Friday, July 27, 2007

Rewriting Ned Parker on the death toll

Today, the US military announced: "One Task Force Lightning Soldier died as a result of injuries sustained from an explosion near his vehicle while conducting operations in Diyala province, Thursday."

In the Los Angeles Times today, Ned Parker attempts to cover the issue of the death announcements (which he mistakes for the deaths) and, briefly, we're just going to walk through how that article could have gone had the military's talking points not been utilized.

The US military announced the deaths of seven American troops Thursday, hours after the No. 2 US commander touted a decline in the number of fatatlies to so far this month as an indication that an increase in American forces was having a positive effect on the ground. [Note, that's Parker's opening.]

Lt. Gen Raymond T. Odierno stressed that after April, May and June all saw US troop fatalities climb past 100 each month, the figures were down for July.

What Odierno neglected to address was the rising air war which media critic Norman Solomon has long noted would be used as a substitute for boots on the ground.

Odierno focused on Baghdad and, in the capital, we see Solomon's critique play out as news of US helicopter attacks have become ever more common.

After Odierno spoke, the announcement of 7 deaths would be made. None of the deaths took place on *Thursday*. One death, the oldest, took place on Sunday.

For this reason, it is difficult to speak in terms of "deaths" and a better choice of terms might be "deaths announced." Certainly, Odierno, as number 2 in command, knew of the 7 deaths that would be announced since all took place between Sunday and Wednesday. For whatever reasons, Odierno elected not to mention those deaths or include them in his presentation or talking points.

Odierno's talking points last week included down playing the September report that the military will deliver on Iraq to determine the escalation. Last week, Odierno stated, "What I was saying is -- again, my remarks were, in 45 days I will have a better idea if the trends are continuing, and that's September. Obviously, we have an assessment we will conduct in September that will provide -- that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will provide. I was not looking at extending that time frame when they have to report back. What I imagine we'll have to do is do assessments that follow that initial assessment in September, and that's -- I'm assuming we'll continue to do assessments while we're here." Yesterday, Odierno stressed "trends" as well but forgot to include 7 deaths he should have known about in his remarks.

Last week, Odierno was also attempting to push a link between the Iranian government and those fighting the US occupation in Iraq; however, when pressed by reporters, Odierno's confident remarks of such a link were replaced with his statements that, "We don't see any evidence -- significant evidence". Also last week, Odierno attempted to suggest that the US Congress' talk of withdrawal was 'emboldening' al Qaeda. Again, when pressed, Odierno had to back off from his original remarks and admit he had "no specific intelligence" on any such emboldening.

By refusing to note the 7 deaths that the US military would later announce, Odierno was utilizing the figure of 59 US service members killed in Iraq thus far this month. Setting aside that the month of July is not yet over and the delays over the last few days in the US military promptly announcing deaths, the fact remains that in July 2006, 43 US service members were killed in Iraq. In July 2005 and July 2004, 54 US service members were killed in Iraq. In July 2003, 48 US service members were killed in Iraq.

The current number of deaths announced by the US military for the months of July thus far is 67. Clearly, 59 or 67 would make July 2007 the deadliest July for US troops in Iraq since the illegal war began.

And that is how the Los Angeles Times article could have gone. Instead, there is no noting Odierno's statements from last week -- which, please note, required an admission that his claims were not backed by any proof every time he was pressed -- nor any noting of the basic fact that whether you use 59 or the current 67, even with the month not yet over, this is the deadliest July on record for US troops since the illegal war began.

It's not a bad article and Parker notes the fact that one announcement made yesterday was of a death that occurred on Sunday. But it's not the article it could have been or that many may feel it should have been. Leaving out the numbers for past Julys is probably the weakest flaw of the article. Other outlets have immense flaws, such as running with the figure of five deaths announced.

On the air war, here's Norman Solomon's most recent comments:

But realities on the ground -- and in the air -- are quite different. A recent news dispatch from an air base in Iraq, by Charles J. Hanley of the Associated Press, provided a rare look at the high-tech escalation underway. "Away from the headlines and debate over the ’surge’ in U.S. ground troops," AP reported on July 14, "the Air Force has quietly built up its hardware inside Iraq, sharply stepped up bombing and laid a foundation for a sustained air campaign in support of American and Iraqi forces."
In contrast to the spun speculation so popular with U.S. media outlets like Time and the PBS "NewsHour," the AP article cited key information: "Squadrons of attack planes have been added to the in-country fleet. The air reconnaissance arm has almost doubled since last year. The powerful B1-B bomber has been recalled to action over Iraq."

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