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Iraq, Civilian Fatalities—and American Silence


In one of the handful or two of reports to have appeared on American television, in this instance, the prestigious Cable News Network (CNN), the program’s host, Wolf Blitzer, introduced the item as a part of his “quick check of other stories now in the news.”

Said Blitzer (Wolf Blitzer Reports, Oct. 28, 2004):

A study in the British medical journal, The Lancet puts the death toll in Iraq much higher than previously thought. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, and an Iraqi university now estimate 100,000 people have died in the 18 months since the United States invaded the country. The number is based on household surveys done mainly by Iraqi doctors.

Of course, CNN has aired other mentions (like this one) on The Lancet‘s just-published survey of mortality rates in pre- and post-invasion Iraq. (“Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey,” Les Roberts et al., posted online Oct. 29, 2004.)

But of the ones CNN has transcribed and archived in cyberspace, I’ve been able to hunt down the one with Blitzer and one more from the same day (Newsnight with Aaron Brown, Oct. 28)—and Blitzer delivered the bit in passing, like a slice of baloney sandwiched in between equally ephemeral mentions of an “Iraqi militant group [claiming] on its website that it’s killed 11 members of the Iraqi national guard, beheading one and shooting the rest…,” and the American Government’s “latest move to ease the flu vaccine shortage here in the United States….” If Blitzer—or any of his colleagues, or any of the hundreds of guests to have flowed through CNN’s 24-hour-a-day programming stream since Thursday morning, when I first caught wind of the existence of The Lancet‘s report—has made anything of importance out of the researchers’ 100,000-dead-Iraqis claim, I’ve yet to find an example. (Though only time will tell. Transcripts come online more slowly than one would like. Maybe the claim was raised in a form that’s hard to discover. And similar caveats. As always.)

The CNN website did post “Study puts Iraqi toll at 100,000” (Oct. 29), a version of the report that Emma Ross filed with Associated Press on October 28. So websurfers might have discovered something in the way of news about this hardly-inconsequential Lancet article, courtesy the CNN-Time Warner empire. Just as they might have from several other sources of news, including some of the major print dailies in the States and the U.K. Including the New York Times, Washington Post, Times of London, Guardian, and Independent. To name a few.

But it seems to me a reasonable conclusion that, at least in the States, and barring some last-minute conversion on the road to this Tuesday’s elections, news stories and questions about the routine and systematic character of Iraqi suffering and death at the hands of their American occupiers—when stories such as this even get reported in the first place (and I’ve always thought the furor expressed over Abu Ghraib was contained and controlled—especially Seymour Hersh’s work)—not only aren’t well-received within the reigning political culture. But, in fact, are pretty damned-near unmentionable within it. Particularly the closer we get to the pinnacle of the political culture—the Republican and Democratic campaigns for the presidency, and the countless members of the imperial court who attend to the process at every level, carrying its train.

At least in Britain, the Government bothered to issue a denial of the findings reported in The Lancet. For example (Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman, Oct. 29):

Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned about a survey published today suggesting that 100,000 Iraqi civilians had died as a result of the war in Iraq, the PMOS said that it was important to treat the figures with caution because there were a number of concerns and doubts about the methodology that had been used. Firstly, the survey appeared to be based on an extrapolation technique rather than a detailed body count. Our worries centered on the fact that the technique in question appeared to treat Iraq as if every area was one and the same. In terms of the level of conflict, that was definitely not the case. Secondly, the survey appeared to assume that bombing had taken place throughout Iraq. Again, that was not true. It had been focused primarily on areas such as Fallujah. Consequently, we did not believe that extrapolation was an appropriate technique to use.

Fair enough. There are other people, too, both within the Blair Government and outside of it, to have complained about the researchers’ methodology. Like I said Thursday, even if the researchers overestimated the actual death toll by 100 percent, this still would mean that 50,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the Americans’ war, the overwhelming majority of these deaths (something like 95 percent) caused by the indiscriminate and disproportionate fire from helicopter gunships, rockets, and other forms of aerial weaponry, as the researchers themselves put it (p. 7). Not insignificantly, this 50,000 would be the same number of estimated deaths in the western Sudan’s states of Darfur that in early September, led the American Secretary of State to proclaim those deaths a case of “genocide,” orchestrated as a matter of state policy by the Government in Khartoum. A charge that was greeted with applause by the Human Rights Brigade, it’s worth adding. Also certain navel-gazers at Harvard. And, last, a glossy spread in Time Magazine. Quite unlike the American crimes perpetrated as matters of state policy in Iraq. Where the policymakers’ intentions remain noble. And American arms pure. (If only they didn’t make so many mistakes.)

(Quick aside. Should anyone ever be in need of a research topic for a Ph.D. dissertation that, I can promise you ahead of time, will make you few friends and garner you even fewer job offers, let me suggest a comparative reading of the positions advocated by the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch toward two of the large-scale theaters of atrocities in the contemporary world: The crisis in Iraq and the crisis in Darfur. You see, it all boils down to who is committing the atrocities—and against whom. On the one hand, everything is alleged to point to errors and miscalculations; and on the other, to the willful and malicious actions of natural-born killers. If you can find a substantive example where HRW as an organization has deviated from this simple dichotomy, or has called for the so-called “international community” to act with respect to the U.S. Government in a manner that it never shows any qualms in calling upon the “international community” to act with respect to the Sudanese Government, let me know. In the meantime—the best of luck with your research. And I don’t mind in the least adding here that when the Washington Post on Friday wanted a voice to challenge the accuracy of the Lancet researchers’ findings, it turned to no other than Human Rights Watch’s Marc Garlasco, one of the principal authors of HRW’s abominable report Off Target (December, 2003). Said Garlasco: “The methods that they used are certainly prone to inflation due to overcounting. These numbers seem to be inflated.”—You see what I mean about Human Rights Watch?)

But in the States? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Through the moment, I’ve yet to find a report anywhere in mainstream news media in which a member of the Bush regime or the Kerry campaign has been asked to respond to the researchers’ estimate that 100,000 Iraqi deaths have been caused by U.S. Government policies. Not the least of which was the deliberate launching of a war of aggression back in March, 2003. And the relentless and disproportionate use of military firepower by some of history’s unparalleled killing machines to destroy an armed resistance to an illegal occupation, and to terrorize the remainder of the civilian population into acquiescence, every last member of which enjoys the right to resist this occupation, no matter what perverted blessing the United Nations has tried to bestow upon it, after the fact.

Just silence. An incessant, deafening silence.

Postscript. More slices of baloney for you:

Two more American soldiers in Iraq were killed today in separate attacks in and near Baghdad. Also today, kidnappers murdered 11 Iraqi soldiers. U.S. researchers reported the war has directly or indirectly caused the deaths of about 100,000 Iraqi civilians. The CARE international relief agency said poor security is forcing it to shut down its Iraq operations. And CBS news has been told the U.S. Army is extending Iraq tours for thousands of U.S. troops through Iraq’s January elections. (CBS Evening News , Oct. 28.)

[W]e begin here with IRAQ WATCH tonight and one measure of the high cost of war. A new study from Johns Hopkins University estimates that 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the start of the war, the majority as a result of US air strikes. This is a much larger figure than some previous estimates. The Pentagon had no comment on the number but said it had taken great care to prevent civilian deaths. (NBC Nightly News, Oct. 28.)

OK, time to check morning papers from around the country, around the world. The Guardian. This story is going to get a lot of attention, though it’s, to a certain extent, more a headline than it is anything: “100,000 Iraqi Civilians Dead, Says Study.” This is a study that was done by a unit at Johns Hopkins University, trying to calculate what is really hard, which is how many civilian deaths there have been in Iraq since the war started. Anyway, they came up with a number of 100,000, which is much, much, much, much higher than anyone has—had imagined. And so we’ll have to take a close look at the methodology there and see how they did that. (Newsnight with Aaron Brown, CNN, Oct. 28.)

[S]ome of the headlines just today: video show slaying of 11 Iraqi guardsmen. Survey suggests war-linked deaths in Iraq may be as high as 100,000. Afghan gunmen abduct three foreign workers. (Hannity & Colmes, Fox News, Oct. 29.)

American forces from all around Iraq are now building up on the outskirts of Fallujah. The pressure is continuing to mount with these ongoing air strikes, and one Marine general said today, putting it quite bluntly, “If we do go in, it will be decisive and we will whack them.” So that is definitely the mood emerging from Fallujah. Then also, this new study–it’s put out by the British-based medical journal, a very respected journal, The Lancet–and it estimates that about 100,000 Iraqis, extra Iraqis, died as a result of the war. Now this is much higher than previous estimates that had said anywhere between 10,000 and 30,000 people had died. Now, of course, these numbers are very fuzzy. And what this survey tries to estimate is the number of people who died as a result of the war, not necessarily directly killed by the bombings, but because of the extra stress on society here. (Early Today, CNBC, Oct. 29.)

Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey,” Les Roberts et al., The Lancet, posted online October 29, 2004
Iraqi Civilian Deaths Increase Dramatically After Invasion,” Press Release, Center for International Emergency, Disaster, and Refugee Studies (accessed Oct. 30, 2004)

Documenting Atrocities In Darfur, U.S. Department of State, September, 2004

Off Target: The Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq, Bonnie Docherty and Marc E. Garlasco et al., Human Rights Watch, December, 2003

100,000 civilians have died in Iraq War and aftermath: Lancet,” Agence France Presse (Daily Times, October 29, 2004)
Household Survey Sees 100,000 Iraqi Deaths,” Emma Ross, Associated Press, October 28, 2004
Study: 100,000 Excess Civilian Iraqi Deaths Since War,” Patricia Reaney, Reuters, October 28, 2004
Survey: Iraqi deaths higher; Hopkins-designed study says 100,000 civilians died; Prior estimates, 10,000 to 30,000; Brookings defense expert calls data ‘preposterous’,” Jonathan Bor and Tom Bowman, Baltimore Sun, October 29, 2004
100,000 Iraqi civilians dead, says study,” Sarah Boseley, The Guardian, October 29, 2004
War blamed for 100,000 increase in civilian death toll,” Billy Briggs, The Herald (Glasgow), October 29, 2004
Revealed: War Has Cost 100,000 Iraqi Lives,” Jeremy Laurance and Colin Brown, The Independent, October 29, 2004
Study Puts Iraqi Deaths Of Civilians At 100,000,” Elizabeth Rosenthal, New York Times, October 29, 2004
Researchers claims that 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died in war,” Sam Lister and Michael Evans, The Times (London), October 29, 2004
100,000 Civilian Deaths Estimated in Iraq,” Rob Stein, Washington Post, October 29, 2004
No 10 challenges civilian death toll,” The Guardian, Patrick Wintour and Richard Norton-Taylor, October 30, 2004

Iraq Coalition Casualties
Iraq Body Count Project
Iraq Occupation Watch

Iraq, Civilian Fatalities, and American Power I, ZNet Blogs, August 15, 2004
How Many Deaths Are Too Many? ZNet Blogs, September 13, 2004
Iraq, Civilian Fatalities, and American Power II, ZNet Blogs, October 28, 2004
Iraq, Civilian Fatalities, and American Power III, ZNet Blogs, October 29, 2004

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