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Worthy and Unworthy Victims: Twelve Dead in Sago Mine Versus Twelve Dead in Baiji, Iraq


Americans are properly mourning the tragic and unnecessary deaths of 12 West Virginia coal miners in a terrible mine explosion that reflects inadequate public and private investment in worker safety. In the “mainstream” (dominant corporate-state) media’s leftmost newspaper of record, The New York Times, the Sago Mine Disaster has been a page-one story for three straight days. During that period, the Times has printed seven stories and one lead editorial on the West Virginia tragedy. A big part of the story now, of course, has to do with the bad communications that led the mining commnity to think that 12 miners had survived.

During the same three-day period, another story involving 12 deaths got one article, not a single editorial, and no front-page coverage from the liberal Times. According to Times correspondents Richard A. Oppel and Omar Al-Neaml in a short item placed in the upper right section of p. A8 of Wednesday’s New York Times, “American F-14 warplanes killed nine members of an Iraqi family, including women and young children, during a bombing and cannon strike on Monday night that obliterated a home near the northern industrial city of Baiji,…American officials said the warplanes had been pursuing insurgents who had been observed setting up a roadside bomb. They fled to a building, and the American planes struck the building and destroyed it. The attack enraged Iraqi officials in Baiji, about 150 miles north of Baghdad, who said that the airstrike was unjustified and that it had destroyed an innocent family.”

By Oppel and Al-Neaml’s account, “a preliminary investigation indicated the blast had killed the wife of the home’s owner, his daughter-in-law and seven children and grandchildren, including one son who worked for the police.” “The owner of the house is a very simple man,” an Iraqi official reported, adding that “the American forces did not provide us with any justification for the attack. Agence France-Presse in Baiji,” Oppel and Al-Neaml note, “reported that eight bodies had been pulled from the rubble along with three survivors – two unconscious women and an 8-year-old boy whose cry for help alerted rescuers. A Baiji police colonel,” the reporters ad, “told Reuters that the family members killed in the bombing did not include any suspected insurgents”

Richard A. Oppel and Omar Al-Neaml, “U.S. Strike on Home Kills 9 in Family,” New York Times (4 January, 2006).

Yes, I said 12 dead and the Times said 9 Iraqi dead.

There’s some media confusion on the number of Iraqi civilians who died in their own Baiji home —- directly murdered by Uncle Sam…by your tax dollars (including some formerly spent on mine safety, perhaps) my fellow Americans —- without so much as trying to go to work (in a coal mine or a police station or wherever) in the chaotic shooting and bombing gallery that the U.S. “liberators” have created in the onetime cradle of civlization.

Here’s yesterday’s account from the number two paper in the nation’s supposedly left-liberal press establishment:

US strike on house said to kill Iraqi family of 12
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Salih Saif Aldin, Washington Post | January 4, 2006

BAGHDAD — US pilots targeting a house where they believed insurgents had taken shelter killed a family of 12, Iraqi officials said yesterday. The dead included women and children whose bodies were recovered in the nightclothes and blankets in which they had apparently been sleeping.

A Post special correspondent watched as the corpses of three women and three boys who appeared to be younger than 10 were removed yesterday from the house outside the town of Baiji, 150 miles north of Baghdad.

A US military spokesman said that US forces take every precaution to prevent civilian casualties and that they were working with Iraqi authorities to determine what happened at the farmhouse in Baiji. ”We continue to see terrorists and insurgents using civilians in an attempt to shield themselves,” Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson, a military spokesman, said in an e-mail.

The Associated Press Television News showed footage of men carrying several bodies, wrapped in carpets, from the wreckage of the house. The men chanted prayers: ”There is no god but God.”

The United States has steadily intensified its use of airstrikes against insurgents in Iraq in the past year, increasing the number of attacks from 25 in January 2005 to 120 in November.

The US military says that it does not count civilian deaths from American attacks, and that investigating deaths caused by any one strike is often impractical in dangerous insurgent areas. But some analysts say the US military should make a systematic effort, both to test the reliability of its intelligence and to better learn how to reduce civilian casualties.

A US military statement said that an unmanned US drone detected three men digging a hole in a road in the area. Insurgents regularly bury bombs along roads in the area to target US or Iraqi convoys. The three men were tracked to a building, which US forces then hit with precision-guided munitions, the statement said.

….ok, that’s the Post piece. This is me again.

I don’t know how much coverage the Post gave to The U.S. Murder of Innocents in Baiji story relative to the mining tragedy but my semi-educated guess would be that the disparity is the same.

Here is another and different sort of bad communications that does not speak well to the moral-intellectual character of the imperial “homeland’s” “free press.”

I’m flashing to the title of one of the chapters in Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman’s classic study Manufacturing Consent: “Worthy and Unworthy Victims.”

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