A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

The death of 100,000 is a statistic: This American Life on Iraqi war deaths

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 12, 2006

This morning on my way home from the gym I tuned in to the second half of this week’s American Life broadcast. Often I find this program irksome, and its broadcaster precious. (To be fair, these are sometimes some of my least attractive qualities as well, so perhaps its the similarity that vexes me.) This time, however, I realized he was discussing a topic I care deeply about: the rising Iraqi death toll.

What a sad commentary on the mess we have created, for ourselves and for Iraqis, that “American life” and “Iraqi death” have become so inter-penetrated.

The show’s website, http://www.thislife.org/, describes this broadcast as follows:

“What’s in a Number? 2006 Edition
A new study in the British medical journal The Lancet estimates the number of Iraqi dead since the U.S. invasion at over 600,000. This week, we look at whether that number might be accurate, and return to a in-depth look at a similar study in The Lancet, with similar methodology. That study came out a year ago, and was largely ignored by the press. We also hear U.S. forces dealing with the aftermath of some of those Iraqi civilian deaths.” [The broadcast is available as a podcast, an on-demand website audioplayer, and a mp3 download.]

The show includes extensive interviews with the first study’s author as well as with Marc Garlasco, the former head of ‘high value’ targeting at the Pentagon and current Human Rights Watch employee. Parts of it were difficult for me to hear, and to grapple with – such as the broadcaster’s statement that ‘any discussion of civilian deaths is political’ and Garlasco’s view that both his jobs were working to ‘fight bad guys’. Difficult, but in the best way. I will be reflecting upon the elements of this show – from a dissection of the methodologies and hazards involved in ascertaining mortality statistics in war, to an analysis of media handling of ‘hot potato’ news items like the Lancet studies – for some time to come.

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