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The Washington Post Shill

Eli, Left I on the News

December 24, 2005

​​​​The importance of the air war in Iraq has been emphasized here many times, and its recent escalation has been a subject of discussion by Dahr Jamail, Norman Solomon, and others. The Washington Post finally catches on, summarizing American offensive actions last month by citing a source claiming that 97 civilians were killed last month as part of the air war in Anbar province ("Operation Steel Curtain"), and notes an increase from 25 airstrikes last January to 120 in November. But outside of those basic facts (and the first isn't actually stated as fact), the article from one end to another could have been (and for all I know was) written by the U.S. military propaganda office (or its outsourced PR firm).

Start with that figure of 97. It's a figure provided by a doctor in Husaybah, and only refers to fatalities in the first week in one town of a multi-town, 17-day offensive. But even though the article refers to how "some critics" say that the deaths are "too liittle investigated," there isn't the slightest effort in the article to investigate or even add up the claims of deaths in other towns to come up with an actual total estimate for the entire campaign.

Then of course we have the obligatory military claims. The article quotes that same doctor saying, "I dare any organization, committee or the American Army to deny these numbers," and then proceeds to do just that:

Just how many civilians have been killed is strongly disputed by the Marines...U.S. Marines in Anbar say they take pains to spare innocent lives and almost invariably question civilian accounts from the battleground communities. They say that townspeople who either support the insurgents or are intimidated by them are manipulating the number of noncombatant deaths for propaganda..."I wholeheartedly believe the vast majority of civilians are killed by the insurgency," particularly by improvised bombs, said Col. Michael Denning, the top air officer for the 2nd Marine Division, which is leading the fight against insurgents in Anbar province..."Insurgents will kill civilians and try to blame it on us."...Townspeople, medical workers and officials often exaggerate death tolls, either for effect or under orders from insurgents [That last statement made completely with attribution, merely as simple fact on the authority of the Post]...American commanders insist they do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties, Denning said [Ed. note: not content with making that claim once in the article, this is now the second time for the identical claim]...The precision-guided munitions used in all airstrikes in Anbar 'have miss rates smaller than the size of this table,' Denning said [Ed. note: too bad "precision" is not the same as "accuracy"; "precision-guided" munitions are not the same as "accuracy-guided" munitions because the latter do not exist]"
But just citing disclaimer after disclaimer from the U.S. military isn't enough. Every individual incident cited in the article (some of which have been mentioned in this blog before) is covered with excuses of insurgents being seen firing from the neighborhood, insurgents taking civilians hostage, and so on. Not a single airstrike described in the article is the fault of the U.S. military (even forgetting about the fact that the entire offensive -- not to mention the entire invasion and occupation -- was the deliberate, unprovoked choice of the U.S. military).

Perhaps the most outrageous charge in the article is this one, which is the conclusion of one of the phrases cited above (emphasis added): "They say that townspeople who either support the insurgents or are intimidated by them are manipulating the number of noncombatant deaths for propaganda -- a charge that some Iraqis acknowledge is true of some residents and medical workers in Anbar province." Who are those Iraqis? None are identified in the article. The only possible source for this "charge" comes much later in the article, with this statement:

Arkan Isawi, an elder in Husaybah, said he and four other tribal leaders gathered to assess the damage while the operation was still underway and identified at least 80 dead, including women and children. "I personally pulled out a family of three children and parents," he said.

An exact count, however, was impossible, he said. "Anyone who gives you a number is lying, because the city was a mess, and people buried bodies in backyards and parking lots," with other bodies still under rubble, Isawi said.
Well, ok, it's true that this guy says an exact count is impossible, and no doubt that's true. But he personally identified "at least 80" dead people, so I doubt very much if he said this to cast doubt on the doctor's claim that 97 civilians were killed. I mean, what would be the point of "exaggerating" by using the number 97 instead of "at least 80"? The point, and the order of magnitude, are exactly the same. It really doesn't matter morally or legally or by any other criteria. And who is more likely to be accurate anyway, a doctor in a hospital issuing death certificates, or someone pulling bodies out of the rubble? Do you really keep an exact count when you do something like that?

Perhaps this was not the Iraqi who "acknowledged" that the number of noncombatant deaths was being "manipulated for propaganda" (although even he isn't quoted as making any such charge, only saying that it is impossible to make an exact count, which isn't the same thing at all). If not, then why not at least cover your tracks by attributing the claim to "Iraqis who refused to be identified for fear of their lives" or something like that? No, the Post didn't even think that was necessary, any more than they thought it necessary to attribute the more direct claim "Townspeople, medical workers and officials often exaggerate death tolls, either for effect or under orders from insurgents" to anyone. Just the word of the Post, which is really the word of the U.S. military, ought to be good enough for its readers. At least, that's the implicit attitude in the article.

Not once in the article does anyone challenge the word of the U.S. military or note that their claims "could not be verified," or might be "exaggerated." The one former Pentagon official who appears in the article as some kind of mild critic is mainly noting that better assessments should be made post-facto. Among the claims of this "critic" are: "It's almost impossible to fight a war in which engagements occur in urban areas [and] to avoid civilian casualties...when you're using force in an urban area or using force in an area with limited intelligence [and facing an enemy actively] exploiting distinctions between combatants and noncombatants, air power becomes challenging no matter how discriminate it is." This "critic" is better at making excuses for the military than actually criticizing them.

:: Article nr. 18968 sent on 25-dec-2005 00:04 ECT


Link: lefti.blogspot.com/2005_12_01_lefti_archive.html

:: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website.

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