All six members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff took the unusual step of writing a letter to the editors of the Washington Post to complain about a political cartoon depicting a wounded soldier.

The cartoon by Tom Toles shows a soldier in an Army hospital bed who is missing all four appendages.

A caricature of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, acting as a doctor, is at the soldier’s bedside with a chart, saying “I’m listing your condition as ‘battle hardened.'” At the foot of the bed is a graph with a downward trend, titled “U.S. Army.” Below that is a tiny character saying, “I’m prescribing that you be stretched thin. We don’t define that as torture.”

In their letter, seen here via Michelle Malkin’s weblog, the military leaders say, “We were extremely disappointed to see the editorial cartoon by Tom Toles on page B6 in the January 29th edition.

“Using the likeness of a service member who has lost his arms and legs in war as the central theme of a cartoon is beyond tasteless,” the letter says.

“Editorial cartoons are often designed to exaggerate issues – and your paper is obviously free to address any topic, including the state of readiness of today’s Armed Forces. However, we believe you and Mr. Toles have done a disservice to your readers and your paper’s reputation by using such a callous depiction of those who have volunteered to defend this nation, and as a result, have suffered traumatic and life-altering wounds. … ”

The leaders note that “as the Joint Chiefs, it is rare that we all put our hand to one letter, but we cannot let this reprehensible cartoon go unanswered.”

“While you or some of your readers may not agree with the war or its conduct, we believe you owe the men and women and their families who so selflessly serve our country the decency to not make light of their tremendous physical sacrifices,” they said.

The letter is signed by Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, Vice Chairman Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr., Marine Corp Gen. Michael W. Hagee, Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, Army Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker and Air Force Gen. T. Michael Moseley.

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