Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Those of you whose memories extend back that far may remember that back in 2004, the British medical journal The Lancet released a study that said over 100,000 Iraqis had died because of the American war in their country. The authors were quite explicit that they released their article when they did to inform and influence the American election that year, which of course immediately discredited it on the right. Nevertheless, the study used standard methods, verified reported deaths with death certificates wherever possible (which was about 80% of the time) and was generally certified by reputable statisticians as an important addition to the debate on civilian deaths in wartime.

The response of the American media was, to say the least, unimpressive. It would have been bad enough if the New York Times and Washington Post had simply ignored the study. Instead, both papers actively slanted their news to discredit the report, going so far as to quote "experts" who hadn't even read the article. By the time election day rolled around, it's safe to say that few Americans had given any serious thought to the mountains of dead they were voting on top of.

What a difference two years makes. The Lancet has once again released a study, and this time the number of dead is 650,000. Because this is a survey, not a counting, there is statistical ambiguity of course. There's a 10% chance the dead are half that number, and a 10% chance they're double that number. This sextupling of the dead, despite its immensity, is actually in line with what other countings have shown - a massive increase in violence since 2004.

The easiest way for the US Government to actually discredit this survey would have been simple - actually count the dead. Of course, the Americans decided not to do that at all beginning in 2003. So how will the Republican party discredit this article, despite the fact that it's methodology is standard and it almost certainly provides a better estimate than previous counts?
The survey cost about $50,000 and was paid for by Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for International Studies.
Oh, Massachusetts. Say no more. I hear they even let teh gayz marry there.

A side point: The highest estimate of casualties in Darfur is 400,000 dead with millions more displaced. That number - despite the fact that it is, as I said, the highest estimate - is constantly repeated as an argument that a) genocide is occuring, and b) there needs to be international intervention against the government of Sudan.

Now, even if we take the 10% chance that the Lancet has inadvertently doubled the "real" figures for the dead - giving us 325,000 instead - we're within spitting distance of the Darfur estimate. And yet nobody argues that genocide is occuring in Iraq, despite some practical similarities beyond casualty figures. (For example, in both cases armed parties within the government and allied with it are accused of mass murder.) Moreover, few enough people - mostly Republican dead-enders - argue for a stronger international presence in Iraq.

Before anyone accuses me of being in the pay of Khartoum, please understand my meaning: The United States has been totally, catastrophically unable to control the levels of violence in Iraq, which now have killed more people than the genocide in Darfur. This failure has occurred with 180,000 troops in-country. Yet most people talk about a Darfur force of only tens of thousands. Who thinks this would realistically control the violence there, given what we've seen in Iraq?


BlueBerryPick'n said...


when the World comes banging on the bankrupt American door demanding WAR REPARATIONS for War Crimes...

...will Canada have clean hands?

BlueBerry Pick'n
can be found @
"Silent Freedom is Freedom Silenced"

wonderdog said...

In defence of the failure to actually count casualties, that would be an extraordinarily difficult undertaking. The strength of an estimate like this, despite its statistical ambiguity, is that it measures not only deaths directly attributable to US military action, but also deaths caused by insurgent attacks, death squads, and so on.

Much is going to be made of the huge discrepancy between this estimate and the Iraq Body Count. I'd think that the method used by the body count website has lost its validity, as only the most serious attacks are now reported in the media.

Casey Kochmer said...

Mr Bush is a war criminal as far as I am concerned and is responsible for those deaths.

The only way to stop it , is to vote into existence a new system. The old one is broken and won't fix itself, with these current jokers in power.

Freedom thru peace of action.