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How to Make Hundreds of Thousands of Dead Iraqis Disappear

The Lancet study that estimated 655,000 Iraqis killed since the US invasion of 2003 was based on some of the most solid research methods possible, but that didn't stop the American press from trying to say it wasn't so.

According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, George Bush's lies have killed not 30,000 innocent Iraqis, as the president not long ago estimated, but nearly 22 times that amount, or 655,000. Neither the Pentagon, nor much of the mainstream media have made much attempt to make their own counts -- it's just not that important to anyone. So how has the U.S. media reported on these shocking-albeit-necessarily-imprecise findings, based on door-to-door surveys in 18 provinces, by the experts trained in this kind of thing? The actual methods included obtaining data by eight Iraqi physicians during a survey of 1,849 Iraqi families -- 12,801 people -- in 47 neighborhoods of 18 regions across the country. The researchers based the selection of geographical areas on population size, not on the level of violence. How strict were their standards? They asked for death certificates to prove claims -- and got them in 92 percent of the cases. Even so, the authors say that the number could be anywhere from 426,000 to 800,000.



Well, Greg Mitchell has written two columns on the topic for Editor & Publisher and he finds, here and here, that:



  • The Associated Press casts a very skeptical eye on the study, emphasizing the views of one "expert" Anthony Cordesman, (as the AP describes him) who charges that it is nothing but "politics," with the November election approaching.



  • The Washington Post, meanwhile, interviewed Ronald Waldman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University who worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for many years. He called the Johns Hopkins survey method "tried and true" and added that "this is the best estimate of mortality we have."



  • Sarah Leah Whitson, an official of Human Rights Watch in New York, told the Post, "We have no reason to question the findings or the accuracy" of the survey.



  • Frank Harrell Jr., chairman of the biostatistics department at Vanderbilt University, told the Associated Press the study incorporated "rigorous, well-justified analysis" of the data.



  • Richard Garfield, a public health professor at Columbia University who works closely with a number of the authors of the report, toldThe Christian Science Monitor: "That's exactly wrong. There is no discrediting of this methodology. I don't think there's anyone who's been involved in mortality research who thinks there's a better way to do it in unsecured areas. I have never heard of any argument in this field that says there's a better way to do it."



  • The sampling "is solid. The methodology is as good as it gets," said John Zogby, whose polling agency, Zogby International, has done several surveys in Iraq since the war began. "It is what people in the statistics business do." Zogby said similar survey methods have been used to estimate casualty figures in other conflicts, such as Darfur and the Congo.



    • I recall seeing on The Daily Show that when Bush got done playing around with Suzanne Malveaux and her fashion statement that day, she asked him about the study. He replied that "their methodology has been pretty well discredited." This is a bald-faced lie, of course. But here's my question. Were there any follow-ups? Or was the purpose of the question merely to get the president on the record without holding him responsible for anything at all, even the unnecessary murder of hundreds of thousands of people? What the hell kind of society kills all these people and cannot be bothered to care? Cannot be bothered to count them and when someone does, risking their lives in the process, lies to discredit them -- and no one cares about that either?



      A Republican political consultant seeks to discredit the survey in The Wall Street Journal today, here, and the madman, Hitchens, writes in Slate: "The Lancet figures are almost certainly inflated, not least because they were taken from selective war-torn provinces. But there is no reason why they may not come to reflect reality more closely. It is a reminder of the nature of the enemy we face, and not only in Iraq, and a very clear picture of the sort of people who would have a free hand in Iraq if the coalition were to depart." In fact, the first claim is flat-out false.

      The study specifically did not pick particularly violent provinces, as Hitchens could have discovered if he looked at the study, not that he gives any impression of having any experience with this type of statistical sampling. But even so, the sanctions were a social, moral, and epidemiological catastrophe as well. I never supported them either. The sad fact is that Hussein could have been contained militarily without all of these people dying unnecessarily. Easily. But our leaders couldn't prove themselves sufficiently macho for chickenhawk neocons to take the necessary steps, and so we have all this blood on our collective hands, to say nothing of our own soldiers' deaths, an increased terrorist threat, a trillion dollars wasted, and the hatred of the world toward our citizens.
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