Wednesday, August 16, 2006

NYT: Who will tell the people that the US government keeps a bodycount? (Not NYT)

On Monday, U.S. Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV told reporters that the U.S. explosive experts at the scene found "no evidence" of bombs or rockets, as police and witnesses described Sunday night. But senior Iraqi officials insisted that the blasts were related to the ongoing sectarian strife. On Tuesday, the U.S. military corrected its conclusion.
"Major General Caldwell was speaking in good faith, but had incomplete information," Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the U.S. military, wrote in an e-mail message.
In a statement Tuesday, the U.S. military said two vehicle bombs exploded near the apartment building, triggering a gas explosion in the nearby Hawra market.
Caldwell had seen the initial report that referred to the "unusually destructive nature of the blast," but the report did not identify the cause, Johnson said.
[. . .]
In total, there were four vehicle explosions that occurred within a half-hour, all within two kilometers, or about a mile and a quarter, of one another, the U.S. military said. Four buildings and several shops were destroyed.
Police and witnesses said the attacks began with a flurry of rockets that bombarded several buildings after a nighttime curfew. Then a roadside bomb exploded, followed minutes later by another bomb strapped to a motorcycle.

The above is from Sudarsan Raghavan and Saad Al-Izzi's "U.S. Amends Account of Iraq Blasts" (Washington Post) which Martha noted and we're opening with it because we noted the New York Times' report yesterday in the snapshot. The link for that now takes you to a version written by Damien Cave and Edward Wong entitled "Iraqi Death Toll Rose Above 3,400 in July"
and here's the section of the article on William Caldwell's 'misspeaking':

One of the deadliest attacks in recent weeks took place in southern Baghdad on Sunday night, when bombs, mortars and rockets killed at least 57 people in a Shiite neighborhood, according to Iraqi officials. The American military said Tuesday that the death toll had grown to at least 63 Iraqis and that the cause had been identified: two car bombs that ignited a gas line.
A day earlier, the American military said the deaths were caused solely by a gas main explosion and not by any attack, but now says that conclusion was based on "incomplete information."
The well-organized attack on Sunday came despite the fact that American and Iraqi troops have flooded areas of southern Baghdad. The combined operation has focused most visibly on regulating traffic at checkpoints and searching for weapons at every home and building in troubled areas.

William Caldwell IV said it was a gas explosion referred to "specialists" and findings. This was far from the first time his statements to the press turned out to be misleading. If he were anyone else with the same track record, he wouldn't get quoted by the press because his credibility would be blown. In the early days of the illegal war (pre-Mission Accomplished) there was something of a mini-uprising at the Centcom briefings -- will we see a replay of that with regards to Caldwell?

Wong and Cave are focusing on the violence (the excerpt noted above comes near the end of the article). They cite morgue figures and the ones released by the Health Ministry (hold on for what they don't cite) to note that each day last month resulted in "[a]n average of more than 110 Iraqis" dying and peg the civilian deaths for July at 3,438 ("a 9 percent increase over the tally in June and nearly double the toll in January") which calls into question (to put it mildly) the effectiveness of the so-called crackdown. They note that recently experts have come to the conclusion that Iraq is in the midst of a civil war "not just slipping towards one". Of course it was March 2006 that Allawyi told the BBC that the country was in the midst of a civil war.

They offer the numbers of at least 17,776 Iraqis have died from January through July ("an average of 2,539 a month").

The paper has made a point to check the morgues which is a good thing. (I believe Semple did that at the start of the month in his article on the fatalities -- it's a good move.) But is the paper unaware that the US keeps track of Iraqi fatalities?

This community isn't unaware of that. And certainly on June 26th of this year, we sort of expected that what was known would now be discussed or at least mentioned. Still hasn't happened. From Nancy A. Youssef's "U.S.: Civilian deaths feeding insurgency" (Knight Ridder -- it was still Knight Ridder then) on Monday, June 26, 2006:

The death of civilians at the hands of U.S. troops has fueled the insurgency in Iraq, according to a top-level U.S. military commander, who said U.S. officials began keeping records of these deaths last summer.
Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who as head of the Multinational Force-Iraq is the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, said the number of civilian dead and wounded is an important measurement of how effectively U.S. forces are interacting with the Iraqi people.
"We have people who were on the fence or supported us who in the last two years or three years have in fact decided to strike out against us. And you have to ask: Why is that? And I would argue in many instances we are our own worst enemy,'' Chiarelli said.
Chiarelli said he reviews the figures daily. If fewer civilians are killed, "I think that will make our soldiers safer,'' Chiarelli said.
U.S. officials previously have said they don't keep track of civilian causalities, and Iraqi officials stopped releasing numbers of U.S.-caused casualties after Knight Ridder reported in September 2004 that the Iraqi Ministry of Health had attributed more than twice as many civilian deaths to the actions of U.S. forces than to "terrorist'' attacks during the period from June to September 2004.

Now we know that. Why does the media (big and small) still seem unaware of it? For Polly's Brew, Mike did two columns on this topic (in July), the first noting all of independent media that had been contacted about this story and refused to note, link or discuss it and the second on "War as an After Thought" (putting him way ahead of the curve that would surface this month noting Iraq had falled off the radar). IPS and Aaron Glantz reported on the fact that despite the infamous "We don't do body counts" . . . they did in fact do body counts. That appears to have been it. Others took a pass.

Do most Americans know that the US government is keeping a count and that they won't release it to the people? I doubt it. I'm not even sure that most at the New York Times know about the body count being verified. But it's really past time that media (big and small) got serious about the noting the fact that there is a count kept by the government (probably an undercount) and that they won't release it.

It's amazing with all the op-eds and editorials in print media (big and small) that this still hasn't been a topic. There is a body count being kept and . . . it's being kept from the people -- the tax payers. For what reason? Now Bully Boy might try to hide it under some laughable excuse like
"national security" but to get to that laugh line, we'd first all have to know about the body count and, all this time later, it's unclear how many are even aware of it. That may be one of the saddest commentaries of today's media (big and small).

Tomorrow (Thursday) Ehren Watada faces the Article 32 hearing for refusing to deploy to Iraq.
Courage to Resist and have called for "a National Day of Education" today. Whether you participate in one of their events, an event organized by others or something you're doing yourself, try to get the word out. (We'll focus on Watada in the next entry.)

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