National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: The Blood of 654,965 Iraqis

It trumps by a considerable degree every other grizzly fact, incident or trend in the Iraq fiasco to date. The highly-credible survey published yesterday in the on-line edition of The Lancet reports that 654,965 Iraqis have died as the direct result of George Bush’s unilateral, unprovoked military invasion of a sovereign nation in March 2003. That’s more people than live in the entire District of Columbia, and 218 times more than died in 9/11 in the U.S. (noted despite the fact that 9/l1 and Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with each other).

This does not put George Bush’s crimes quite to the level of a Pol Pot, but he’s working on it.

Numerous attempts by qualified international agencies to estimate the loss of life among Iraqis since the invasion put the numbers between 200,000 and 300,000, as I’ve reported before. But yesterday’s total is staggering, made doubly so by the strict scientific methods used to extract the estimate. Interviewed on CNN yesterday, the head of the Zogby polling service, often used in collaboration with the Wall Street Journal, said that his examination of the way in which the international team of researchers conducted their survey was highly professional and, therefore, accurate.

It included a sampling of 1,849 households containing 12,801 individuals in 47 clusters of 50 households spread over 16 governorates in Iraq, called a “national cross-sectional cluster sample survey of mortality.”

Pre-invasion mortality rates were 5.5 per 1,000 people per year. Post-invasion mortality rates have been 13.3 per 1,000 people per year. Therefore, the finding is that as of July 2006, “there have been 654,965 excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, which corresponds to 2.5% of the population in the study areas. Of post-invasion deaths, 601,027 were due to violence, the most common being gunfire.”

Moreover, the report by Gilbert Burnham, Riyadh Lafta, Shannon Doocy and Les Roberts, notes “the number of people dying in Iraq has continues to escalate.”

The eight-page report is replete with appropriate graphs and citations. It is an air-tight indictment.

Of course, it is more upsetting than ever, in light of this report, that the U.S. media has never even delved into this humongous dimension of the Iraq problem. We, who so arrogantly think that only what happens among, or to, our people, only count the loss of U.S. lives.

Given, that figure is grotesque enough in itself, but it is as if no one else exists, or matters, in the world than “our own.” The question of native Iraqi civilian casualties as a result of the invasion and its aftermath has never passed the lips of a single U.S. major media reporter or journalist in three and a half years.

The same goes for our elected representatives. Who cares about Iraqi casualties? They’re not constituents, they don’t vote in U.S. elections. Let’s focus on what’s more likely to bring us a few more votes here at home!

Of course, the media is not opposed to reporting on overseas disasters, as it did with the tsunami in Indonesia almost two years ago. That’s because there was no danger of running awry of a U.S. political spin.

Even the more recent earthquake in Pakistan, costing tens of thousands of lives, way touchier politically. Reporting in depth on it could raise more questions about the Bush administration’s inability to catch Bin Laden. It would also be harder to focus on the wonderful American relief effort. In New Orleans last year, Hurricane Katrina caught the Bush spin-meisters off guard, and the media went in before they did to report what they saw in an unfiltered manner at least in the first days.

Of course, that was on U.S. soil, and harder to bury on the inside pages of the news reports. It wasn’t a Third World country, and didn’t look like one until Bush was done ignoring it.

There are the criminals and there are the culpable. There’s no denying that Bush and his cronies deserve the full brunt of accountability for 654,965 needless lost lives. Even just trying to fathom that number is dizzying. Sometimes crimes are just too big for the mind to even begin to appropriately grasp. This is certainly that.

But then there are the culpable. There are the ones who are tasked in society to put the brakes on the criminals. As a democracy, we have the benefit of those in ways tyrannies don’t. They include a free press and the separation between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the federal government.

In the case of the U.S.’s unprovoked, unilateral invasion of Iraq, all failed. Even despite the best efforts of many to stop the madness, in the final analysis, the blood of 654,965 innocent Iraqis is on all our hands.