Reuters reports that Northeast floods stir global warming debate, as the record rains appear connected to rapid warming of the Atlantic ocean:
”Paul Epstein, associate director of Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, said the Atlantic is warming faster than scientists projected even a decade ago, and he expects such storms as the one seen this week from Virginia to New York to become common.
“Scientists and climatologists are looking at one another and we’re just stunned because no one, even in the 1990s, projected the magnitude of the storms and degree of warming in the Arctic that we are seeing,” he said.
Epstein sees a clear pattern: rain has increased in the United States by 7 percent in three decades; heavy rain events of more than 2 inches a day are up 14 percent and storms dumping more than 4 inches a day rose 20 percent.”
Some, however, believe natural cycles are to blame:
””The climate is warming,” said Bernie Rayno, senior meteorologist at Accuweather.com. “The real question is: ‘Are humans causing it or is it occurring because of natural cycles?’ We believe that we are in a natural cycle like we were back in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. And that was a time of big climate swings.””
If it is global warming, those of us in Boston have a hot future in store:
”At current projections, Epstein said, a typical day in Boston could feel like present-day Richmond, Virginia, in 100 years under one model of the atmosphere and oceans produced by the federally funded New England Regional Assessment of 2001.
Epstein, who contributed to that study, said another model that sees Boston resembling Atlanta, Georgia with a 10-degree Fahrenheit (5.6-degree C) rise in temperature over a century could be conservative.
“What we are seeing is really the pace and magnitude of these changes are much greater than we had imagined, so in fact the models each year become underestimates,” he said.”
June 30th, 2006
Nir Rosen, in his new article, The Occupation of Iraqi Hearts and Minds, gives a good sense of the daily brutality of occupation as he relates tale after tale from his mere two weeks embedded with a US unit. After all his experiences in Iraq, Rosen has no trouble believing the Lancet study findings of 100,000 civilians dead (as of September, 2004):
”In 2004 the British medical journal The Lancet estimated that by September 2004 100,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the American occupation and said that most of them had died violently, mostly in American airstrikes. Although this figure was challenged by many, especially partisans of the war, it seems perfectly plausible to me based on what I have seen in Iraq, having spent most of the postwar period there. What I never understood was why more journalists did not focus on this, choosing instead to look for the “good news” and go along with the official story.”
He also gives reason to believe that brutality is a daily occurrence. He also understands that this brutality is not because American soldiers are bad people, but because they have been sent on an evil mission:
”I believe that any journalist who spent even a brief period embedded with American soldiers must have witnessed crimes being committed against innocent Iraqis, so I have always been baffled by how few were reported and how skeptically the Western media treated Arabic reports of such crimes. These crimes were not committed because Americans are bad or malicious; they were intrinsic to the occupation, and even if the Girl Scouts had occupied Iraq they would have resorted to these methods. In the end, it is those who dispatched decent young American men and women to commit crimes who should be held accountable.”
In conclusion, Rosen asks his readers to imagine:
”Imagine. The American occupation of Iraq has lasted over three years. The above stories are based on my two weeks with one unit in a small part of the country. Imagine how many Iraqi homes have been destroyed. How many families have been traumatized. How many men have disappeared into American military vehicles in the night. How many crimes have been committed against the Iraqi people every single day in the course of the normal operations of the occupation, when soldiers were merely doing their duty, when they were not angry or vengeful as in Haditha. Imagine what we have done to the Iraqi people, tortured by Saddam for years, then released from three decades of his bloody rule only to find their hope stolen from them and a new terror unleashed.”
If only more Americans would imagine, instead of simply shaking their head and wishing the war would disappear like a dream upon awakening. To truly imagine is to allow oneself to make contact with a living hell, and with the true horrors that humans are all to capable of imposing upon one another.
June 29th, 2006
Greg Palast on the right wing attacks on the New York Times for occaisionally acting like a newspaper:
TREASON: “FIRING SQUAD” FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES?
By Greg Palast
June 28, 2006
The Right Wing has gone hog-ass wild over the New York Times’ “shocking” report that the Bush Administration is actually tracking terrorists’ money transfers. Oh my!
The fruitcakes are in flames! “Stand them in front of a firing squad or put them in prison for the rest of their lives,” says one pinhead on Fox TV.
For what? The stunning news that the government is hunting the source of al-Qaeda’s cash? “Osama! You must stop using your ATM card! Condi Rice is reading our bank statements!”
Somehow, I suspect bin Laden already assumes his checkbook is getting perused.
It is worth noting that the fanatic screeching for a “firing squad” is a guy who claims to be a former CIA agent. No one can confirm his claim of course, but this character, Wayne Simmons, has made his career blabbering away juicy intelligence secrets to sell himself as an “expert,” stuff far racier than the Times’ weak report. Well, hypocrisy never stood in the way of the Foxes in the news house.
You want to talk “treason”? OK, let’s talk treason. How about Dick Cheney telling his creepy little hitman ‘Scooter’ Libby to reveal information that led to the naming of a CIA agent? Mr. Simmons, do you have room in your firing squad schedule for the Vice-President?
And no one on Fox complained when the Times, under the by-line of Judith Miller, revealed the secret “intelligence” information that Saddam was building a bomb.
Yes, let’s talk treason. How about this: Before the 9/11 attack, George Bush’s intelligence chieftains BLOCKED the CIA’s investigation of the funding of al-Qaeda and terror.
The “Back-Off” Directive
On November 9, 2001, BBC Television Centre in London received a call from a phone booth just outside Washington. The call to our Newsnight team was part of a complex pre-arranged dance coordinated with the National Security News Service, a conduit for unhappy spooks at the CIA and FBI to unburden themselves of disturbing information and documents.
The top-level U.S. intelligence agent on the line had much to be unhappy and disturbed about: what he called a “back-off” directive.
This call to BBC came two months after the attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Towers. His fellow agents, he said, were now released to hunt bad guys. That was good news. The bad news was that, before September 11, in those weeks just after George W. Bush took office, CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) personnel were told to “back off” certain targets of investigations begun by Bill Clinton.
The agent said, “There were particular investigations that were effectively killed.”
Which ones? His reply was none too comforting: Khan Labs.
On February 11, 2004, President Bush, at an emergency press briefing, expressed his shock — shock! — at having learned that Dr. A. Q. Khan of Pakistan was running a flea market in fissionable material. But, we knew that from the agent’s call — nearly three years earlier. As the intelligence insider told us, the Khan investigation died because the CIA was not allowed to follow down the money trail … to Saudi Arabia.
Apparently, the Saudis, after Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait in 1991, switched their funding for an “Islamic bomb” from Iraq to Pakistan. Dr. Khan used the Saudi loot to build and test his bomb — then sell off the blueprints and bomb-fixings to North Korea and Libya. This was, one might say, a somewhat dangerous situation. But Bush’s spymasters made it a policy to “See No Saudi Evil” — so the investigation died.
What You “Ought Not to Know.”
Closing the agencies eyes to the Khan bomb was not the only spike. That same week in November 2001, unhappy FBI agents “accidentally” left an astonishing dozen-page fax on the desks of our NSNS colleagues. It was marked, “199-I — WF” and “SECRET.”
The code “199-I” means “national security matter” in FBI-speak. It was about what the FBI deemed “a suspected terrorist organization.” What made the document special — and earned the anger of the two agents who “lost” it for us — is that it indicates that the “suspected terrorist” activities were not investigated until September 13, 2001, despite a desire by agents to investigate these characters years earlier.
Who was exempt from investigation? That was on page 2 of the 199-I document. The FBI was hunting in Falls Church, Virginia, for “ABL,” Abdullah bin Laden, nephew of Osama. They were also seeking another relative, Omar bin Laden (or “Binladden” in the alternative translation of the Arabic name). But by September 13, when the restrictions on agents were removed, the bin Ladens were gone.
Why did buildings have to fall before the FBI could question the bin Ladens? Because, frustrated agents noted, the “suspected terrorist organization” was funded directly by the Saudi Royal family.
The suspect group, the World Association of Muslim Youth, operated soccer clubs — and a whole lot more. For example, there was its shuttle operation for jihadi warriors to Bosnia and, foreign intelligence agencies told us at BBC, alleged involvement of WAMY members in bombings.
In the face of these accusations, the Saudi supreme dictator, King Abdullah, praised WAMY, saying, “There is no extremism in the defending of the faith.” That’s his opinion.
Abdullah bin Laden brought WAMY to the USA where, in a summer camp in Florida, little kids were given instruction in baseball and in the glories of hostage-taking (no kidding).
But the FBI’s investigation of the bin Ladens and their group was out of the question so long as the Bush Administration kept intelligence agencies from following the funds transfers of the House of Saud.
That November night in 2001, when we were about to televise the 199-I memo, my BBC producer, Meirion Jones, sought out the FBI’s comment, assuming we’d get the usual, “It’s baloney, a fake, you misunderstand, it ain’t true.”
But we didn’t get the usual response.
Rather, FBI headquarters in Washington told us: “There are lots of things the intelligence community knows and other people ought not to know.”
“Ought not to know”?!?
We ran the story of the Bush Administration’s impeding investigations of the funding of terror. BBC ran it at the top of the nightly news in Britain and worldwide. It hit the front pages of newspapers around the globe — except in the USA. In America, the New York Times and our other news outlets were still accepting the Bush Administration’s diktat that intelligence “information” — that is, news of disastrous intelligence failures — was something the Times’ readers, “ought not to know.”
So I’m tempted to say that, Yes, the New York Times has committed treason — not by reporting on what Bush’s spies are doing, but on failing to report on what Bush’s spies did not do: a deadly failure to follow the money before September 11 because the House of Bush chose to protect the House of Saud.
June 28th, 2006
The Los Angeles Times has a new study estimating Iraqi deaths at 50,000, but also acknowledge the existence of a serious undercount. [War's Iraqi Death Toll Tops 50,000] Unlike Iraq Body Count, which goes to great lengths to distract attention from the gaps in its coverage, the LS Times article emphasizes the weaknesses in its estimates and makes it clear that many more have died:
”At least 50,000 Iraqis have died violently since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, according to statistics from the Baghdad morgue, the Iraqi Health Ministry and other agencies — a toll 20,000 higher than previously acknowledged by the Bush administration.
Many more Iraqis are believed to have been killed but not counted because of serious lapses in recording deaths in the chaotic first year after the invasion, when there was no functioning Iraqi government, and continued spotty reporting nationwide since.”
Perhaps most importantly, the article reports that casualties in Al Anbar province are not reported accurately, due to the extent of the fighting there:
“Iraqi officials involved in compiling the statistics say violent deaths in some regions have been grossly undercounted, notably in the troubled province of Al Anbar in the west. Health workers there are unable to compile the data because of violence, security crackdowns, electrical shortages and failing telephone networks.
The Health Ministry acknowledged the undercount.”
The article provides further evidence of undercounting in official statistics:
”The Baghdad morgue received 30,204 bodies from 2003 through mid-2006, while the Health Ministry said it had documented 18,933 deaths from “military clashes” and “terrorist attacks” from April 5, 2004, to June 1, 2006. Together, the toll reaches 49,137.
However, samples obtained from local health departments in other provinces show an undercount that brings the total well beyond 50,000. The figure also does not include deaths outside Baghdad in the first year of the invasion.”
The article cites Iraq Body Count figures. It is a clear statement of how carefully IBC hides the nature of its figures that even an article as nuanced as this one, citing the weaknesses in its figures, is evidently unaware that IBC figures are also serious underestimates:
”Iraqi Body Count estimates that 38,475 to 42,889 Iraqis have been killed since the invasion. The estimate does not include deaths among the Iraqi security forces.”
Compare this article’s calling attention to the limits in its data to IBC’s disguise of similar weaknesses in its March 19th Press Release:
”Figures released by IBC today, updated by statistics for the year 2005 from the main Baghdad morgue, show that the total number of civilians reported killed has risen year-on-year since May 1st 2003 (the date that President Bush announced “major combat operations have ended”):
• 6,331 from 1st May 2003 to the first anniversary of the invasion, 19th March 2004 (324 days: Year 1)
• 11,312 from 20th March 2004 to 19th March 2005 (365 days: Year 2)
• 12,617 from 20th March 2005 to 1st March 2006 (346 days: Year 3).
In terms of average violent deaths per day this represents:
• 20 per day in Year 1
• 31 per day in Year 2 and
• 36 per day in Year 3.”
To be fair, IBC does detail weaknesses, but these weaknesses are all a matter of the databse not being quite up-to-date:
”The IBC figure for Year 3 includes no deaths from March 2006, excludes the bulk of killings which followed the 22nd February bombing of a major Shiite Muslim shrine in Samarra, and lacks Baghdad morgue data for January and February this year. If January and February 2006 are excluded as being clearly incomplete, then the daily death rate for the remaining part of Year 3 rises to 40 (11,480 deaths over 287 days = 40 per day). However even before Year 3 has ended, and with incomplete data for its final months, the number of civilians reported killed is already higher than for all of Year 2 (12,617 vs. 11,312).”
While IBC does say elsewhere on its site that these figures are based only on reported deaths, and that “it is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media”, they neglect to put this caveat in their Press Release. Why?
Also, compare the LA Times’s detailing of the limits and biases of official counts, including the impossibility of getting a good count in Al Anbar, where the “insurgency” is centered and where a large fraction of counter-insurgency attacks have occurred, with IBC’s dealing with the issue of limitations in their database:
”A third source of bias is the potential lack of ability of news to be collected and to travel. This will be dependent on the level of development of a country, its infrastructure (roads, telephone lines) and its institutions that are official depositories of information (e.g., hospitals, police stations, morgues). The fact that most relatives are able to produce death certificates is a signal of a country peopled with officialdom and bureacracy. Iraq is quite similar in this respect to how Greece or Portugal might have been 20 years ago. It should not be compared to Afghanistan or the DRC.”
Somehow, the war has just disappeared as a factor influencing the accuracy of their data . [To be fair, the war is mentioned in at least one place on their web site – “It is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media. That is the sad nature of war.” – with no discussion as to how war limits the accuracy of data.]
Unfortunately, neither IBC nor the LA Times deal with the issue of potential deliberate bias, when the government collecting the figures is a party to a civil war. Ther have been several accounts since the occupation began of United States and “Iraqi government” officials ordering the counting of civilian casualties to stop. The United States took the extraordinary and illegal step of occupying the main hospital in Fallujah, and of barring press access to the city for many weeks after its destruction in November, 2004. Presumably, one reason for these actions was to hide the extent of civilian deaths.
Further, the fact that mortality estimates come from government sources raises questions as to the accuracy of attributed causes. After all, attributing deaths to “terrorist attacks” is more acceptable to the powers-that-be than is attributing tem to “American forces” or to pro-government militias and death squads. Thus, without strong confirmatory evidence, we should be suspicious of claims, such as the LA Times statement that, among the 39% of reported deaths from Health Ministry:
”Almost 75% of those who died violently were killed in “terrorist acts,” typically bombings, the records show. The other 25% were killed in what were classified as military clashes. A health official described the victims as “innocent bystanders,” many shot by Iraqi or American troops, in crossfire or accidentally at checkpoints.”
June 25th, 2006
Iraq Body Count (IBC) – as part of their effort to defend their work against critics ]including me: When Promoting Truth Obscures the Truth: More on Iraqi Body Count and Iraqi Deaths], who argue that their estimates of Iraqi civilian casualties are severe underestimates – launched a rather nasty attack on Les Roberts, lead author of the classic Lancet study of Iraqi casualties. They essentially accused Roberts of unethical behavior in an email which they forwarded to sources that had published work of his critical of IBC. Here is the IBC email. [Roberts response is below]:
From: John Sloboda [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Sunday, June 18, 2006 5:10 PM
Cc: Charles.Hoge@NA.AMEDD.ARMY.MIL; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com;
firstname.lastname@example.org; Francesco.Checchi@lshtm.ac.uk; Hamit Dardagan; Josh
Subject: your mis-citation of New England Journal of Medicine
Dear Dr Roberts,
This email concerns your mis-citation of a New England Journal of
Medicine article as well as a related error.
In your paper entitled “The Iraq War: Do Civilians Matter?”, published
in July 2005 by the MIT Center for International Studies in its series
“Audits of Conventional Wisdom”, you state that:
“A report in the New England Journal of Medicine in July 2004, based on
interviews with returning U.S. soldiers, suggests an unintentional
non-combatant death toll of 133 deaths per day.”
(http://web.mit.edu/cis/pdf/Audit_6_05_Roberts.pdf page 2)
This statement was repeated in the version of this paper republished on
the Alternet web site (http://www.alternet.org/story/31508/) and the
estimate of 133 violent deaths per day also appeared in Table 6 of a
publication entitled “Intepreting and using mortality data in
humanitarian emergencies” authored by Francesco Checchi and yourself,
and published by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) as
“Humanitarian Practice Network Paper no 52″ (2005)
(http://odihpn.org/documents/networkpaper052.pdf page 30). The table is
entitled “Estimates of violent deaths per day in occupied Iraq” and the
source of the “133 deaths per day” estimate is described in that table
as “Mental Health Study, 2004″.
In all cases, the sole reference you provide for this figure of 133 is:
Hoge CW, Castro CA, Messer SC et al. “Combat duty in Iraq and
Afghanistam, mental health problems and barriers to care. “New England
Journal of Medicine. 351 (July 1. 2004): 13-21.” (NEJM)
As we pointed out in our paper “Speculation is no substitute: a defence
of Iraq Body Count” published in Arpil 2006
(http://www.iraqbodycount.org/editorial/defended), and which was copied
to you at the time, nowhere in this cited NEJM paper is there any
reference to an estimated per-day rate of violent deaths, whether 133 or
any other number, and there is nothing in any of your publications to
explain how this 133 per-day rate is derived (our discussion of this
matter is contained in section 3.4.2 (page 14 of pdf version) and in
greater depth in the related Appendix 3.4.2.a (page 38 of pdf version).
You simply cite the undoubtedly prestigious Journal as if it contained
the facts you claim for it, which it does not, and nor do you explain
how you take the data in that article and transform it into the “133
violent deaths per day”, which is surely the crucial calculation and
which would allow critical appraisal of your “133″ number.
We recently contacted the first author of the NEJM paper, Dr Charles
Hoge, who replied as follows:
“In no way can our data be used to estimate civilian deaths. We ask two
questions related to killing of enemy combatants and civilians on the
our anonymous questionnaire that we ask U.S soldiers, but neither can be
used to estimate casualty rates. We ask if at any time in the deployment
the soldier perceived that he was responsible for the death of an enemy
combatant and another similar question pertaining to the death of
civilians. Since all members of a team may in some way be responsible
during a combat operation these questions can in no way be used to
estimate actual civilian casualty numbers. ” (email to John Sloboda,
dated 8th May 2006)
In summary, you have published a claim, on the basis of the Hoge et al
paper, which the lead author of that paper says is unsustainable (just
as we had independently argued).
There are two matters of serious concern:
1. You have misused the authority of the New England Journal of Medicine
and the authors of this July 2004 paper to promote a claim which has no
basis in that study and which is explicitly rejected by the authors of
2. The supposed 133 per-day-rate of civilian deaths is one of several
“estimates” used by you and many of your readers to make unwarranted
claims about the relative value of different studies of Iraqi mortality,
and the likely overall death toll. Your use of this figure, and the use
made of it by others, has thus helped to spread confusion and
misinformation on a matter which is of the utmost gravity, and where
therefore the highest standards of rigour and professionalism are needed
from those claiming academic expertise and authority.
We note that you have made no attempt to correct these and a series of
other errors since receiving our “Speculation is no substitute” document
referenced above, wherein we subjected some of your claims about Iraqi
deaths and the sources of information on them to rational and critical
analysis. Since the critiques of “amateurs” apparently leave you
unimpressed, whether correct or not, we hope that you will show greater
regard for the opinion of Dr Hoge, whose paper you have misused.
We also note that, whereas after the intercession of co-author Francesco
Checchi you agreed to correct a blatant factor of two arithmetical error
about the daily rate of deaths recorded by Iraq Body Count, you have
made no discernible attempt to correct the exact same error in online
articles authored solely by yourself. Thus even the simple errors
accepted by yourself and corrected in ODI 2005 remain unchanged in MIT
2005 as well as in the (probably more widely read) version of the MIT
paper reproduced at Alternet.org. We expect that professional standards
would require you and other responsible parties to ensure that these
errors are corrected forthwith, without further delay.
In the light of the seriousness of this matter, we are copying this to
Dr Hoge, as lead author of the mis-cited NEJM study, your co-author
Francesco Checchi, the Humanitarian Practice Network of the ODI
email@example.com , the MIT Centre for International
Studies firstname.lastname@example.org , and to the Managing
Editor of Alternet email@example.com
John Sloboda (on behalf of the Iraq Body Count Team)
This argument is silly. Of course Hoge’s data can be used to estimate civilian fatalities from American efforts. The accuracy of those estimates can be questioned, but to act as if they have no idea what Roberts is up too is more than silly. Assuming, as I do, that IBC are not stupid, it sure starts to look as if they are intentionally duplicitous.
This attack on Roberts is especially galling from an organization that admits their estimates are too small by a factor of about two and makes virtually no attempt to communicate this to those in the press who cite IBC’s lowball estimates as gospel.
Well, IBC seems to have picked on the wrong guy this time! Roberts relaxes his restraint and demolishes IBC’s claims and the accuracy of their estimates.
Dear Dr. Sloboda,
I was sorry to receive the e-mail below. In dozens of interviews where
reporters have delved into the discrepancies of our death tolls over the
first 18 months of the war in Iraq, I have attempted (sometimes
unsuccessfully) to emphasize my gratitude to IBC. IBC kept the issue of
civilian deaths in the public eye for months when insecurity kept me
from going to Iraq. I suspected we had the same motives and goals and
had hoped that our efforts might complement one another. I believe that
I emphasized this in my note to Hamit Dardagan on 10/28/04 and my
unanswered e-mail seeking cooperation with you 3 months later. But,
given the widely broadcast and personal nature of your comments below, I
am compelled to respond.
1) In the HPN report and the MIT Audits of Conventional Wisdom, I do
cite Dr. Hoge’s fine article on the mental health of returning soldiers.
In that article it is reported that interviewed Army soldiers returning
had been there 8 months and that (in Table 2) 14% of them reported
“Being responsible for the death of a non-combatant”. The Marine column
of this table is more complex, while it says 28% felt they were
responsible for killing a non-combatant, in the methods section their
duration of service is less clear. There were two Divisions sampled and
one was there for 6 months and one was there for 3 months. Thus, we
need to make some assumptions to acquire a daily death rate. These
a) the interviewed Marines were in Iraq 4.5 months on average;
b) there were US 135,000 soldiers serving in Iraq during this period;
c) 70% were Army, and 30% were Marines. We felt that this was
conservative because other forces (Air Force) would probably have
reported higher rates and because it is believed the Marine fraction
averaged a little higher;
d) there were 30.4 days in a month.
The 133 number came from Richard Garfield almost 18 months ago. I have
not discussed this note or his assumptions with him since then and I
just today calculated an almost identical 137 deaths per day based on
the assumptions above. Of course Dr. Hoge did not say that this is
reported in his article. He is a highly regarded mental health expert
and I suspect that tallying death tolls is outside of the scope of his
ethical review for the research and perhaps his comfort level as well.
Moreover, if he said, “Yes, we reported a civilian death toll six times
higher than our Commander in Chief,” he would probably lose his job.
The text of the Hoge article implies that an individual being
interviewed felt responsible for a death. We shared Dr. Hoge’s concern
that it is in the best nature of humans to feel individual guilt for
something that was done by a group. Given that the bulk of civilian
deaths were from artillery and air-strikes according to our study and
the NCCI dataset, and that those soldiers would be unlikely to fully
witness their damage, this estimate was probably a gross under-estimate.
Also note that the Hoge article would record a soldier who thought they
killed 5 civilians the same way it would record a single killing. Thus,
attributing that 14% of Army soldiers accidentally killed “a” civilian
would err toward a low estimate.
2) Please note the Audit article says that the Hoge reference
“…suggests an unintentional non-combatant death toll of 133 deaths per
day.” In the HPN paper the table (6) citing the death toll estimates is
headed in bold as, “Violent deaths per day implied”. We have never said
“reported” or “recorded.” We used words such as “suggests” and
“implied” to convey the notion that we had some role in interpreting
Both of the HPN and Audit articles were meant to give an overview of the
issue of civilian death tolls. All of the time, public health data is
collected for one purpose and is later used for another. Most newspaper
reports cited in your data set were not collected to show a tally of
deaths nationwide. Given that a large sample of returning soldiers
reported accidentally killing civilians, and that this rate was
quantified from a sample, it would have been irresponsible to have not
mentioned the Hoge article in these overviews. Your assertion that we
“… have misused the authority of the New England Journal of Medicine
and the authors of this July 2004 paper…” is perplexing.
3) Please note that all of the mortality sources cited in the HPN paper
did not provide a daily violent death rate. Death rates were not
provided by IBC. In each case, assumptions needed to be made to get the
provided estimate. The assumptions regarding the Lancet estimate are
far, far greater than the Hoge article estimate. The Lancet estimate,
for example, assumes that no violent deaths have occurred in Anbar
Province; that it is fair to subtract out the pre-invasion violence
rate; and that the 5 deaths in our data induced by a US military
vehicles are not “violent deaths.” It seems strange that of the 5 other
references cited, you did not reach out to the authors of the highest
estimate, or the articles which required the biggest assumptions, but
instead reached out to a US military researcher who is the only one not
free to publish or speculate about the number of civilian deaths in
4) Most epidemiologists are reluctant to speculate about completeness of
their surveillance system before going out and trying to evaluate the
system sensitivity. It is easily done! You have publicly speculated
about IBC’s completeness rates, rates which are unheard of in times of
war. According to my colleague Riyadh Lafta (cc:ed above), only about
1/3rd of deaths were captured by the Government’s surveillance system in
the years before the Coalition invasion (that was based on a
conversation with Riyadh and the assumption that there were 24,000,000
people in Iraq dying at a rate of 5/1000/year, or that 120,000 people
were dying per year. In 2002, the Gov. of Iraq documented less than
40,000 from all sources).
First, given that there should be 120,000 deaths per year as a baseline
and every estimate I have seen implies that there are more violent
deaths than peaceful deaths, the IBC estimate seems very low.
Second, Jim Krane from AP News wrote me on March 2, 2006 regarding the
appearance that the IBC count might not be complete. (I have cc:ed him
above.) He points out that 24,000 violent death corpses have entered the
Baghdad morgue since the invasion when it used to be 2-3000 per year
before the invasion (thus~17,000 excess deaths as of 3 months ago). I
suspect that his suspicion was raised because less than a quarter of the
population lives in Baghdad, the violent death rate is lower there than
the rest of the country according to our data and NCCI’s data, and the
morgues traditionally capture a small fraction of deaths. Thus, twice
as many deaths in all of Iraq as recorded in the Baghdad morgue suggest
IBC is very incomplete.
Finally, we measured the sensitivity of your surveillance system during
the first 18 months, we found it was <5%. This is what we generously
referred to in the HPN paper as “cannot be more than 20% complete.” The
Falluja deaths in our data set were recorded by month and in IBC Falluja
deaths were not as distinct as elsewhere so that we could not match
them. However, among the other 21 violent deaths we encountered in our
random sample of 988 households, one was in the IBC data set. Thus,
unless you have evaluated the sensitivity of your system from some
independent data source, I hope you will temper the statements you make
about the complete nature of the IBC dataset.
5% completeness is the norm of newspaper reporting in times of war. (See
Patrick Ball’s work in Guatemala online with the AAAS) I suspect and
hope that the sensitivity has increased over time as systems have
improved and the role of major battles with airpower has diminished.
But, the speculation in the press that the real number might only be
twice the IBC tally is preposterous.
Last October 11th, I was invited at 2 hours notice before a flight left
to appear on the BBC program Newsnight with Jack Straw. I called you at
that time, hoping to hear that IBC had calibrated the system and to give
you the chance to defend the IBC sensitivity before saying on-air that I
had found it to be ~5% complete. Because we did not speak, I did not
then, and up until now, report our evaluation of your sensitivity in
public. I thought I was doing you a favor by calling.
5) As for your “Speculation is no substitute” paper, I discussed it with
some of my coauthors when it arrived. We decided that it was so devoid
of credibility, and so laden with self-interest rather than the interest
of the Iraqis, it did not merit a response.
6) It is unfortunate that the HPN paper had the wrong dates for the
17/death per day estimate of IBC. I believe that rate was from 2003.
That was a mistake on my part. If we revise the dates and rate to cover
the first 18 months of the war, the change from 17 to 27 deaths per day
does not change any conclusions ever presented in any paper or talk.
Surveillance is almost always incomplete in times of war compared to
surveys, and the conclusion remains the same, the three lowest estimates
of the death rate in Iraq are surveillance-based.
There will come a day when the foreign armies will diminish in Iraq and
a full census and accounting of this war will take place. I look
forward to that day.
I have been asked dozens of times, mostly by epidemiologists, what is
IBC’s motive to overstate the completeness of their estimate. I have
always been able to respond that I do not know. However, the focus of
your note below will only serve to bolster the universally unflattering
This attack has convinced me that IBC is acting in bad faith. I had originally believed they were misinformed, being not particularly knowledgeable about epidemiology. But gradually this belief of mine has been challenged by IBC’s refusal to do anything to correct misuses of their data. Their response to critics, Speculation is no substitute: a defence of Iraq Body Count further disturbed me. It managed to make some valid points and correctly pointed out an error in a Roberts table while ignoring the main issues. This number was multiplied by that number. But they completely ignored the numerous sources of evidence that many, if not most, civilian deaths are not recorded in the press and, thus, in their database and estimates.
But this attack on Roberts is beneath contempt. Having met him once and having had a couple of brief email exchanges with him, I am extremely impressed with his concern for Iraqis combined with his sober scientific caution. When asked, he refused to speculate on issues, such as the number of Iraqi injuries, on which he did not have good data. In fact, I am so impressed with the Lancet study that I use it in my Social Research Methods courses to illustrate survey methodology, measurement validity, and a number of other concepts.
When the IBC response to critics appeared, I was disturbed. As a scientist, I was concerned that I might have made a major error. As I pursued their work, I gradually realized that it was smoke and mirrors, using weaknesses in critics’ work to deflect attention from the fact that, as they admitted, their estimates were way off [by a factor of two, as they admitted in an aside; by much more, in Roberts’ view].
After seeing this sleazy attack on Roberts, I am proud to have joined the chorus of IBC critics. At this point they give no sign of wanting to know what is happening in Iraq. Rather, they appear interested only in defending themselves at all cost to the truth. Too bad.
June 19th, 2006
Gerald Koocher, President of the American Psychological Association, is sending the following email to those members who protested APA support for psychologists’ participation in the hell that is Guantanamo [For my original email to him and the APA CEO go here.]:
The APA Board of Directors understands and appreciates that its members have strong opinions about psychologists’ involvement in interrogations, and that their opinions are not uniform. Please recognize that interrogation does not equate to torture and that many civilian and military contexts exist in which psychologists ethically participate in information gathering in the public interest without harming anyone or violating our ethical code. Please also examine press reports with healthy skepticism and seek facts, rather than reflexively engaging in letter-writing campaigns predicated on inadequate access to the data.
The Board has adopted as APA policy a Task Force Report, which unequivocally prohibits psychologists from engaging in, participating, or countenancing torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. As the basis for its position, the Task Force looked first to Principle A in the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, “Do No Harm,” and then to Principle B, which addresses psychologists’ responsibilities to society. Both ethical responsibilities are central to the profession of psychology. By virtue of Principle A, psychologists do no harm. By virtue of Principle B, psychologists use their expertise in, and understanding of, human behavior to aid in the prevention of harm.
In both domestic and national security-related contexts, these ethical principles converge as psychologists are mandated to take affirmative steps to prevent harm to individuals being questioned and, at the same time, to assist in eliciting reliable information that may prevent harm to others.
It is critical to note that in addressing these issues through a Task Force report, the American Psychological Association was responding to psychologists in national security settings who had approached APA seeking guidance in the most ethical course of action. The Board views as its responsibility supporting our colleagues and members who are striving to do the right thing. The Board encourages its members who have different points of view on this or any issue to make their positions known, and welcomes the opportunity for further discussion of this issue at the August Council meeting.
Here is my reply to this disgusting statement:
Dear Dr. Koocher,
Thank you for your reply to my recent email regarding the American Psychological Association’s condoning of psychologists’ particpation in “coercive interrogations”, aka, torture, at Guantanamo and similar secret facilities. Would you please explain on what basis the APA knows better than the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the UN Committee on Torture, or Amnesty International, among dozens of international organizations that, in these total institutions, “interrogation does not equate to torture”? As you are no doubt aware, these organizations have unanimously stated that what occurs at Guantanamo IS torture? Has APA been able to conduct the type of onsight investigation, including private interviews with detainees, that have been denied the United Nations and other organizations?
On what basis do you make the assertion that to “assist in eliciting reliable information that may prevent harm to others?” As you are no doubt aware, there is extensive evidence that participation in torture does NOT lead to “reliable information.” And even if it did, is it now APA policy that psychologists may particpate in illegal activity in order to POSSIBLY (I note your “may”) “prevent harm to others?” For, as you are no doubt aware, numerous international organizations, including the two United Nations committees mentioned, have made clear that the existence of Guantanamo is illegal under international law. You are also no doubt aware that the Secretary General of the United Nations has called for the closing of Guantanamo.
You further state that “The Board views as its responsibility supporting our colleagues and members who are striving to do the right thing.” What in the world is this “right thing” our collegaues are “striving to do?” I assume it is protecting their careers while still being able to sleep at night. And why is supporting their “striving” more important than they, or APA ,actually doing the right thing? That is, why is “supporting our colleagues” a greater responsibility than protecting the hundreds of people who have been locked away, perhaps forever, in “the gulag of our time?”
The final question I have to ask is: is there anything at all that APA won’t do to preserve its access to those with power?
Your in disgust and shame,
Director, Center for Research, Evaluation, and Program Development
Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis
1581 Beacon St.
Brookline, MA 02446
June 12th, 2006
Falafel apparently banned by Islamists in Iraq [Zealots 'Talibanizing' Iraq ban falafels, goatees at gunpoint]:
In a bizarre example of Iraq’s creeping “Talibanization,” militants visited falafel vendors a couple of weeks ago, telling them to pack up their stalls by today or be killed.
The ultimatum seemed so bizarre that, at first, most laughed it off — until two of them were fatally shot as they plied their trade.
“They came telling us, ‘You have 14 days to end this job,’ and I asked them what was the problem,” said Abu Zeinab, 32, who was packing up his stall for good yesterday in the suburb of al Dora, a hard-line Sunni neighborhood.
“I said I was just feeding the people, but they said there were no falafels in Muhammad the prophet’s time, so we shouldn’t have them either.
“I felt like telling them there were no Kalashnikovs in Muhammad’s time either, but I wanted to keep my life.”
Why Baghdad’s falafel vendors should be blacklisted while their colleagues are allowed to continue selling kebabs or Western-style pizzas and burgers remains a mystery. Some suspect it is because a taste for falafels is one of the few things that unites Jewish and Arab communities in Israel.
It is, however, just one of many Islamic edicts to hit Baghdad in recent weeks, prohibiting everything from the growing of goatee beards to the sale of mayonnaise — because it is purportedly made in Israel.
Even more bizzarely:
Another group of traders to have felt the Islamists’ wrath is Baghdad’s ice merchants, who sell large chunks of ice for storing food and chilling drinks.
In a city facing constant power cuts and summer temperatures of up to 122 degrees, the service they provide is little short of essential. Yet in recent weeks, they too have fallen afoul of the claim that their product was not a feature of life during Muhammad’s time.
Akram al Zidawi, 19, an ice seller from al Dora, thought the threats were too ludicrous to be true — until it was too late.
“Two weeks ago, he came back home saying that he had been threatened by the terrorists,” said his brother Gassan, 32. “My mother begged him to quit the job, but he laughed. He thought it was impossible they would kill him. But they came back two days later and shot him dead, along with three other ice sellers nearby.”
June 11th, 2006