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When America Kills….II


To repeat a question that I asked last month (Feb. 26): Why do you suppose the American and British governments pay so little attention to how many Iraqis they are killing?

Readers will have to forgive me for speaking so frankly. But the question does not appear to be trivial. After all, over the past 24 months, I’ve seen lots of similarly turned questions—though, typically, with one important change:

Not: Why don’t the American and British governments pay attention to how many Iraqis they are killing?
But: Why don’t the American and British governments pay attention to how many Sudanese the government of the Sudan is killing?

Likewise with a second pair of questions:

Not: Why don’t the American and British governments put a stop to their own killing of Iraqis?
But, rather: Why don’t the American and British governments put a stop to the government of the Sudan’s killing of the Sudanese?

Between ourselves, I’ll bet that there’s a Pulitzer Prize in the Non-Fiction category waiting to be picked up by any American writer sufficiently adept at answering the second-half of each of these pairs of questions, while skating with the precision of an Olympic gold medalist just off the edge of the first of them.

The simplest answer, however, to the question with which I began—Why do you suppose the American and British governments pay so little attention to how many Iraqis they are killing?—is that they don’t want to know. But why wouldn’t they want to know? The only equally simple answer to this question has a ring of circularity to it: Because they are the governments most responsible for the deaths, they are also the governments least interested in making an issue out of the deaths.

Besides, why would the American and British governments want to know how many Iraqis they are killing? They’re already booked solid with bringing to trial the leadership of the regime they ousted from Baghdad for all of the Iraqis it killed while in power—a caveat that clearly extends beyond the territorial limits of mere Iraq to a bunch of other countries and governments around the world. Back to the Sudan, for example, where the U.S. Department of State tells us the “government and government-supported militia (jinjaweed) committed serious abuses during [2004], including razing hundreds of villages of African tribes,” leading Colin Powell, then the Secretary of State, to declare as far back as last September that “genocide had been committed in Darfur, and the Government and the jinjaweed bore responsibility.” This, then, gives us yet another reason why the American and British governments don’t want to know how many Iraqis they are killing. Because they’re already booked solid trying to bring an end to the violence, disease, and starvation that are killing people in the western Sudan. And because they’re trying to bring to trial the leadership in Khartoum for all of the people who died there over the past 24 months or longer.

Although the Second Anniversary of the American and British war over Iraq is fast approaching, “neither the public nor public health professionals are able to obtain reliable and officially endorsed information about the extent of civilian deaths attributable to the allied invasion of Iraq,” a British doctor named Klim McPherson writes in the current issue of the British Medical Journal (March 12). One of 24 workers in the public health field who recently signed an Open Letter to the U.S. and U.K. governments demanding they “commission immediately a comprehensive, independent inquiry into Iraqi war-related casualties,” McPherson invoked the important study of Iraqi mortality rates that was posted to The Lancet‘s website last October 29, and continued:

The plain fact is that an estimate of 100 000 excess deaths attributable to the invasion of Iraq is alarming. This is already half the death toll of Hiroshima. Apart from the practical arguments, the principled ones stand and will always stand. Have we not learnt any lessons from the history of sweeping alarming numbers of deaths under the carpet? This is not something about which there can be any political discretion 60 years after Auschwitz. The UK government, acting on our behalf, ought to offer reasoned criticism of the existing estimates. It should pursue their public health responsibilities to count the casualties by using modern methods. Democracy requires this, as does proper responsibility under the Geneva Conventions.

Compelling material here. Particularly the references to Auschwitz and the Geneva Conventions.

Nevertheless. To date, I have been able to find mentions of this Open Letter and the British Medical Journal‘s entry into the fray over the ongoing foreign military occupation of Iraq in the Daily Telegraph (Sydney), The Guardian and Seattle Times (March 11), and posted to the World Socialist Web Site (March 12)—the Telegraph‘s and Times‘s having been very brief, while The Guardian‘s and the WSWS’s were of some insight and importance.

Thus, The Guardian reports that the Open Letter is “hard-hitting” and “castigates the British and American governments for failing to investigate the deaths of civilians caught up in the conflict in Iraq.”

While reporting for the WSWS, Rick Kelly writes:

There is an equally obvious answer as to why such a project will never be officially commissioned—which is that the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis is of absolutely no interest to the US or Britain. The coalition forces made it clear from the outset that they would keep no account of their killing. “We don’t do body counts,” General Tommy Franks declared.

Any examination of the numbers of dead today would draw attention to the brutality of the war—from the initial “shock and awe” bombardment to the wholesale destruction of cities such as Fallujah.

Furthermore, an accurate assessment of Iraqi casualties would reveal something of the nature and extent of the war crimes that continue to be committed on a daily basis by the occupying forces. This is a subject that the US and British governments—together with their accomplices in the media—have done their utmost to suppress. Both President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair are acutely aware that any discussion on these issues would further inflame anti-war sentiment among ordinary people.

To repeat myself from last time (Feb. 26), the reason that the McPherson Open Letter to the American and British governments has received so little attention within the English-language news media is exactly the same as the reason the English-language news media paid so little attention to The Lancet study of Iraqi deaths—much less made the scale of these deaths a theme of their coverage, complete with calls to hold the political leaderships in Washington and London accountable for it: Because the killing happens to be crucial to the mission the major English-speaking countries have undertaken in Iraq.

It remains far safer, therefore, to fret over the world’s inaction with respect to the government of the Sudan, than the world’s inaction with respect to the American and British governments.

Monitoring casualties may indeed be a humanitarian imperative. But this presumes that when dealing with the American and British governments, realpolitik does not prevail.

Is there anybody who seriously believes this?

Global Public Health Experts Say Failure To Count Iraqi Casualties Is Irresponsible, Open Letter, Klim McPherson et al., British Medical Journal, March 12, 2005
Counting the dead in Iraq,” Klim McPherson, British Medical Journal, March 12, 2005
UK and US governments must monitor Iraq casualties,” Owen Dyer, British Medical Journal, March 12, 2005

True count of Iraqi war casualties not easy to get,” Armando Acuna, Sacramento Bee, March 6, 2005
Iraq allies accused of failing to investigate civilian deaths,” Sarah Boseley, The Guardian, March 11, 2005
International health experts demand inquiry into number of Iraqi war casualties,” Rick Kelly, World Socialist Web Site, March 12, 2005

Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey,” Les Roberts et al., The Lancet, posted online October 29, 2004. (This copy of the document is made available by the U.K.-based Count the Casualties organization.)
Iraqi Civilian Deaths Increase Dramatically After Invasion,” Press Release, Center for International Emergency, Disaster, and Refugee Studies, October 28, 2004
100,000 Iraqis Dead: Should We Believe It?” Stephen Soldz, ZNet, November 3, 2004
Researchers Who Rushed Into Print a Study of Iraqi Civilian Deaths Now Wonder Why It Was Ignored,” Lila Guterman, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 4, 2005 (Here linking to the copy archived at the Voices in the Wilderness website, as the Chronicle‘s website has withdrawn its copy from circulation in the hope of extracting surplus $$$$$$ in exchange for access.)

Iraq Coalition Casualties
Iraq Body Count Project

Sudan,” U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2004

When America Kills…., February 26, 2005

Postscript (January 9, 2006): For one subject that the Great Emancipators back in the States and the U.K. don’t like to touch—and, therefore, we ought to:

How Many Iraqis Have Died Since the US Invasion in 2003?” Andrew Cockburn, CounterPunch, January 9, 2006
A Formula for Slaughter: The American Rules of Engagement from the Air,” Michael Schwartz, TomDispatch.com, January 10, 2006

Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey,” Les Roberts et al., The Lancet, posted online October 29, 2004. (This copy of the document is made available by the U.K.-based Count the Casualties organization.)
Iraqi Civilian Deaths Increase Dramatically After Invasion,” Press Release, Center for International Emergency, Disaster, and Refugee Studies, October 28, 2004
100,000 Iraqis Dead: Should We Believe It?” Stephen Soldz, ZNet, November 3, 2004

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