Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Eye-deep in Hell

Died some, pro patria,
non ‘dulce’ non ‘et decor’…
walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men's lies

Ezra Pound, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920)

UN Special Rapporteur for Torture, Manfred Nowak, was interviewed about Iraq for German public broadcaster ARD's news magazine program Tagesschau:

Nowak: In July and August 2006 alone, the bodies of 6500 persons were found who had been abducted and often very gravely tortured -- that is more than 100 people each day. I collaborated on this report to the extent that I interviewed various victims and non-governmental organizations. Many of them credibly reported that in their view the situation is now worse than it was under Saddam Hussein.

Under his dictatorship there was also terrible torture, but one could at least still predict who would have to fear being tortured. Today, on the other hand, the security situation is out of control to such an extent that in the final analysis every person can become a victim of abductions, summary executions, and the worst methods of torture: people's limbs are being amputated, their fingers are missing, their eyes have been put out."

Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran spent time in Iraq before the war and returned afterwards. He was interviewed by Juan Cole today:

Chandrasekaran: Before the war, Iraqis were petrified that one wrong step would result in arrest and imprisonment. Today, as we all know so well, the Iraqis live under a very different sort of fear. In fact, many of the Iraqis I know well say they are far more afraid now than they ever were before the war. Back then, if you kept your mouth shut and your head down, you'd be fine. Now, danger lurks everywhere.

Jane Arraf, NBC correspondent in Baghdad, posted this yesterday on MSNBC’s Blogging Baghdad:

Some readers and viewers think we journalists are exaggerating about the situation in Iraq. I can almost understand that because who would want to believe that things are this bad? Particularly when so many people here started out with such good intentions.

I'm more puzzled by comments that the violence isn't any worse than any American city. Really? In which American city do 60 bullet-riddled bodies turn up on a given day? In which city do the headless bodies of ordinary citizens turn up every single day? In which city would it not be news if neighborhood school children were blown up? In which neighborhood would you look the other way if gunmen came into restaurants and shot dead the customers?

Day-to-day life here for Iraqis is so far removed from the comfortable existence we live in the United States that it is almost literally unimaginable.

It's almost impossible to describe what it feels like being stalled in traffic, your heart pounding, wondering if the vehicle in front of you is one of the three or four car bombs that will go off that day. Or seeing your husband show up at the door covered in blood after he was kidnapped and beaten.

Imagine the worst day you've ever had in your life, add a regular dose of terror and you'll begin to get an idea of what it's like every day for a lot of people here.

And now, researchers at Johns Hopkins University report in The Lancet medical journal that approximately 655,000 Iraqis have died from war or political violence since the U.S. invasion in March 2003. That means people have been dying in Iraq at more than three times the rate than before the invasion.

The figure for the number of deaths attributable to the conflict - which amounts to around 2.5% of the population - is at odds with figures cited by the US and UK governments and will cause a storm, but the Lancet says the work, from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, has been examined and validated by four separate independent experts who all urged publication.

In October 2004, the same researchers published a study estimating that 100,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the war since the beginning of the March 2003 invasion, a figure that was hugely controversial. Their new study, they say, reaffirms the accuracy of their survey of two years ago and moves it on.

"Although such death rates might be common in times of war, the combination of a long duration and tens of millions of people affected has made this the deadliest international conflict of the 21st century and should be of grave concern to everyone," write the authors, Gilbert Burnham and colleagues.

"At the conclusion of our 2004 study we urged that an independent body assess the excess mortality that we saw in Iraq. This has not happened. We continue to believe that an independent international body to monitor compliance with the Geneva conventions and other humanitarian standards in conflict is urgently needed. With reliable data, those voices that speak out for civilians trapped in conflict might be able to lessen the tragic human cost of future wars."
Of the deaths, 31% were ascribed to the US-led forces. Most deaths were from gunshot wounds (56%), with a further 13% from car bomb injuries and 14% the result of other explosions.

Juan Cole takes a look at the report:

The study concludes that an average of 470 Iraqis per day have likely died as a result of political violence since March 19, 2003, though the number could be as low as 350 per day if the margin of error skewed to the low side. United Nations estimates based on figures from Iraqi morgues are more like 100 per day.

I follow the violence in Iraq carefully and daily, and I find the results plausible.
First of all, Iraqi Muslims don't believe in embalming or open casket funerals days later. They believe that the body should be buried by sunset the day of death, in a plain wooden box. So there is no reason to expect them to take the body to the morgue. Although there are benefits to registering with the government for a death certificate, there are also disadvantages. Many families who have had someone killed believe that the government or the Americans were involved, and will have wanted to avoid drawing further attention to themselves by filling out state forms and giving their address.
Personally, I believe very large numbers of Iraqi families quietly bury their dead without telling the government of all people anything about it. Another large number of those killed is dumped in the Tigris river by their killers.

Interesting conclusions are that we are wrong to focus so much on suicide car bombings. The real action is just shooting enemies down with bullets. Only 30 percent of the deaths have been caused by the US military, and that percentage has declined this year because of the sectarian war.
And, folks, this is a major civil war, with something close to 200,000 dying every year.

This study is going to have a hard ride. In part it is because many of us in the information business are not statistically literate enough to judge the sampling techniques. Many will tend to dismiss the findings as implausible without a full appreciation of how low the margin of error is this time. Second, it is a projection, and all projections are subject to possible error, and journalists, being hardnosed people, are wary of them.

Ironically enough, the same journalists who will question this study will accept without query the estimates for deaths in Darfur, e.g., which are generated by exactly the same techniques, and which are almost certainly not as solid.

Bush’s glib response: "Six hundred thousand or whatever they guessed at . . . it's not credible."

Perhaps the President thinks researchers at Johns Hopkins "guessed at" their results, because that's what he and his administration have been doing all along. Going to invade Iraq? I guess they'll greet us as saviors, with flowers in their hands. Need a plan to administrate the country after you invade it? I guess, it'll all work out. We’ll put Chalabi in charge of ev erything. Etc., etc.

But he is right about one thing: credibility is important. So, who is more credible: Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, or the Bush administration ?

Oh, his quote comes from an article this afternoon entitled: Bombs blitz Baghdad as UN warns of chaos:

In violence on the ground, the leader of a religious minority was shot dead in front of his home and US soldiers battled to control a fire triggered by a mortar attack on an ammunition store.

The latest attacks came after two days in which Baghdad police found the corpses of 110 murder victims scattered across the capital.

[U.N. Under Secretary General Jan Egeland, said,] “Our appeal goes to everybody who can curb the violence: religious, ethnic, cultural leaders have to see that this has spiralled totally out of control.”

So . . . we've spent $400,000,000,000.

The National Intelligence Estimate, “based on the considered analysis of all 16 of the US intelligence agencies,” says the invasion and occupation of Iraq has made global terrorism worse.

Almost 3,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed and over 20,000 wounded, many of them maimed for life.

Osama Bin Laden is still a free man.

And on top of it all, more people in Iraq are now being tortured and more are being killed than they were under Saddam Hussein.

I’ll let Ezra Pound finish this post, also from Hugh Selwyn Mauberley:

There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization.


Anonymous said...

Very well put together, batman. Scary and sad.

It's funny how Uncle Ezra wrote than and then went and became such a fan of Mussolini.

Jeff said...

Old Ezra Pound... I remember reading a book once containing essays by many of the writers and artists of the 1930's who were weighing in on the Spanish Civil War. Ezra Pound and Hilaire Belloc were the only ones coming down for Franco. Evelyn Waugh seemed to be on the fence.

I often hear neo-cons talking about how the bad news is overplayed in Iraq, and how you never hear about all the "good news". I think we've been shielded from the extent of the bad news, quite frankly, like Bob Woodward says. The rosy neo-con scenario is belied by how many journalists have been killed and wounded in Iraq, and by how many have fled and chosen to stay away. Even in Viet Nam and Lebanon in the 1970's, journalists could move about in relative safety. Now the ones who are left in Iraq are trapped in the emerald city of the Green Zone.

Tom Ricks, a journalist who has heretofore been highly respected by conservatives puts it best. It is a Fiasco.

cowboyangel said...

Yeah, Ezra. I always have mixed feelings about him.

I've been wanting to read Ricks' Fiasco and even checked it out a couple of weeks ago, but I just couldn't face it right now.

What we've done in Iraq goes beyond a fiasco, however. I'm afraid it's monumental, and not in the grand way the neo-cons imagined.