Saturday, October 30, 2004

Iraq and the numbers game

I've been waiting for someone else to figure out what they think about the new study, published the other day in The Lancet, which "conservatively" estimates that 100,000 civilians have been killed since the U.S. toppled Saddam.

Via Marc Cooper's post yesterday, I see that Fred Kaplan in Slate has, in fact, pretty much demolished the methodology used by the team of public health researchers who rushed to get this article to press before the U.S. elections. Juan Cole is somewhat more benevolent. I also see where the Washington Post story cites a critical comment from Human Rights Watch:
"The methods that they used are certainly prone to inflation due to overcounting," said Marc E. Garlasco, senior military analyst for Human Rights Watch, which investigated the number of civilian deaths that occurred during the invasion. "These numbers seem to be inflated."
Importantly, Cooper writes about a couple of similar episodes of body counting from Latin America:
Horror is horror. No need to exaggerate. I thoroughly reported the 1989 invasion of Panama and know to a moral certainty that a total of about 500 people died in that pointless “war.” And yet, thanks to a lot of endlessly recycled hyperbole the completely unsubstantiated figure of 4,000 has become accepted “fact” by many critics of the war.

Likewise, those of us who resisted and opposed the Pinochet regime in Chile absolutely swore for an entire decade that he had killed upward of 25,000 people. More careful accounting in the mid-80’s determined the real figure was about 3200 – macabre enough in a nation of 11 million people.
No one has yet to come out and publicly revisit the 70,000 figure for El Salvador, but I know that at one point, Doug Farah (UPI/Washington Post) told me that reporters in the late 1980s simply added 5000 a year to previous totals -- which, in the late 1980s, was a very high estimate of annual civilian casualties. And then there's the issue of whether that number includes all civilian casualties, or total war dead, including combatants from both sides.

UPDATE: Significant further discussion taking place over at a second Marc Cooper posting.

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