Sunday, October 30, 2005

Gentle Reminder Part Deux

This is the second and final part of two posts about the deaths that have occurred in Iraq. In part one, I focused on the Lancet study (free registration required) which claimed, a year ago, that there were an estimated 100,000 dead Iraqi's due to the war. It was estimated that most of those deaths were violent and due to coalition forces, primarily bombing. The study indicated that the numbers they found were likely on the low side because Falluja, the scene of intense fighting, was conservatively removed from the study conclusion as a statistical outlier. Finally, I shared some criticisms of the Lancet study.

In this part, I want to discuss the media treatment of the Lancet study; Marc Garlasco who appeared on the This American Life broadcast, and some final thoughts. Much of what I present here is information from that show which I highly recommend. The audio of these broadcasts it typically put up within a week or so.

Why was the report ignored?

Les Roberts, the John Hopkins researcher who led the Lancet study is clear that he wanted to get the results into the public debate before the 2004 Presidential election. Many think this was the key to why the report was not widely reported given the shrill, highly partisan nature of the campaign.

I think this is true. The media was notoriously gun-shy about presenting information unfavorable to Bush, particularly after CBS botched the National Guard Story. But I also think it failed to gain attention because of denial. For Americans to openly admit that they are responsible for this many deaths is to experience shame. In this time of "precise weapons" and high tech guidance systems, Americans were deluded into thinking that a heavily populated country could be invaded, that urban fighting would be in the mix, and that civilians would greet us as liberators in a short clean war. Unfortunately, the lack of media coverage about the First Gulf War and Afghanistan played a big part in our delusion. The Pentagon, having learned from the nightly front-line reporting during Vietnam, has made sure to cleanse the very real images of war from our media experience making it much easier to just believe.

Finally, I think racism plays a part. People who are different due to color/nationality/religion or economics are seen as "less than" us. It's from a stance of degrading the worth of other human beings, separating them from ourselves, that killing so many civilians can be a ho-hum national experience. And ho-hum is exactly how I would describe the American public's response to the Lancet Study.

Marc Garlasco

Meet Marc Garlasco, from a Mother Jones bio:
Marc Garlasco is the senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch (HRW), and is HRW’s resident expert on battle damage assessment, military operations, and interrogations. Marc also leads HRW’s work on Abu Ghurayb, civilian military contractors, and non-lethal weapons.

Before coming to HRW, Marc spent seven years in the Pentagon as a senior intelligence analyst covering Iraq. His last position there was chief of high-value targeting during the Iraq War in 2003. Marc was on the Operation Desert Fox (Iraq) Battle Damage Assessment team in 1998, led a Pentagon Battle Damage Assessment team to Kosovo in 1999, and recommended thousands of aimpoints on hundreds of targets during operations in Iraq and Serbia. He also participated in over 50 interrogations as a subject matter expert.
Listening to this guy is amazing. He was the Pentagon expert who participated in the targeting of air raids early in the war, including the attempt to kill Saddam Hussein and "Chemical Ali". Targeting, in this case, means that he was an expert on the targets, the buildings themselves, the munitions needed to do the damage, the methods of attack to minimize "collateral damage" and the collateral damage estimates. Just to be clear, collateral damage means the number of innocents that would be killed.

This is from the American Prospect story on Marla Ruzicka, the young activist in Iraq who was counting Iraqi deaths prior to her own death via insurgents:
Today, by almost all accounts, the U.S. military tries to minimize civilian casualties, both for moral reasons and to win over hearts and minds. According to Garlasco, the Air Force estimates the number of civilian casualties it expects particular strikes will create, often changing or calling off strikes that will kill or injure too many civilians.
Garlasco said in the interview that for reasons unknown to him, 30 deaths was the magic number. If a strike was estimated to have 30 deaths or more as collateral damage, the strike had to be signed off by Bush or abandoned. If the estimate was less than 30, the mission was a go. Garlasco doesn' t mention if this affected the collateral damage estimates by Pentagon analyst. It's not hard to imagine that it would. But Garlasco found it very troubling that Pentagon experts never checked to see if estimates were legitimate. From the American Prospect article:
“But once the war is done they never go back and check,” he added. “Marla’s[Ruzicka] work was important because the Air Force could go back and figure out if their models are correct.”
He said that to his knowledge, the Pentagon never has tried to ascertain the accuracy of collateral damage estimates. The Lancet Study and Rumsfelds public announcements would seem to indicate that the collateral damage estimates during targeting are quite inaccurate. Unless we assume the Pentagon knew there would be 100,000 civilian casualties.

Further in the This American Life interview, Garlasco discusses how he left the Pentagon stating that he never agreed with the war, but felt that he could do more to protect civilians in his job due to his expertise. However, personal circumstances ultimately necessitated that he leave. He then joined Human Rights Watch. Interestingly, it's his perspective that his job focus is the same as when the Pentagon employeed him, namely to try and eliminate civilian deaths. He later visited Iraq (pictured above) as a member of Human Rights Watch seeing many of his targets and talking to Iraqi's affected by the air raids. He reports that it was an very mixed experience to see, up close, the technical efficacy of his own target planning while also noting the human costs up close and personal.

Marc Garlasco has more recently been involved in work focusing on the military checkpoints in Iraq:
“The military should immediately take the basic steps to ensure that Iraqi civilians, as well as U.S. soldiers, are safe at checkpoints,” said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch. “The fact that soldiers who man checkpoints are at real risk is not an excuse for complacency. These risks should not be transferred to civilians.”


Checkpoints in Iraq pose dangers to both soldiers manning them and persons crossing them. The U.S. military calls the type of checkpoint where Calipari [the Italian journalist] was killed a “blocking position.” Blocking positions are checkpoints where military units attempt to turn vehicles away without searching them. According to the U.S. investigation, the military unit in question had been given the Tactical Standing Operating Procedures, but this set of procedures for checkpoints “does not provide guidance on blocking positions.” “There is no evidence to indicate that the Soldiers were trained to execute blocking positions before arriving in theater,” the Pentagon report admitted.

The investigation found that instead of following written guidelines, the unit used informal procedures that were passed from unit to unit over time. In fact, according to the investigation, the unit was never trained in the proper procedures to operate a blocking checkpoint.

“Using untrained troops for operations as sensitive as checkpoint duty makes no sense,” said Garlasco. “These practices put U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians at risk.”
What I glean from Garlasco's work is this. If the Lancet study has identified the numbers of dead, Garlasco's work has identified some of the ways vast numbers of Iraqi civilians got that way.

Does the Number Matter?

I've read in some locations individuals postulating about whether it would really matter if it's 30,000 civilians or 100,000 Iraqi dead. I find this obscene. These are both large numbers. But any resemblance beyond that disappears. As a country, we're supposed to represent the hope of all people, equal rights of the individual, and the right of each person to pursue life to it's fullest. The mentality that thinks a few thousand here, or a few thousand there, doesn't really matter smacks of the same kinds of thinking that leads to concepts like "cleansing", eugenics, and genocide. The Lancet study gives us an answer, if we choose to ask the question and believe what we read.

The 911 attacks resulted in approximately 3000 deaths, most of them Americans. It certainly matters to each and every family whether their loved one survived or not. So imagine this. Iraq has approximately 25 million people, America around 300 million. Proportionately, would Americans care if we lost 1,000,000 to 1,200,000 citizens, killed by foreign troops on our soil? Would it make a difference if the number dead was 750,000 vs. oh, say, 1.2 million? And how would we all react to the apologies of a foreign military spokesman, or a leader of the invading country talking about "collateral damage" that is "unavoidable" as we march to government change that is sometimes "messy"? Suppose a foreign Muslim invader was the attacker, pulling often innocent people out of their homes for interrogation and, yes, torture in local prisons while their leader proclaims getting messages from Allah?

I have no doubt how we would react. Frankly, it's probably an indication of how bad Saddam was that we're tolerated in Iraq at all. But of course, as the death toll has risen, the torture stories mount, the brutal interactions occur and get amplified person to person, the tolerance of Iraqis is rightly now gone. This is exactly why the window of opportunity for any chance to do good works in Iraq has passed. To stay is to inflict further atrocities and further dig a terrible propaganda hole with Arab Muslim peoples that will take even longer to repair. In short, our Iraq adventure has been an Osama Bin Laden wet dream.

And let's not forget this final little detail. By Pentagon reports, which frankly I believe are purposely low, there have been 2018 (2014 yesterday when I began this post) American military killed, and a very rough estimate of anywhere from 15,000 to 42,000 wounded. And remember, the wounded in this war are much more seriously damaged than in previous wars due to field medical advances. And who knows how many countless emotionally damaged individuals there will be when it's all over, spreading their damage to their family, friends and community at large.

Of much less importance, but important to future generations is the cost of the war in treasure. As my counter shows it's roughly $204 billion thus far. Remember when "the oil would cover the costs" and "total costs would not exceed $15 billion"? Check out the above link to get some idea of what could have been purchased with this money. It's astounding.

This is not Vietnam. Iraq has similarities to the Vietnam conflict. It also has important differences. The conclusions I draw from what I know about the war are clear. It's time to leave. The risks associated with a failure of this magnitude in the Middle East are seeds that were planted a long time ago in the decision to go to war, and have grown into weeds of ineptitude and death that are choking Americans and Iraqis. We can't begin to repair the damage until we stop inflicting yet more damage. Only then can we contend with the larger mess we've made of the Middle East due to our collective naivete' and ineptitude.

Mahatma Gandhi :
When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall


At 7:51 AM, Blogger Lynne said...

--Finally, I think racism plays a part. People who are different due to color/nationality/religion or economics are seen as "less than" us.--

That is evident even in the terminology we use. People in American live in towns or cities. Over there, people live in villages. How quaint.

Excellent post.


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