Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Accurate count of casualty count in Iraq and Afghan wars


“The U.S. military says four American soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb Sunday in Baghdad, raising the U.S. death toll in the war to at least 4,000.” But the 4,000 is an undercount; that number had occurred months earler. The Morning News on April 1 reported that 4,003 soldiers (including Pentagon civilian employees) “have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003,” but of those “3,264… died as a result of hostile action in operations in or related to the war in Iraq,” while “739 have died from nonhostile causes.” However, the Pentagon has special motives and methods of counting.
Consider the story of Sgt. James W. McDonald. McDonald suffered severe head wounds from a roadside bomb blast in Iraq. After treatment in Germany, he was sent to Fort Hood for extensive facial surgery. Six months after the explosion he was found dead in his barracks. “The Army ruled out suicide and accidental factors, but autopsy could not determine the exact cause of death.” Consequently the Army declared McDonald’s death “non-combat related” (“with the caveat that medical experts couldn’t rule out that ‘traumatic brain injury” may have been a factor”).
Sgt. McDonald’s mother objected: “’If my son was not at the war, he would not be dead.” He was medically evacuated for battle-related injury. And he was having difficulty sleeping and suffered from severe nose bleeds. But despite considerable evidence of traumatic brain injury, the Army does not include him in their combat-related casualty list.
Yet TMN and mainstream media generally repeat the Pentagon’s erroneous statistics about killed and wounded. We should thank The Morning News (TMN) for reporting at least those numbers (few newspapers do that much). But month after month, year after year, TMN has underreported the US casualties, killed and wounded, and when it has, rarely, reported the civilians killed, its count is extremely low.
On March 11, 2008, The Morning News reported the Pentagon’s total figure of 31,187 “wounded in action” in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in their new book, The Three Trillion Dollar War, Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Prize in Economics) and Linda Bilmes (Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government) report that “some 67,000 U.S. troops had suffered wounds, injuries, or disease in Iraq and Afghanistan,” and that “at least 45,000” of these “are directly attributable to the current conflict.”
TMN reported the Pentagon’s figures unquestioningly. But Stiglitz and Bilmes inquired, investigated, pursued the truth, despite a Pentagon that is “highly secretive about the true number of casualties” and uses “considerable discretion in defining any injuries as combat-related.”
The truth is drastically more injured in the reporting of civilians killed and wounded. The Johns Hopkins University study of civilians killed in Iraq, according to Stiglitz and Bilmes, followed established sampling methodologies for ascertaining changes in death rates, and used a large sample. That study as of July 2006 put the increase in fatalities at 654,965. Extrapolating from that rate, the Johns Hopkins study estimated the total number of Iraqi deaths “would exceed one million” through March 2010.
Why does the military skew the numbers? The authors suggest that the Pentagon has “some incentive to label [killed and wounded US soldiers] non-combat because it does not want to credit the enemy with a success.” The Pentagon’s failure to report Iraqi casualties suggests a darker possibility, abhorrent to both our religious and humanist traditions, that the lives of foreigners lack value.
Burnham, Gilbert. “Mortality After the 2003 Invasion of Iraq,” The Lancet, Vol. 368, No. 9545 (October 21, 2006), pp. 1421-28.
“Casualties of War,” TMN (3-11-08, 4-1-08).
Imrie, Robert. “Son’s Death War-Related, Woman Says.” TMN (3-23-08).
“Iraq War Costs Growing.” TMN (3-19-08).
“Reid, Robert. “Extremists….U.S. Death Toll Reaches 4,000.” TMN (3-24,08).
Stiglitz, Joseph and Linda Bilmes. The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict. Norton, 2008. See p. 138 on the Johns Hopkins U. study, and p. 276 footnotes 20 and 21.\

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