Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Politics of Counting the Bodies

A couple of days ago, right-wing bloggers jumped on a press release published on Iraq Body Count's website which disputes the accuracy of the Johns Hopkins study that claimed 655,000 Iraqis have died from war-related causes.

Here is the section of the release being quoted by the righties:

A new study has been released by the Lancet medical journal estimating over 650,000 excess deaths in Iraq. The Iraqi mortality estimates published in the Lancet in October 2006 imply, among other things, that:

1. On average, a thousand Iraqis have been violently killed every single day in the first half of 2006, with less than a tenth of them being noticed by any public surveillance mechanisms;
2. Some 800,000 or more Iraqis suffered blast wounds and other serious conflict-related injuries in the past two years, but less than a tenth of them received any kind of hospital treatment;
3. Over 7% of the entire adult male population of Iraq has already been killed in violence, with no less than 10% in the worst affected areas covering most of central Iraq;
4. Half a million death certificates were received by families which were never officially recorded as having been issued;
5. The Coalition has killed far more Iraqis in the last year than in earlier years containing the initial massive "Shock and Awe" invasion and the major assaults on Falluja.

If these assertions are true, they further imply:

* incompetence and/or fraud on a truly massive scale by Iraqi officials in hospitals and ministries, on a local, regional and national level, perfectly coordinated from the moment the occupation began;
* bizarre and self-destructive behaviour on the part of all but a small minority of 800,000 injured, mostly non-combatant, Iraqis;
* the utter failure of local or external agencies to notice and respond to a decimation of the adult male population in key urban areas;
* an abject failure of the media, Iraqi as well as international, to observe that Coalition-caused events of the scale they reported during the three-week invasion in 2003 have been occurring every month for over a year.

In the light of such extreme and improbable implications, a rational alternative conclusion to be considered is that the authors have drawn conclusions from unrepresentative data. ...

The above is from the IBC press release's Summary. Here is the section the war worshippers did not quote -- from the Concluding Remarks:

All that has been firmly documented as a result of the Lancet study is that some 300 post-invasion violent deaths occurred among the members of the households interviewed. This information, and the demographic and causative breakdowns presented in the study, are significant additions to the detailed knowledge that is painstakingly being accumulated about the individual victims of this conflict, and the tragedies that have befallen them. These 300 may be added to the roster of some 50,000 others for whom this level of detailed knowledge is available. In some -- but still far too few -- cases we know the name, ages, occupation, and exact circumstances of death. Information presented at this level of detail is the only way to arrive at once-for-all certainty, in a way that does justice to the victims, honours their memory, and provides the closure that only a full list, or census, can do satisfactorily.

Do the American people need to believe that 600,000 Iraqis have been killed before they can turn to their leaders and say "enough is enough"? The number of certain civilian deaths that has been documented to a basic standard of corroboration by "passive surveillance methods" surely already provides all the necessary evidence to deem this invasion and occupation an utter failure at all levels.

On 9/11 3,000 people were violently killed in attacks on the USA. Those events etched themselves into the soul of every American, and reverberated around the world. In December 2005 President George Bush acknowledged 30,000 known Iraqi violent deaths in a country one tenth the size of the USA. That is already a death toll 100 times greater in its impact on the Iraqi nation than 9/11 was on the USA. That there are more deaths that have not yet come to light is certain, but if a change in policy is needed, the catastrophic roll-call of the already known dead is more than ample justification for that change.

Pay especially close attention to the sentences I have emphasized. What is being said, and implied here?
  1. There needs to be a full and detailed accounting of how many Iraqis have died in this war and as a result of this war. Americans know how many of our men and women have died. We have an exact number. Iraqis deserve no less. And it's because civilian casualties and deaths have NOT been counted in any precise way that we get such wide variations in unofficial estimates.
  2. Even if only 30,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the war, as Pres. Bush continues to insist, the impact of that number on Iraqi society is 100 times greater than the impact on the United States of the 3,000 killed on 9/11. And we know how many of our civilians died.
  3. Whether it's 30,000 or 50,000, or 100,000, or 600,000 who have died in Iraq, too many have died. The American people need to make it clear that our government needs to get out of the killing business, immediately.

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