Monday, February 27, 2006

"Epidemiology of Mad War"

I have been scouring around for weeks looking for updated--and scientific--reports about civilian casualties in Iraq...to no avail. What I was hoping to find was evidence of some effort to redo the only epidemiological study of its kind, the 2004 Lancet study by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Remember how much effort went into smearing that study? At the time, the authors concluded that at least 100 000 civilians had died since the invasion, above & beyond what would be expected at pre-war death rates.

Well, sadly I don't have an update per se. The following is a piece that was sent from my wonderful mother-in-law. It tracks the background of the lead-researcher in the Johns Hopkins study and his feelings about what's happened to Iraqi civilians since his study was published: Epidemiology of Mad War. Here are some excerpts:

[click "Read on, MacDuff!" to continue reading]
The team’s findings contradicted central elements of the narrative of the war that politicians and journalists were presenting to the world. After excluding the results from Anbar province as a possible statistical anomaly, they estimated that at least 100,000 IRAQI CIVILIANS had died in the previous eighteen months as a direct result of the invasion and occupation of their country. They also found that violence had become the leading cause of death among CIVILIANS in IRAQ during that period, accounting for about half the excess deaths. However, their most significant finding was that the majority of violent deaths were caused by occupation forces using “helicopter gunships, rockets or other forms of aerial weaponry”, and that almost half of the civilian dead in these attacks were children, with a median age of eight.
[...] More than a year later, we do not have a more precise picture. Instead of releasing their own records of civilian casualties or facilitating further research, the American and British governments launched a concerted campaign to discredit and marginalize the Lancet study. Today the continuing aerial assault on IRAQ is still a dark secret to most Americans, and the media still present the same general picture of the war, focusing on secondary sources of violence.
Les Roberts has been puzzled and disturbed by this response to his work, which stands in sharp contrast to the way the same governments responded to his study in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As he says, “TONY BLAIR and Colin Powell quoted those results time and time again without any question as to the precision or validity”.
Roberts had conducted a follow-up study in the Congo that raised the fatality estimate to 3 million, and TONY BLAIR cited that figure in his address to the 2001 Labor Party Conference. However, in December 2004, Blair dismissed the epidemiological team’s work in IRAQ, claiming that, “Figures from the Iraqi Ministry of Health, which are a survey from the hospitals there, are in our view the most accurate survey there is”.
This statement by BLAIR is particularly interesting because the Iraqi Health Ministry reports whose accuracy he praised have in fact confirmed the Johns Hopkins team’s conclusion that aerial attacks by occupation forces are the leading cause of violent CIVILIAN DEATHS in IRAQ. Nancy Youssuf covered one such report in the Miami Herald on September 25th 2004 under the headline “U.S. Attacks, Not Insurgents, Blamed for Most Iraqi Deaths”.
[...] Official and media criticism of his work has focused on the size of his sample, 988 homes in 33 clusters distributed throughout the country, but other epidemiologists reject the notion that this is controversial.
Michael O’Toole, the director of the Center for International Health in Australia, says: “That’s a classical sample size. I just don’t see any evidence of significant exaggeration… If anything, the deaths may have been higher because what they are unable to do is survey families where everyone has died.”
The Lancet report remains the only epidemiological survey of excess deaths in IRAQ from all causes - violence, heart attacks, strokes, infectious diseases, even car accidents. But the official campaign to discourage the media and the public from taking the Lancet report seriously was disturbingly effective. Even opponents of the war now cite much lower figures for civilian deaths and innocently attribute the bulk of them to acts of resistance.
[...] Beyond the phony controversy regarding the methodology of the Lancet report, there is one genuine issue that does cast doubt on its estimate of about 100,000 excess deaths by September 2004. This is the decision to exclude the cluster in Fallujah from its computations due to the much higher number of deaths that were reported there (even though the survey was completed before the widely reported assault on the city in November 2004). Roberts wrote in a letter to the Independent, “Please understand how extremely conservative we were: we did a survey estimating that ~285,000 people have died due to the first 18 months of invasion and occupation and we reported it as at least ~100,000”.
The dilemma he faced was this: in the 33 clusters surveyed, 18 reported no violent deaths, 14 other clusters reported a total of 21 violent deaths, and the Fallujah cluster alone reported 52 violent deaths. This last number is conservative in itself, because, as the report stated, “23 households of 52 visited were either temporarily or permanently abandoned. Neighbors interviewed described widespread death in most of the abandoned homes but could not give adequate details for inclusion in the survey”.
[...] No new breakdown of the proportion of civilians killed by occupation forces has been published since the Health Ministry report last January, but the air war has definitely intensified during the last few months of 2005. The occupation air forces have acknowledged conducting about 270 air strikes in November and December, compared with 200 altogether in the eight months between January and August.
Thanks to Roberts and Burnham, their international team and the editorial board of the Lancet, we have a more realistic and very different picture of the violence taking place in IRAQ than that presented in the media. By now, allowing for a further eighteen months of the air war and other deaths since the completion of the survey, we have to estimate that somewhere between 200,000 and 700,000 people have died as a direct result of the war. The occupation forces have killed anywhere from 70,000 to 500,000 of them, including 30,000 to 275,000 children below the age of fifteen.

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