Burying The Number Of Civilian Deaths In Iraq
By Derrick Z. Jackson
The Chicago Tribune
Monday June 16, 2003
Whenever reporters asked about civilian deaths in the invasion of Iraq, U.S. military officials reflexively plunged into a numbing prattle about the precision of our weaponry, precaution to avoid needless carnage and promises to investigate possible mistakes.
In late March, after an American missile hit a marketplace in Baghdad and killed plenty of people--Iraqi officials said 58--Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart of Central Command said: "With every one of those circumstances, we ask the component ... who may have had forces involved, whether it's land, sea, or air, to do an investigation, and that takes a number of days to do that. The air component in this case is completing his review. We think that will be complete within the next day or so. And as soon as ... the review is completed, we'll make that available.
"As to what do we determine to be the cause, I think certainly there are a number of possibilities. We want to make sure that if in fact there was an error on our part, that we found that out and made that available."
A couple of days later, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, the deputy director of operations for Central Command, said: "There is an ongoing investigation; still I think we are starting to come to a high degree of closure on it. We are still accounting for every weapon system that we released into the Baghdad area. And once we've gotten to closure on that, I think we will be able to say one way or another what role we may have played, or not."
On April 1, Brooks was asked by a reporter if he could give a date to give the results of the investigation. Brooks responded by saying: "Well, I can't give you a date. I mean, it takes as long as it takes. And it ought to be thorough. We're not going to waste time with them, but we are going to be thorough about the work that's being done. ... Our designs are to minimize the casualties to civilians as much as we can. We'd like to see that be zero. That is not something that's ever been achieved in warfare. We believe our efforts have driven it as low as it has ever been driven in warfare."
Two and a half months after the prattle, we now have the terrible truth. There never was an investigation. That fact was embedded (pun intended) in an Associated Press report last week that it has so far counted 3,240 Iraqi civilians killed in the invasion, including nearly 1,900 in Baghdad. The AP quoted Central Command spokesman John Morgan confirming the nonexistence of an investigation.
Americans should be shocked that journalists are piecing together a history of the war that our military is trying to bury with the bodies.
The AP report said it took pains to exclude from its count all records of hospital deaths that did not distinguish between civilians and soldiers. It also noted that many other victims didn't die in hospitals but were lost in the rubble or buried immediately, according to Islamic custom. As a result, it said, "hundreds, possibly thousands of victims in the largest cities and most intense battles aren't reflected in the total."
The numbers are ominous, since in the 1991 Persian Gulf war, 3,500 civilians died in the fighting, and in the months after, 111,000 Iraqis died from the destruction of the nation's health care and transportation infrastructure, according to Beth Osborne Daponte, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.
Last week, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked whether he felt any remorse over the mounting number of civilian deaths given that no weapons of mass destruction have yet been found. Fleischer did not speak about the people killed by American missiles. All he said was: "I think when you take a look at all the mass graves that have been discovered all around Iraq, I think the world breathes a sigh of relief that a brutal dictator like Saddam Hussein, who had no regard for human rights, has been removed from power so that the Iraqi people can at long last have a life and build a future that's based on freedom and opportunity, not on tyranny."
Fleischer said that even before the AP figures were widely known. This is a White House in clear denial. The world and even many Iraqis may breathe sighs of relief right now, but things will change dramatically if the White House and the Pentagon keep choking on lies and deceptions.
Americans were outraged when 3,000 people were killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Now, between Afghanistan and Iraq, our vengeance has killed way more than that. We rightly demanded that the world care about our innocent dead. Now we wrongly ignore the people we killed. We not only bombed innocent people, we bombed our own innocence.