Wednesday, July 19, 2006

NYT: Semple's wrong in print but how can he know what no one reported?

An average of more than 100 civilians per day were killed in Iraq last month, the United Nations reported Tuesday, registering what appears to be the highest official monthly tally of violent deaths since the fall of Baghdad.
[. . .]
In its report, the United Nations said that 14,338 civilians had died violently in Iraq in the first six months of the year.
United Nations officials said they had based their figures on tallies provided by two Iraqi agencies: the Ministry of Health, which tracks violent deaths recorded at hospitals around the country; and Baghdad's central morgue, where unidentified bodies are delivered, a vast majority of which met violent deaths.
Each agency issues death warrants for the bodies it receives, government officials say, and there is no overlap between the two populations of victims.

The above is from Kirk Semple's "Iraqi Death Toll Rises Above 100 Per Day, U.N. Says" in this morning's New York Times. Remember this from yesterday:

AFP reports that the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq places the Iraqi civilian death toll at 5,818 for May and June alone (with most of the victims losing their lives in Baghdad).

If you're starting out slow to wake this morning, warning -- we're moving fast this morning. If you head over to Iraq Body Count (no reason you should and we're not linking to them, we never have) and look at their figures, you'll see exactly why Dahr Jamail has been vocal (in print and in audio) against the organization. (Roughly, they served a purpose at one point but now they do more harm than good.) Eyeball those figures and you get a much, much lower number of fatalities. As many have pointed out, they're only basing their figures on reported deaths (reported in the Western media for the most part) (and mainstream/corporate media at that).

Around the time Bully Boy started using the site's figures we should have all grasped it was time to stop using them as a source. (Again, we never used them here and have explained why for well over a year now repeatedly.)

Now, we're back to Kirk Semple's article for one sentence:

The United States government and military have not made public any specific figures on Iraqi civilian casualties or said whether they are keeping count.

Did every member who's fully awake just scream, "WRONG!"

You should because Semple is very, very wrong. How much of that is his fault and how much of it is due to the media silence (independent media as well as corporate) you can decide for yourself.

The first assertion is true -- the US government (and military) has not made a figure public. The second half is flat out wrong -- "or said whether they are keeping count."

They have said that.

But whether it's corporate media or independent media, everyone took a pass.

Dropping back to a June 26th Iraq snapshot:

In what might get the most attention today, reporting from Baghdad, Nancy A. Youssef (Knight Ritter) breaks the news that the United States now admits to keeping some figures on Iraqis who have died during the illegal war. Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli tells Youssef that "the number of civilian dead and wounded" via US troops "is an important measurement." Chiarelli reveals that "he reviews the figures daily." The US government has denied that any figures were being kept.

As I say many times, I can be wrong, I often am. I was certainly wrong when I thought Nancy A. Youssef's article would be big news. Members know the article. (And then some.) The general would not show Youssef the figures, but he did confirm them and told her that the government had been keeping them since the summer before.

That was news but notice how many refused to note it. Mike did two columns on this, one on just the indy outlets that were contacted about Youssef's article and refused to note it and the second on how those 'brave' outlets treat war "as an After Thought."

There was a reason we saw this as news -- it was news.

It revealed that a body count of some sort was being kept. It should have led people to asking why Bully Boy used the Iraqi Body Count figures in that speech when, in fact, the government had their own set of figures and it should have led to a demand for the figures to be released.
That didn't happen. For that to happen, people would have to know the figures existed. Lot of jerking off, not a lot of coverage.

So I'm not sure how fair it is to blame Semple for not knowing because so few know about it. To know about it, they'd have to have heard about it or read about it. And you only have to consult Mike's list to see how many took a pass. (We'll be noting the site that Mike himself repeatedly contacted and exchanged several e-mails with -- and they still refused to note it -- in the next entry -- not linking to it -- I know members would be outraged -- but noting more damage people can do by being idiots.)

But reality is that Semple is wrong, the US is keeping body counts, has been for either a year or almost a year and that's on the record. It's public record. Not well covered public record, but public record none the less.

On July 2nd, we noted the only other reporter we're aware of who dealt with this issue, Aaron Glantz in "Pentagon: Tell Us How Many Civilians You've Killed" (Common Dreams):

Why won't the Pentagon tell the public how many civilians they've killed in Iraq? We know they're counting.
Last week, for example, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli told reporters in Baghdad the number of Iraqi civilian deaths had dropped as a result of new training programs for American troops. He said the number of civilians killed in so-called "escalation of force" incidents had dropped from an average of four per week in January 2006 to one per week in June.
But Chiarelli did not release a detailed breakdown of where and how the deaths occurred, making the claims impossible to verify.
"The number of civilians harmed by operations is an important measure of how well U.S. forces are doing in avoiding harm to civilians," the director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), Sarah Holewinski, told me. "Still, we need to see the data backing up this claim."
A US military spokesperson in Baghdad told me the statistics were "classified."
Perhaps the Pentagon won't release detailed statistics because checkpoint killings are much more common than they claim, and that releasing such details would result in independent investigations showing the gap.

Semple's dead wrong this morning. The article requires a correction. And if our 'brave' independent media had bothered to note the very important story (either via Youssef or Glantz), I'd be happy to pass out the gold stars this morning, but they didn't. Some of them may not have been aware of it. (That may be the case with Semple.) But for those who did know, for those who were contacted and asked to do their job, grab your slice of the shame pie because you've not only embarrassed yourself, you've made yourself useless.

It was news. It still is. But those people who saw it as news and couldn't understand why there was time to cover second-hand smoke and assorted other non-news (by comparison) while ignoring this very important story are still angry. They saw this coming. They saw that the fact that the US was keeping a body count would go down the memory hole because a lot of 'brave' outlets wanted to jerk off.

Those who knew about the story but ignored it should feel ashamed.

I have no problem ripping Semple apart. I can't though. How can I tear him apart for not knowing something that the mainstream media ignored (including his paper which has never reported on the body count) when even our independent media elected to look the other way?
I can't. It wouldn't be fair. Semple's made a mistake. It needs a correction.

Our independent outlets? Some made a mistake, they probably never heard of the story. Those who did, those who were repeatedly contacted and elected to ignore it? They drag out the war, they allow it to continue with their nonsense. They should take some accountability today. (But don't count on them doing so.) And they'd probably to do well to stop stroking themselves so much. At least for one day. (But don't count on that happening.)

On the subject of the UN report, Martha notes Andy Mosher and Saad Sarhan's "Blast Kills 53 in Iraqi Holy City: Growing Violence Claimed 3,000 Civilians Last Month, U.N. Says" (Washington Post):

In a report issued Tuesday, the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq said that 14,338 Iraqi civilians died violent deaths during the first six months of 2006. Last month alone, 3,149 civilians died that way -- an average of more than 100 a day -- according to the report, which drew from figures supplied by the Iraqi Health Ministry and the Baghdad morgue.
The report said the overwhelming majority of casualties were reported in Baghdad. Since a Shiite shrine in the northern town of Samarra was bombed in late February, the Iraqi capital has been ravaged by sectarian violence. Shiite militiamen make almost nightly raids on Sunni Arab neighborhoods and Sunni insurgents frequently bomb Shiite mosques and other gathering places.

Emily Amick talks with Katha Pollitt about her new book (Virginity or Death! And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time) in "Questions for Katha Pollitt" (The Nation). I don't have time to hunt down the link, but it's one we discussed and all enjoyed. Rachel asked if we could note it and I'll toss that in here. Viriginty or Death is a collection of Pollitt's eassys (beginning after 9/11, immediately after, if I'm remembering correctly -- it's in soft cover and less than $15 list price, so if you haven't seen it yet, check your bookstores and libraries). Rachel says it's the best thing she's read this summer.

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