And the Dixie Chicks’ main lead singer got in trouble for saying that, overseas, she is ashamed that President Bush is from Texas. I, for one, am ashamed President Bush was an American.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Phil Donahue—
TOMAS YOUNG: And then, to hear Laura make the joke about her being a desperate housewife, there are tens of thousands of military widows who would want nothing more than to be a desperate housewife, as long as their husband were safe at home.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Phil Donahue, the extraordinary difference between that eloquent, passionate letter of Tomas and this—and the joke of President Bush about WMD?
PHIL DONAHUE: Well, how about the people who made the “Mission Accomplished” sign, the people who got the helmet for Bush and the flight suit, in one of the most absurd stunts in the history of American government? And people kvelled, if that’s the correct Jewish pronunciation. They swooned. Media: “We’re all neocons now!” These were the advertising agency warriors who wrote the talking points, called the Senate and House members to the White House. “Woo, the White House!” Off they went. They took Karl Rove’s talking points and, like obedient third-graders, went right to the floor of the House and the Senate and read them, in the most shallow debate imaginable, with consequences of sending in—sending us into a massive blunder. Amazing.
AMY GOODMAN: As you watch now, Phil Donahue, television, on this 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq, talk about what is said, what isn’t said—and, you know, Tomas wrote his letter to former President Bush and Dick Cheney—and what they are doing today.
PHIL DONAHUE: Well, first of all, every major metropolitan newspaper in this country supported the invasion of Iraq. There was perhaps one exception with McClatchy-Knight Ridder newspapers, and I’ve written these names down, and they’re in my wallet. I think we should know what—and they, three young reporters—and they didn’t win a Pulitzer, by the way—kept saying, “Wait a minute. Where’s the evidence?” The only ones. I mean, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Boston Globe — this is what corporate media will do for you. It was not popular to oppose this war.
And also the—the things that they don’t see. Having spent time with Tomas and Claudia, Claudia has a maneuver whereby she bends down over Tomas in the wheelchair, which is sitting next to his bed, and he, with effort, puts his arms around her neck. And she is now cheek to cheek with him, and she moves her arms around his waist, like the prelude to a kiss. She grabs the top of his trousers above the rump, and in an explosive moment of energy, all that she can summon, she lifts him up and surrenders him to the gravity over his bed, and his body bounces like a rag doll. She’s a size four. And I watched this, and I thought, “The American people should see this.” And this is not unique to this. This is—you know, my fantasy is to have Bush visit Tomas and then tell him that “We have to go now, because I have 20,000 other homes and hospital rooms that we have to visit.” That’s my fantasy. They do not see this. They do not see this.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to—
TOMAS YOUNG: But if the president comes, Phil—
AMY GOODMAN: Tomas, go ahead.
TOMAS YOUNG: But if President Bush showed up at my front door, the first thing I’d do is challenge him to a game of Trivial Pursuit.
AMY GOODMAN: Or Trivial Pursuit?
TOMAS YOUNG: Or some other—some other academic board game where you have to answer general knowledge questions, just so I could say I’m smarter than a Yale student.
PHIL DONAHUE: Than a Yale student, well.
AMY GOODMAN: Tomas, I want to turn to a clip from Phil’s film, Body of War, of your mom, Cathy Smith, who lives about 10 minutes from you. It was September 2005. Tomas, you and your mother were at an antiwar protest in Washington, D.C., and you were watching protesters filing past, holding a long string bearing the photographs and names of their loved ones, their dead loved ones, the dead soldiers.
CATHY SMITH: You know what?
TOMAS YOUNG: What?
CATHY SMITH: You could have been there.
BRIE TOWNSEND: Stop it.
CATHY SMITH: I’m sorry, I can’t.
It’s just—I mean, his picture could be there, just like that. And I could be going over to put flowers on his cross, you know? And instead I’m here with him. That’s—you know. It’s just so—it’s so overwhelming. It just really is overwhelming. I just can’t—these are just pictures to so many people. They’re not babies. They’re not kids. They’re not fathers and brothers and—and to see it in this chain of 2,000, you know? Two thousand. And that doesn’t even include the 14,000 that are injured and in wheelchairs and…
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Cathy Smith, Tomas’s mother. They were in—it was September 2005, a D.C. protest. In August 2005, the large antiwar gathering that took place in Crawford, Texas, outside President Bush’s vacation ranch, Cindy Sheehan had set up Camp Casey in honor of her son, Casey, who was killed in Sadr City, right where Tomas had been. It was April 4th, 2004, the same day Tomas Young was wounded there. Let’s go to a clip of Tomas Young speaking at the gathering outside President Bush’s ranch.
TOMAS YOUNG: I can no longer control my body temperature. And when I go outside in the heat, I have to wear a cooling jacket that has frozen gel inserts to keep my body temperature regulated and cooled.
They tell me the feeling dizzy after our warm days and all this will go away eventually, once I get used to my injury. God, I hope they’re telling the truth.
Hi. Nice to meet y’all. I’m Tomas Young.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Nice to meet you.
TOMAS YOUNG: I’m Tomas, by the way.
Hey, I’ve got time to do an interview.
I called my recruiter on September 13. I wanted to go to Afghanistan. And I only managed to spend maybe five days in Iraq until I got picked to go on my first mission. There were 25 of us crammed into the back of a two-and-a-half-ton truck with no covering on top or armor on the sides. For the Iraqis on the top of the roof, it just looked like, you know, ducks in a barrel. They didn’t even have to aim.
I’ve got meetings, and I guess I’m a busy man.
BRIE TOWNSEND: We’re coming! We’re coming!
CINDY SHEEHAN: I also want to introduce Tomas Young. He was fighting in Sadr City and wounded the same day Casey was killed. And he was part of the 1st Cavalry, too.
TOMAS YOUNG: I also would like to demand a meeting with the president, because I feel he owes me some explanations as to why a soldier can volunteer to go over and fight for his country and lose his ability to walk, plus a lot of other important functions, and why I am not worth the funding for stem-cell research.
Sorry, but we’re going to have to cut this short. I need to go find a table to lean on for support. So are we good here?
REPORTER: Yeah. Thanks a lot.
TOMAS YOUNG: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Tomas Young in August of 2005 at Crawford, Texas, outside George Bush’s ranch. He was with Cindy Sheehan, and Cindy lost her son Casey in the same place where Tomas was shot, Sadr City. That was April 4th, 2004. Can you talk about that, Tomas, the day you were shot, the place, the same day where Casey Sheehan was killed? Did you know Casey when you deployed to Iraq?
TOMAS YOUNG: I did not know Casey. He was an engineer, and I was an infantryman, so we didn’t run around in the same circles. But—so, no, I didn’t know him that well. And—what was the question?
AMY GOODMAN: I was just asking—
TOMAS YOUNG: I’m on a lot of painkillers.
AMY GOODMAN: I was just asking—
TOMAS YOUNG: What’s that?
AMY GOODMAN: I was just asking if you knew Casey, and what it meant for you to go to Crawford, to meet Cindy, and also to be there outside President Bush’s vacation ranch.
TOMAS YOUNG: Well, I saw this mother on television starting this camp outside of George Bush’s ranch, and I decided, hey, I want to [inaudible] the president, too, to answer a stem-cell question. So I went down there, and that was my first connection with the IVAW. And—
AMY GOODMAN: The Iraq Veterans Against the War.
TOMAS YOUNG: And I—it was very hot. And it was the first year of my recovery. I had very little control over my body temperature. So every two to three hours, the gel packs that I had to cool me off had to be put in a refrigerator to refreeze. While this happened, I went back into my minivan and just tried to rest, because it was a very physically demanding day.
AMY GOODMAN: Phil?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, yeah, I just wanted to ask Tomas—you were talking about Cindy Sheehan. The reaction of your mother to the decision to end your life?
TOMAS YOUNG: Well, she is—she understands it, and she’s on my side, although she is of two minds about this. One side of her doesn’t want to see me go through any more pain and deterioration, and understands why I want to leave. But yet, there’s this other side of her that is going to be upset over losing her oldest son. But she decided it would be more selfish to keep me around just for her to say that her son’s alive still, or whatever she would think, but she understands that I need to—I need to go.
AMY GOODMAN: And your brother Nathan, who, after you were wounded in Iraq, went to Iraq?
TOMAS YOUNG: Yes, ma’am.
AMY GOODMAN: He, too, became a soldier.
TOMAS YOUNG: Yes, he did. Fortunately for him, he was shot or no—or any physical harm was done to him. But who knows what kind of mental damage he faces or faced.
AMY GOODMAN: Phil Donahue?
PHIL DONAHUE: Well, it should be added that Tomas has bowel—obviously, bowel and bladder issues every morning, urinary tract infection. Tomas sustains bouts of nausea, vomits. Tomas now has pressure sores, exposing bone. Tomas’s catheter comes loose, and he wets the bed. You know, as you see, the more—the closer you get to Tomas, the more it just blows you back. I don’t know another word that makes it more clear. This is awful. This is beyond awful. He’s been trapped in this body now for nine years. And what has impressed me over the course of this time, he wants to live. A lot of guys—you know, Bobby Muller, who was injured in Vietnam, a paraplegic, told me that the guys who don’t work to become independent, which Tomas has done, very—in a very positive and Herculean way—but those who don’t learn to live independently are the ones who kill themselves. And Tomas has done everything he can to avoid this happening. And it just makes it all the more sad to realize that he had so much to give, and that this is such a waste, now that he’s leaving us.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the part of the film where, Tomas, you meet Bobby Muller. It was after that antiwar protest in Washington, and you met with Bobby Muller, the Vietnam War veteran and peace activist who is the head of Veterans [of] America. He’s been in a wheelchair since 1969 because of an injury very similar to yours. This is an excerpt of that meeting in Body of War, starting with Bobby Muller.
BOBBY MULLER: You know, you go to a parade, you go to a demo, wheelchairs up front. You know, standard routine: You put the gimps on the front end of the game, because—no, that’s—
TOMAS YOUNG: Somebody else who says “gimps.” That’s excellent.
BOBBY MULLER: Yeah, that’s the visual. You know, they’ve got to have the visual, you know?
TOMAS YOUNG: Mm-hmm.
BOBBY MULLER: When you got shot, what was it like?
TOMAS YOUNG: All of a sudden, my body just went completely numb. I couldn’t feel anything. I dropped my M-16. I tried to pick it back up, but I couldn’t move my hands.
BOBBY MULLER: Where’d you get shot?
TOMAS YOUNG: Right underneath the left collarbone.
BOBBY MULLER: That’s where I got shot. Bullet came here and went through the spinal cord as it went out. So we got—we got—the angle and the trajectories were a little bit different, but we got very similar things.
TOMAS YOUNG: And shortly after that, I was out for about a week, woke up in Walter Reed Army Hospital. And that was where they kind of started to do a little rehab with me. I had a physical and an occupational therapist. They would come, and they’d take me out of my bed and put me in this weird chair and just leave me there for two hours. That was my physical therapy at the very beginning.
BOBBY MULLER: How long were you in the hospitals?
TOMAS YOUNG: Let’s see, a week and a half in Germany, a month—about two-and-a-half, three months, separated over different hospitals.
BOBBY MULLER: That’s—I was in the hospital for a year. And then, I went on an outpatient basis for another nine months. You got—you got short shrift. Again, I’m just going to say it. I think you got short shrift, man. You’ve seen the squandering of, you know, billions of dollars for [bleep] war, destroying people. You get shot, and now they’re going to skimp on giving you the kind of treatment and care that, you know, you obviously have a right to and deserve? I got to the point where I said, “OK, here it is. If I don’t fight this system, I will die.”
AMY GOODMAN: That is Bobby Muller, Vietnam War vet, head of Veterans for America—Veterans of America. In 1969, he was wounded in Vietnam. Tomas, do you remember that meeting with Bobby Muller in Washington and what it meant to you? What message you have for wounded veterans?
TOMAS YOUNG: I left thinking that this paralysis, this, quote-unquote, “life sentence” I’ve been handed, doesn’t have to be sad and depressing, that you can find laughter in the situation. If you look deep enough, you can find some happiness.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Claudia Cuellar, I’d like to ask you, for five years now, day in and day out, you’ve been Tomas’s partner and primary caregiver, as well. Your sense of how the system, the VA and the military, have dealt with your husband and his grievous injuries?
CLAUDIA CUELLAR: Well, my feeling is that it’s not just the VA system, but it’s a Western medical system. If—it just seems to be a never-ending series of procedures, surgeries and pharmaceutical drugs. And it’s—you know, this life-extension technology, you know, after a certain point, it just—it works, but he doesn’t feel better, and he’s still uncomfortable. And he just got to the point here, where he was so exhausted of submitting himself to the next procedure, the next doctor’s visit. You know, just—he just hit the wall. And last year—you know, again, we dealt with a certain amount of it in the first three, three-and-a-half years, but last year we just—it was so hard on him, and he just didn’t want to go to the hospital anymore, didn’t want to go to a nursing home. You know, we gave it—we took a chance on this ostomy surgery. You know, he—mechanistically, he functions, but he doesn’t feel better. He’s in increasing amounts of pain.
So, it’s just—somebody—there’s a quality of life that’s lost at a certain point, and there’s just no room to begin to talk about wanting to be free of this technology, to just want to go home and be pain-free and to choose how maybe—to choose how one dies. And we just didn’t feel the freedom or space to even begin having these conversations, even with healthcare professionals. It was very uncomfortable for us, and we had to fight to get out of that system to have some freedom.
AMY GOODMAN: Tomas, how do you want to be remembered?
TOMAS YOUNG: Well, I want to be remembered as a better person than I was a soldier, a good husband, a good son, a good brother, and fought his hard as he could to end the criminal war in Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: And—
TOMAS YOUNG: It’s going to be a big tombstone.
AMY GOODMAN: If somehow this pain could end, would you reconsider?
TOMAS YOUNG: What’s that?
AMY GOODMAN: If this pain could end, the pain you feel, would you reconsider ending your life?
TOMAS YOUNG: At the moment, I’m going to say no. But in the future, plenty things can happen, and I may either change my mind entirely or do what I plan to do.
CLAUDIA CUELLAR: Actually, you know, we have been overwhelmed by the response to everything, and we didn’t think it would happen this quickly. And so, we feel it’s important to tell the story, to share with other people that are suffering just like us. And so, it’s our responsibility as human beings to share the story, to help others. So, we’re going to—in trying to accommodate all the requests, we’re going to—we’re going to stop taking interviews on April 20th, which is our anniversary, and then take a little extra time just to spend together, you know, alone and in peace, and, you know—and then take the time. I mean, all we have is information for today, and it’s hard to look at future dates, so we’re going to do the best we can, day by day. But we’re going to try to do the best we can to share the story and then take some time, and then we’ll have to just wait and see.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about the end of May, the beginning of June. Why are you talking about those dates? What is important?
TOMAS YOUNG: Well, the people that want to come and say their last goodbyes—a friend said he couldn’t make it until the middle of May, and I don’t want to deprive anybody of their ability to say one last goodbye to me before I go.
AMY GOODMAN: Phil, what has Tomas and Claudia taught you?
PHIL DONAHUE: Well, their—their relationship is remarkable. Claudia visited Tomas in Chicago, when she was living there at the time. And Tomas was at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, which is a high-end bone spinal place. By the way, Tomas, I believe, when he was there, was the only Iraq veteran there. And I honestly believe the reason he was there was because of the movie. I would pass the DVD out to nursing station, so that at least we had a chance of them seeing a real human being in room 6-3, or 6-C, whatever it was.
And Claudia came to visit. She is one of those wonderful, do-good people who wants to bring some comfort, conversation, to veterans, visit them. What do they need? Can they get him something? Maybe even a Starbucks, whatever it might be. And an emotional relationship developed, and she’s been with Tomas now for five—over five years. So, I mean, who loves you, honey? I mean, it’s just fabulous to see this. I don’t know where he’d be without her. And it’s taught me that, you know, love is everything. And I suppose I knew that, but I’ve never seen—I’ve never had a front-row seat to it, as I have with them.
AMY GOODMAN: Maybe we’ll end with Ellen, your partner in this film, Body of War, and then hear what Tomas has to say about what you taught Ellen. She co-directed Body of War with Phil Donahue, and she was speaking with us right after the film came out in March 2008, almost exactly five years ago. She said your story, Tomas, was a story about hope.
ELLEN SPIRO: When I first met Tomas on my first trip to Kansas City with Phil, I knew that he was a remarkable young man. We had no idea where his life or his story was going to go, but I could feel his spirit. I could feel that he was different, that he wasn’t just going to sit at home and, you know, wallow in his injury, that he was going to take what happened to him and turn it into something bigger than himself. So he’s a real hero in this story. He’s a sort of real-life contemporary character like the one in Born on the Fourth of July, who comes home, and he’s suffered the worst possible thing imaginable, but he turns that around and he becomes a very powerful voice in the culture. And he finds his own voice in this film, so it’s a very hopeful story. It’s about somebody who was betrayed by the government, who turns his life around and is really making a difference in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Ellen Spiro in 2008. Tomas, we will end with you. For Ellen, yours is a story of hope. Do you think you could find that hope again?
TOMAS YOUNG: If I do, it’s going to be awfully hard to find. And to get back to Phil’s point about him not knowing where I’d be without Claudia, I’d be gone already.
PHIL DONAHUE: Yeah, I see that.
TOMAS YOUNG: She is—she has been my rock. And I know that I will feel relieved when I go, but I will forever—if you have thoughts after you die, I will forever miss my wife. And as far as Ellen says, it was about hope. The movie was about hope. But now, my life is in a completely different place. While I still hope things will get better, I imagine if they do, it’s going to take a heck of a long time to get there. And that, coupled with not wanting to see my body and mind regress any more than they have already, compelled me to make this decision.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much, Tomas. I know this has been tough, and you have remarkable stamina being with us for an hour and a half, more than an hour and a half. Tomas Young, Iraq War veteran; Claudia Cuellar, Tomas’s partner, Tomas’s wife; and Phil Donahue, who did the film, with Ellen Spiro, about Tomas, called Body of War, years ago. And now Tomas is making the decision of his life. Thanks so much for being with us from your home in Kansas City. And thank you so much, Phil.
PHIL DONAHUE: Pleasure. See you, Tomas. See you, Claudia.
CLAUDIA CUELLAR: Thank you, Amy.
TOMAS YOUNG: Thank you, Amy, for taking an interest in my story.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you for sharing it with us. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
TOMAS YOUNG: Ah—
AMY GOODMAN: Tomas?
TOMAS YOUNG: Yes?
AMY GOODMAN: You were just saying?
TOMAS YOUNG: Um, uh, it’s funny. Right after the movie came out, there was some press, then it died down around 2009, and now that I’ve made this decision, people are literally coming out of the woodwork to get some piece of me. And I’m happy to join this interview with you, because the last one we did went so well.
PHIL DONAHUE: That is true. That is true, what he says. You know, this movie is not a take-your-girl-to-the-movie movie. And no distributor would take it. I was on every free radio station I could get on to promote. And Ellen and I would—Landmark Theatres would roll us out—I’m learning, what, this lingo. And the opening night in major cities, the place would be jammed. I mean, I—it just was thrilling. And the next day, there’d be seven people in the theater. So, Iraq docs fell off the marquee. We won lots of awards—on the shortlist for an Oscar. And I’m thrilled that we were so critically well received. But we sold no popcorn.
AMY GOODMAN: Tomas, Claudia and Phil, thank you so much for spending this time with us. And I’m hoping to see, Tomas, you and Claudia again. Thanks so much.