Saturday, November 3, 2007

A picture that says it all

nerdified link

Good Germans

First over at Marisacat:
And then there is war. But no news, not really:
Many of the same people who think George W. Bush is a war criminal who lied us into invading Iraq will nonetheless dutifully pull the lever for Hillary, who has criticized the president for being soft on the mullahs.
Having already given her moral and political sanction for attacking Iran by voting for the Kyl-Lieberman resolution – which, even in the slightly watered-down version passed by the Senate, provides enough cover for the Bush administration, or its successor, to claim the authority to take military action – Hillary Clinton will inherit and continue the neocons’ wars, and will be no less committed to “victory.”
Americans see their leading politicians “debating,” but none of them are opposing war with Iran: indeed, they all seem to be going along with it, with a few exceptions – and these exceptions, precisely because they aren’t going along to get along, are invariably dismissed by the pundits as “minor” or “fringe” candidates, who cannot under any circumstances be taken seriously.
The majority of Americans now want a definite deadline for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, and yet not a single “major” candidate for president proposes such a course.
The debate, the course of it and the aftermath, was largely predictable…
Then this from Zogby:
A majority of likely voters – 52% – would support a U.S. military strike to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, and 53% believe it is likely that the U.S. will be involved in a military strike against Iran before the next presidential election, a new Zogby America telephone poll shows.
Hat tip American Leftist. Add to this some pertinent commentary by Arthur Silber:
Most Americans don't care about the genocide in Iraq, and most Americans aren't even aware of it. Most Americans don't care about the destruction of liberty here at home, and most Americans know nothing about what has happened in recent years to the foundations of our government. I challenge any reader to ask 10 or 15 people encountered at random in your travels today to tell you what habeas corpus is, and what its status at present is in America. Don't ask people interested in politics to the extent you are; ask some of those "ordinary" Americans who are so wise and so peace-loving. If even one of them can tell you, I will be astonished. (I've performed this experiment myself, more than once. The results are uniformly dismaying in the extreme. "Ha---beas...what?" Even if the question is asked more informally -- "What was the basic foundation of all American freedoms?" -- the result is unchanged.) Some time ago, I noted that we are becoming the stupidest nation on Earth. So much for "the last, best hope" of the planet; so much for "the American people."

To return to intervention and its lethally destructive and uncontrollable effects: although an attack on Iran represents the gravest threat facing us in the immediate future, it is a serious error to think that the U.S. and Iran exhaust the list of significant actors in this deadly drama. That list is now much longer than you might think. For this is one of the disastrous consequences of intervention over a period of many decades -- and in fact, the Western powers' interventions in the Middle East have gone on for more than a century: the possibilities for catastrophe multiply in every direction, and the routes to what may literally and finally be a war to end all wars can barely be counted. More than one hundred years of unjustified, unnecessary and uniformly disastrous interventions have brought us one hundred routes to hell.

You should read Alastair Crooke's article, "Ticking Clocks and 'Accidental' War," in its entirety. In the final section of that piece, Crooke describes in detail how any one of the following flash points could trigger a wider Middle East war: Lebanon, Syria, the Salafis, Iraq itself, Pakistan, Turkey, and instability in the West Bank. I would suggest even these hardly exhaust the possibilities. The word "accidental" is properly placed in quotes: a wider war would be "accidental" only in the sense that the particular trigger cannot be predicted, and may even have been unintended. But that a particular route to war may be unintended does not mean that war itself is unintended. To the contrary: what the U.S. ruling class wants and intends to have no matter what is "Dominion Over the World." If war is the necessary means to that end -- and it is -- then war it will be. And the American public will be on board. As the recent polls indicate, the American public is already on board. Americans are not remotely antiwar: they have only turned against the Iraq catastrophe because we are losing, and losing very obviously and before the entire world. If we had gone into Iraq, swiftly and effectively kicked a lot of ass (what's one more genocide, after all?), and established even a minimally effective, brutal colonial government, the American public would be inordinately proud of that fact, and also of the criminal aggression that had led to that result. The American public objects only to the fact that the United States -- "the culmination of human development," with the most powerful military ever known and a global empire of bases -- has been humiliated.
Via Liberal Street Fighter, check out Bruce Schneier on the war on the unexpected:
We've opened up a new front on the war on terror. It's an attack on the unique, the unorthodox, the unexpected; it's a war on different. If you act different, you might find yourself investigated, questioned, and even arrested -- even if you did nothing wrong, and had no intention of doing anything wrong. The problem is a combination of citizen informants and a CYA attitude among police that results in a knee-jerk escalation of reported threats.

This isn't the way counterterrorism is supposed to work, but it's happening everywhere. It's a result of our relentless campaign to convince ordinary citizens that they're the front line of terrorism defense. "If you see something, say something" is how the ads read in the New York City subways. "If you suspect something, report it" urges another ad campaign in Manchester, UK. The Michigan State Police have a seven-minute video. Administration officials from then-attorney general John Ashcroft to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff to President Bush have asked us all to report any suspicious activity.
[snip]
Watch how it happens. Someone sees something, so he says something. The person he says it to -- a policeman, a security guard, a flight attendant -- now faces a choice: ignore or escalate. Even though he may believe that it's a false alarm, it's not in his best interests to dismiss the threat. If he's wrong, it'll cost him his career. But if he escalates, he'll be praised for "doing his job" and the cost will be borne by others. So he escalates. And the person he escalates to also escalates, in a series of CYA decisions. And before we're done, innocent people have been arrested, airports have been evacuated, and hundreds of police hours have been wasted.
Conform or risk the wrath of the Taser.

Via the Newshoggers, we're reminded that Chuckles Schumer and Diane Feinstein, Democrat US Senators, have effectively cleared the path for the nomination of yet another pro-torture AG (in this case Mukasey). Good Germans, indeed.

Oh, and it looks like our medical schools are in the process of creating an new generation of Nazi Doctors:
The findings in a survey of medical students indicated that few received adequate training in military medical ethics, many were ignorant of a physician’s responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions, and the overwhelming majority failed to realize that civilian physicians are subject to being drafted into the military. The results of the survey were published Oct. 29 in the International Journal of Health Services.

Dr. J. Wesley Boyd and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School, Boston, and the Cambridge (Mass.) Health Alliance, contacted 5,000 medical students at eight U.S. medical schools by e-mail and invited them to participate in the survey. Overall, 1,756 students (35%) completed the survey, and of those, a little more than 5% reported having served in the military or having an obligation to serve in the future (Int. J. Health Services 2007;37:643-50).

Of the total, 94% had received less than 1 hour of instruction during medical school about the ethical obligations of the physicians serving in the military, 4.3% received 1-5 hours of instruction, and 1.5% received more than 5 hours of training.
Given our nation's own tortured history stretching back at least to the mid 20th century, I can't say I'm entirely surprised.

Land of the free my ass. Of course there are historical precedents for societies harboring delusions of "democracy", "freedom", and "civilization" while careening ever deeper into the authoritarian abyss. History may not repeat itself exactly, but certain patterns do - with relatively predictable consequences. We are witnessing those patterns now.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Word to the wise: Junior Caligula wasn't the only "torture president"

I'll start with a quote from liberal blogger Tristero (via IOZ):
Bush will go down in history as the torture president. I hate that this country ever had a president who made the torture of human beings official government policy.
Sounds nice, and certainly for those who are anticipating a regime change of sorts in the US one might expect such statements to have a "feel good" quality to them. I wish I could share the sentiment. There is little doubt in my mind the current US regime has been particularly vile when it comes to human rights abuses. However, as IOZ reminds those who dare to read, Junior Caligula will not be THE torture president. He'll only be one in a long line. At most, one can say that his regime and those in Congress (Democrat and GOP alike) who enabled the White House are just another step in the (d)evolution of our political institutions. So it goes.

The Clinton era was no Garden of Eden, nor were any of the other sorry presidencies that have come and gone in my lifetime. A quick trip down memory lane shall suffice. By the time I had been born (mid 1960s), the School of Americas (now called WHINSEC) had already been in existence for about a couple decades (1949 to be a bit more precise). William Blum has already laid out its history in brief:
School of the Americas

The School of the Americas (SOA), an Army school at Fort Benning, Georgia, has been beleaguered for years by protesters because so many of its graduates have been involved in very serious human-rights abuses in Latin America, often involving torture and murder. SOA insists that it teaches its students to respect human rights and democracy. To examine this claim we must note that wars between nations in Latin America are extremely rare. The question which thus arises is: Who are these military men being trained to fight if not the army of another country? Who but their own citizens?

Over the years, SOA has trained tens of thousands of Latin American military and police in subjects such as counter-insurgency, infantry tactics, military intelligence, anti-narcotics operations, and commando operations. The students have also been taught to hate and fear something called "communism", later something called "terrorism", with little, if any, distinction made between the two, thus establishing the ideological justification to suppress their own people, to stifle dissent, to cut off at the knees anything bearing a likeness to a movement for social change which - although the military men might not think in such terms - might interfere with Washington's global agenda.

Those who have been on the receiving end of anti-communist punishment would have a difficult time recognizing themselves from this piece of philosophy from an SOA class: "Democracy and communism clash with the firm determination of the Western countries to conserve their own traditional way of life." This reads as if dissidents came from some faraway land, with alien values, and no grievances that could be comprehended as legitimate by the "Western" mind.

In September 1996, under continual insistence from religious and grassroots groups, the Pentagon released seven Spanish-language training manuals used at the SOA until 1991. A New York Times editorial declared:
Americans can now read for themselves some of the noxious lessons the United States Army taught to thousands of Latin American military and police officers at the School of the Americas during the 1980s. A training manual recently released by the Pentagon recommended interrogation techniques like torture, execution, blackmail and arresting the relatives of those being questioned.
SOA graduates have led a number of military coups - so many that the Washington Post reported in 1968 that the school was "known throughout Latin Ameica as the 'escuela de golpes' or coup school". The most recent SOA-linked coup was the 2002 short-lived overthrow of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Amongst the plotters were two SOA grads: Army Commander in Chief Efrain Vasquez and General Ramirez Poveda.

The school's alumni are also responsible for the murders of thousands of people, particularly in the 1980s, such as the Uraba massacre in Colombia; the El Mozote massacre, the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the rape and murder of four US churchwomen, and the Jesuit massacre in El Salvador; the La Cantura massacre in Peru; the torture and murder of a UN worker in Chile; and hundreds of other human-rights abuses.

In the village of El Mozote, El Salvador, in December 1981, from 700 to 1,000 persons were reported killed, mostly the elderly, women and children, in extremely cruel and gruesome ways. Ten of the twelve soldiers cited for the massacre were SOA graduates. In the slaying of six Jesuit priests and two others in November 1989, the UN Truth Commission revealed that 19 of the 26 Salvadoran officers involved had been trained at the SOA.

For decades SOA grads have been involved in the chain of command of virtually every major human rights atrocity in Latin America. The School of the Americas Watch has compiled a large amount of the relevant information, which can be accessed on their website.

The SOA has always claimed that it doesn't teach its students how to torture or how to commit other human-rights abuses. When the truth was revealed by the release of training manuals, the SOA claimed that it had changed its ways. But only one of 42 courses in the 1996 course catalogue - "Democratic Sustainment" - centers on issues of democracy and human rights. In 1997, only 13 students took this course, compared with the 118 who took "Military Intelligence". The "mandatory human-rights component" of other courses comprises only a very small portion of the total course hours. Former SOA human-rights instructor Charles Call has reported that human-rights training is not taken seriously at the school, comprising an insignificant amount of students' overall training.

Access

Why, in the face of decades of terrible publicity, increasingly more militant protests and civil disobedience at the base in Georgia, thousands of arrests, and sharply decreasing Congressional support, has the Pentagon clung to the School of the Americas? What is it that's so vital to the military brass? The answer may lie in this: The school and its students along with a never-ending supply of US military equipment to countries in Latin America are part of a a package that serves the US foreign policy agenda in a special way. The package is called "access". Along with the equipment come American technicians, instructors, replacement parts, and more. Here is the testimony before Congress of General Norman Schwarzkopf, Commander in Chief, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), in 1990.
Security assistance leads directly to access, and without access afforded by our friends we cannot project U.S. military forces into [an] area and stey there for any appreciable length of time.... [If] our military assistance programs diminish, our influence will erode and we will come to the point where we will have little or no ability to control the use of the weapons or the escalation of hostilities.... The second pillar of our strategy is presence. It is the symbol of America's continued interest in and commitment to stability in the region... The third pillar of CENTCOM's strategy is combined [military] exercises. They demonstrat our resolve and commitment to the region. They foster increased cooperation, and they enhance our ability to work with our friends in a coalition environment."
Thus it is that military aid, military exercises, Naval port visits, etc. - like the School of the Americas - means repeated opportunities to foster close ties, even camaraderie, between American officers and foreign military personnel; and, at the same time, the opportunity to build up files of information on many thousands of these foreigners, as well as acquiring language skills, maps, and photos of the area. In sum total: personal connections, personal information, country databases - indispensable assets in time of coup, counter-coup, revolution, counter-revolution, or invasion.

US military presence has, in effect, served the purpose of "casing the joint"; it also facilitates selecting candidates, not just Latin Americans for SOA, but thousands of military and police personnel from other continents who come to the US for training at scores of other military schools; the process of access replenishes itself. It is not unusual for the military-to-military contacts to thrive even while diplomatic relations between Washington and the students' government are rather cool (in the late 1990s, e.g., Algeria, Syria, and Lebanon) - another indication of the priority given to the contacts.

The military equipment sales that access leads to are highly valued as well.

The New Improved School of the Americas

When Congress came close to ending funding for the school in the fall of 1999, the Defense Department finally saw the writing on the wall. It announced that it was planning on making major changes to the school - less strictly military focus and more academic; civilian students as well as military; teaching democratic principles, etc.; changing the name to the Center for Inter-American Security Cooperation (Later changed to Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC).

The question remains: Why keep the school at all? Are there not enough academic schools here and in Latin America that meet such a need? Americans don't have free university education. Why should the United States provide it for foreigners?

The answer appears to be the factor that the changes wouldn't affect - access; perhaps new, improved access, inasmuch as in addition to military students, there will be further access to present and future political and civilian leaders as students.

In any event, there will still be the numerous other military training facilities for foreigners in the US, in addition to the extensive training to the Pentagon abroad.

SOA/WHINSEC now claims that all their applicants must undergo a stringent vetting process, declaring: "Specifically, Chiefs of Missions should ensure that all nominees for training or travel grants, military or civilian, in country or in the U.S., are scrutinized for records of human rights abuses, corruption, or criminal activities that would render them ineligible or inappropriate for the U.S. training programs."

School of the Americas Watch, in Washington, DC, has questioned this. The activist group claims that the screening process for applicants to WHINSEC is mostly cosmetic. They offer the following examples:

In a well known and high profile cases, Col. Francisco del Cid Diaz was investigated by the 1992 UN-mandated El Salvador Truth Commission as having bound, beaten, and shot 16 residents from the Los Hojas cooperative of the Asociacion Nacional de Indigenas. Yet Col. del Cid Diaz attended WHINSEC in 2003.

While a captain, Filmann Urzagaste Rodriguez, was one of those responsible for the kidnap and torture of Waldo Albarracin, then the director of the Popular Assembly for Human Rights in Bolivia. The now-Major Urzagaste took a 49-week officer training course at WHINSEC in 2002.

Three Colombian police officers - Captain Dario Sierro Chapeta, Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Patino Fonseca, and Captain Luis Benavides - were under investigation for personal use of counter-narcotics funds t the same time they attended WHINSEC in 2002-03.
Alfred McCoy also provides a useful summary of the controversy that has surrounded SOA/WHINSEC that can be found in his book, A Question of Torture (2006, Metropolitan Books) . McCoy also in that book lays out the involvement of psychologists and the occasional psychiatric researcher in conducting the experimental research central to the techniques published in the KUBARK manual used to train torturers across the globe. One can also find the early summaries of that research itself quite enlightening, as a psychologist who blogs as Valtin has made crystal clear:
What if there was a book that dispassionately looked at the history and methodology of torture? What if this book looked at human physiology and psychology and tried to scientifically establish how to best break another human being and bend him or her to your will? What if this book were written by top behavioral scientists and published in the United States? And, finally, what if the studies published in this book were financed by the U.S. government?
Look no farther, there is, or rather was, such a book. Published in 1961 by John Wiley & Sons, The Manipulation of Human Behavior was edited by psychologists Albert D. Biderman and Herbert Zimmer. This book, unfortunately, cannot be found online, nor was a second edition or printing ever made (not surprisingly). But I will provide a review here, and an introduction into the nightmare world of science, torture, and politics that helped shape our modern world and today's news.
This book represents a critical examination of some of the conjectures about the application of scientific knowledge to the manipulation of human behavior. The problem is explored within a particular frame of reference: the interrogation of an unwilling subject....
Much of the work in this book was sponsored by the U.S. Air Force...(p. 1)
Albert Biderman had researched the so-called brainwashing of American POWs during the Korean War. He worked as Principal Investigator of an Air Force Office of Scientific Research contract studying stresses associated with capitivity. Biderman was also Senior Research Associate at the Bureau of Social Science Research.
...the U.S. Air Force provided at least half of the budget of the Bureau of Social Science Research in the 1950s. Military contracts supported studies at this Bureau such as the vulnerabilities of Eastern European peoples for the purposes of psychological warfare and comparisons of the effectiveness of "drugs, electroshock, violence, and other coercive techniques during interrogation of prisoners." (from a review of Chistopher Simpson's Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945-1960)
His associate, Herbert Zimmer, was an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Georgetown University, and also worked at times as a consultant for the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. When you read their book, The Manipulation of Human Behavior (MHB), the various essays by other authors include statements crediting research to grants from the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology and the Office of Naval Research.
The titles of the book's essays are bone-chilling in their scientific bland exactitude. Here they are, with authors, for the record:
1. The Physiological State of the Interrogation Subject as it Affects Brain Function, by Lawrence E. Hinkle, Jr., Assoc. Professor of Clinical Medicine in Psychiatry, New York Hospital
2. The Effects of Reduced Environmental Stimulation on Human Behavior: A Review, by Phillip E. Kubazansky, Chief Psychologist, Boston City Hospital
3. The Use of Drugs in Interrogation, by Louis A. Gottschalk, Assoc. Professor of Psychiatry and Research Coordinator, Cincinnati General Hospital
[snip]
4. Physiological Responses as a Means of Evaluating Information, by R. C. Davis, Professor of Psychology, Indiana University
5. The Potential Uses of Hypnosis in Interrogation, by Martin T. Orne, Teaching Fellow, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard University Medical School
[snip]

6. The Experimental Investigation of Interpersonal Influence, by Robert R. Blake and Jane S. Mouton, Professor of Psychology, University of Texas, and Social Science Research Associate, University of Texas, respectively
7. Countermanipulation Through Malingering, by Malcolm L. Meltzer, Staff Psychologist, District of Columbia General Hospital
Six of the essay contributors were psychologists; two were psychiatrists.
Cui bono?
I cannot give a full review here of all the research and conclusions derived herein. The significance of the book itself is hard to gauge, because nothing of its like was ever published again. We can assume that the government agencies that financed the research passed along the results to those who could use it. Biderman himself in his introduction to MHB put it this way:
In assuming the attitude of the "hard-headed" scientist toward the problem, there is a danger in falling into an equivalent misuse of science....
The conclusions reached do in fact show that many devlopments can compound tremendously the already almost insuperable difficulties confronting the individual who seeks to resist an interrogator unrestrained by moral or legal [scruples]....
Several scientists have reported on the possible applications of scientific knowledge that might be made by eht most callous interrogator or power. The results of their thinking are availbale here for anyone to use, including the unscrupulous. (pp. 6, 9) (emphasis mine)
Spine feeling the shivers yet? When I first read the above, I thought I had stumbled into a fascist nightmare out of Robert Jay Lifton's The Nazi Doctors. But then, I read on:
The alternative is to confer on the would-be interrogator a monopoly of knowledge by default. His success, as the various chapters of this book illustrate, depends heavily on the ignorance of his victims. [B. F.] Skinner has aruged that those who are most concerned with restricting the vulnerabilty of men to control others have the most to gain from a clear understanding of the techniques employed. (p. 9)
Was Biderman saying that publishing this material publicly was an oblique attempt to expose what was going on? Was there a twinge of guilt in these men and women, working for the military under the guise of medical and university establishments? I don't know. But Biderman had a few other psychological observations about torture worth quoting (and think about President Bush as you read this, as he said the other day that he has spent a significant amount of time studying the issue of interrogations, torture, etc.):
The profound fascination of the topic under consideration may stem from the primitive, unconscious, and extreme responses to these problems, which gain expression in myth, dreams, drama, and literature. On the one hand, there is the dream-wish for omnipotence, on the other, the wish and fear of the loss of self through its capture by another. The current interest in problems of manipulation of behavior involves basic ambivalences over omnipotence and dependency, which, if projected, find a ready target in the "omniscient" scientist....
Conjectures concerning the prospects of "total annihilation of the human will" appear almost as frequently as those regarding the threat of mankind's total destruction by thermonuclear of similar weapons.....
Viewing the problem in magical or diabolical terms is not an altogether irrational analogy, given the existence of those who simultaneously practice and seek perfection of the means for controlling behavior and conceive their efforts as directed toward "possessing the will" of their victims....
Thus, magical thinking and projections, as has been indicated, pervade prevalent judgments regarding the significance of the behavioral alterations that interrogators can effect. (pp. 4-6)
No matter whatever qualms these researchers had, they were sure of two things: "that some potentialities of interrogation have been overestimated", particularly those that relied on old methods (extreme violence); and
There is no question that it is possible for men to alter, impair, or even to destroy the effictive psychological functioning of others over whom they exercise power. (p. 10)
The problem for the torturers, though, was the "elicitation of guarded factual information". For this, something more scientific was needed, something better than the old, unreliable techniques. -- In many ways, the disputes over interrogation now embroiling Washington are about the utility of methods, with Bush and Rumsfeld and Cheney representing the old (omnipotence-craving) school, and McCain, Powell, and the military representing those who understand that psychlogical manipulation (often amounting to torture itself) gets them what they want, without the international treaty entanglements. The CIA is itself split within by a similar two wings.
If one goes to the original diary by Valtin, one will find that he goes on to describe in more detail the experiments described in the above book chapters. I happen to have a copy of the book in question as well and familiar with what Valtin is describing.

The thing to keep in mind is that it doesn't seem to matter much who controls Congress or who occupies the White House - the use of torture and training in the techniques of torture predate the current White House occupant by several decades. As IOZ correctly points out, the use of "black sites" and torture were commonplace during the so-called "Cold War." Extraordinary renditions also have a history that predates Bush - all we have to do is look back to his predecessor, Bill Clinton in order to see that was SOP by about the mid 1990s. In other words, this is nothing all that new. Evil, yes. New? Hardly. To expect that Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, or Barack Obama will wave her/his wand in late January 2009 and make all the bad stuff go away is to border on the delusional. My reasoning for taking an antipartisan approach to human rights is based precisely on the assumption that both the Democrat and Republican parties have had their hands dirty for ages and will continue to have their hands dirty for as long as they manage to maintain their grip on power. Obama might insist that prisoners being renditioned to god knows wherever be treated to the soothing sounds of Kenny G on the flight over to their particular Gulag, whereas most of the GOP candidates would not even consider such a thing.

In the historical scheme of things, it really matters little whether we drop a few Donkle names (Truman, Carter, Clinton) or GOP names (Raygun, Nixon, both Papa Doc and Baby Doc Bush).

Curveball was a real winner

The source the White House used to make a case that Iraq had biological weapons not only made the whole thing up, but he turns out (surprise, surprise) to be a crook and a loser. The self-styled "star chemical engineer" barely earned his degree, and was apparently wanted for theft from a TV production company where he was formerly employed.

I recall at one point the dude's sanity was viewed as questionable as well. The rational thing to do was to be skeptical of any claims "Curveball" was making. The US government did the exact opposite (again, big surprise, eh?). I'm sure the families of Iraqis killed as a result of the invasion and occupation will be pleased to know that he did manage to con his way into getting asylum and is living somewhere in Germany, out of harm's way.

Burmese Monks Protesting Once More

There's info all over the place, I'm sure. This is merely one source:
This is the first monk protest since the crackdown in September.

BBC reports that 100 monks marched today at a historic town in central
Burma. The monks chanted the metta sutta (sutra of loving kindness) as they marched through Pakokku, the site of an incident last month that triggered pro-democracy protests nationwide." Pakokku is a center for Buddhist learning with more than 80 monasteries.

British ambassador to Burma, Mark Canning, told the BBC he expected further unrest in the country.
I do think this sort of economic and political frustration that is within the population will manifest itself again in the coming months.
Update: The Democratic Voice of Burma reports:

Oct 31, 2007 (DVB)–Around 200 monks from several monasteries in Pakokku staged a walking protest at 8.30 this morning, according to a monk who participated in the march.

The monk said that the protest was a continuation of last month’s demonstrations as he said the monks’ demands have still not been met.

"Our demands are for lower commodity prices, national reconciliation and the immediate release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners," the monk explained.

The monks came from monasteries around Pakokku, including the West and Central monasteries, and chanted metta as they marched three in a row, with monks in the first row holding Sasana flags.

They started walking along Bogyoke road towards Thida road, then turned into Pauk road before ending the march at Shwe Ku pagoda.

The monk said the group was not afraid of the response of the authorities.

"We are not afraid of getting arrested or being tortured. We are doing this for Sasana," he said.

The protest began about one hour after a pro-government rally in the same town ended, and authorities did not intervene to stop the monks’ march.

The monks reportedly notified the authorities in advance, telling them that if a pro-government demonstration was taking place then the monks should also be allowed to hold their protest.

The monk said there would be more and larger demonstrations in the future.

"We did not have much time to organise the protest as we did not actually plan for it, so there weren't a lot of monks. But there will be bigger and more organized protests soon," he said.

The monk said that civilian bystanders supported the protest but were afraid to express this openly.

"We would like to urge people not to be afraid since we are doing this for good future of our country," he said.

Via the same blogger, there's also news about Thailand's version of La Migra is rounding up Burmese refugees and deporting them:
Today The Irrawaddy reports that Thailand is rounding up Burmese migrants -- including children. Guess where Thailand sends them? Back to Burma.

It gets worse. The Thai government official supervising the round-ups of Burmese is none other than General Sonthi. Sonthi is a close friend and staunch ally of Burma's junta. Monks and protestors already lay dead on the streets of Rangoon in September, but this did not deter General Sonthi issuing a statement in defense of the Myanmar regime.

Sonthi was also responsible for the execution of the 2006 coup d'etat in Thailand (Last year, on a Bangkok street around midnight I live-blogged a Thai spokesman declaring a coup d'etat in the name of General Sonthi -- video here, here). Just last month, General Sonthi resigned from the military and was appointed deputy prime minister of Thailand

Here's the most recent report from the Irrawaddy (Mizzima also has a story on this). The Irrawaddy explains that Sonthi was behind this outrage against Burmese living in Thailand:

Thai police arrested about 1,200 migrant workers, most of them Burmese, in a raid on a market area in Thailand’s Samut Sakhon province early on Wednesday, the Thai News Agency (TNA) reported. . . .

A source in Mae Sot said more than 200 illegal migrants had been caught there and sent back to Burma. Police checkpoints had been set up in Mae Sot and on main roads leading to the town.

Moe Swe, of the Mae Sot-based Yaung Chi Oo Burmese migrants’ organization, said the arrests were a cause of “big concern.”

A Burmese researcher at the Labor Rights Promotion Network said his organization was particularly concerned about the plight of children who faced being deported to Burma. “They might not know where to go and how to survive,” he said.

The current crackdown follows a recent claim by Thailand’s former army chief, Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, now a deputy minister of national security, that the country’s 2-3 million illegal migrant workers represented a social problem and a threat that needed to be addressed, particularly in the province’s Mahachai district. He said he would be going to the area to inspect the situation at firsthand and seek a solution.

Apart from his government responsibilities, Gen Sonthi is chairman of Thailand’s National Foreign Workers Administrative Committee.

There is a pattern here.

Last week we learned that Thai agents are working to shut down pro-democracy news organizations operated by Burmese dissidents in exile. (The Irrawaddy, the source of this very report, is one of those groups that may be targeted by the Thai authorities). Since the brutal crackdown in September, Thailand appears to have placed a higher priority on supporting the Burmese junta in its crackdown than supporting the international community in its efforts to pressure the junta.
One can also check the AssPress coverage. I'd been reading for a while that the Buddhist monks were not going to remain silent for long. It appears they are making good on their promise. More at Ten Percent.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wake-up Call

Via Marisacat, I stumbled on this column by social psychologist Floyd Rudmin:
Preparing for National Suicide: What "All Options are on the Table" Really Means

[snip]

For more than a year, the USA has been openly threatening to bomb Iran. Some scenarios see the use of nuclear bombs. “All options are on the table” says Bush, Cheney, Rice, and most of the candidates in the 2008 Presidential race.

The reason? They say they feel threatened by Iran’s pursuit of nuclear power technology, although they formally granted Iran that right when they ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968. The IAEA has found no evidence of a nuclear weapons program. They say they feel threatened by Iran’s support of the Shia militia, especially those in Iraq and Lebanon. Iran has traditionally played the role of defending Shia communities, even in the Ottoman era. They say they feel threatened by Iran’s opposition to Israel’s expansion and Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, which is against international law and many UN resolutions. The say they feel threatened by Iran’s energy exports and its ability to influence world prices.

In general, they feel threatened by an independent nation in an oil-rich region they wish to dominate. Therefore, they threaten to bomb Iran. “All options are on the table.”

[snip]

One consequence of these threats is that Iran must prepare to defend itself. On Oct. 20, a top Iranian military commander announced that Iran is ready to retaliate with 11,000 missiles in the first few minutes after an American surprise attack. The missiles are aimed at the military bases, ships at sea, and economic assets of the threatening nations. To launch that many missiles AFTER a shock-and-awe surprise attack means that Iran must have distributed the ability to launch missiles. There is not one launch button and one commanding finger on the button.

There are many buttons and many different fingers on them. War is now on a hair trigger, and the risk of accidental war is now very, very, very high. War might be started by an Iranian religious fundamentalist eager to go to heaven, or patriot eager to defend Iran, or a traitor eager to destroy Iran, or someone depressed or bored or simply misreading a radar screen and thinking a flock of birds are an incoming attack.

The USA has over 300,000 military and support personnel in the region around Iran, all of them now the target of 11,000 missiles on hair-trigger. That is what repeated threats of war have achieved.

[snip]

War seems inevitable. With war will come thousands of deaths, maybe millions, and whole economies will collapse, the first being that of the USA since it is most dependent on imported oil.

[snip]

But the USA and other belligerent nations have decided to act contrary to international law and in violation of the United Nations, with the consequence that their military forces and economies are now in jeopardy.

Among all of the options on the table, the most likely are self-destruction and national suicide.
Also stumbled via the same source a cool Studs Terkel interview. He's in the twilight of his life now, but he's had quite a long and illustrious career. My familiarity with Terkel's work as an oral historian began with American Dreams Lost and Found - read that at some point during my teenage years at the beginning of the Age of Raygun (read on recommendation from my mom, who, though appreciative of my interest in Terkel's book would probably have preferred that I had put it down occasionally to focus on homework!). Needless to say, Terkel's street-level, egalitarian, almost populist vibe had a tremendous influence. Later I came to realize that he was among those willing to stand up against the McCarthyites during the 1950s. Among other things he addresses hope and the need for new voices. We are indeed desperately in need of new voices during this dark era, which has made the McCarthyites look like choir boys. One phenomenon that Terkel does finds inspiring is the connections that the internet has made possible:
"Do you see any good ending to Bush's war in Iraq?" "You say 'Bush's war'... I believe he is just an idiot. It's more a matter of those who advised him, looking for oil." "Is there a politician who could make a difference, at this point?" "That's the big question. Hillary Clinton won't. Al Gore I think could – if he ran. Barack Obama might. And I mean, might."
"So where is the hope that you talked about going to spring from?" "From young people, like I said. From their ability to organise. I believe the internet may have an even stronger influence than people have realised. Albert Einstein said that when you join an organisation – and that could be anti-war, anti-pollution, or pro the rights of lesbians and homosexuals – Einstein said that, once you join, you have more individuality, not less. Because you are another person who wants to count."
Terkel's words are italicized, and the salient passages highlighted in red typeface. Thanks to the Internet, we are able to access at our convenience information that would have been difficult to track down just a couple decades ago. That seems to be one of the candles in the darkness. Terkel may be more trusting of the Democrats than am I (neither Gore nor Obama strike me as figures who would stave off disaster). But I digress. This new-ish medium has given us opportunities to try to wake one another up that couldn't have come at a more critical time. There are individuals who have indeed "stopped traffic" and put in the public sphere critical questions that would never get aired via traditional media. Silber highlights one of those efforts:
I don't care if Meyer was rude or abrasive, or even if his motives were awful. He asked the crucial question. For God's sake, writers and bloggers who say they themselves think an attack on Iran would represent a horrific criminal act, and may additionally lead to the final imposition of a dictatorship in the United States, can barely bring themselves to ask the question in articles or on their blogs. And they do nothing to pressure the Democrats in Congress to act to prevent an attack -- and the Democrats are supposedly their representatives from their party, and purportedly concerned with their views. But for the most part, these writers and bloggers do absolutely nothing. At least they do nothing politely. They follow the rules. They are marvelously well-behaved. By such means, they also render themselves utterly useless and irrelevant -- and accomplices before the fact to a monstrous crime.

All I care about is the fact that Meyer asked the question that should be everyone's highest concern right now. Meyer tried to stop traffic and, for a very brief, fragile moment, he did. He tried to wake people up. Most of you are still in a self-induced coma. So much for Meyer's attempt.

And, as this exchange with NBC's Today show indicates, Meyer has a very good understanding of what is at stake here. Consider what he says about his first two questions:
TODAYshow.com: Your arrest has sparked a lot of questions about free speech and police brutality, but one of the biggest questions remains your motive for attending the John Kerry event. What was the point you were trying to make?

Meyer: The first question I asked the Senator was about his concession of the 2004 election. Greg Palast, author of "Armed Madhouse," the book I was holding up at the forum, proved that John Kerry won the 2004 election. The ultimate point I was trying to make was to bring up was the heinous way millions of American votes were chucked in the garbage on Election Day. Not only is this a total assault on democracy, but the same tactics used to throw away votes in 2004 will be used again in 2008. Read about the Help America Vote Act and see for yourself. HAVA helps America vote in about the same way the PATRIOT Act patriotically dismantles the Bill of Rights. In other words, it’s completely Un-American.

The second question I asked was why haven’t Kerry and the Democratic Congress made any moves to impeach Bush, considering he has led us into two wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan, and wasn’t even legitimately elected (as Kerry knows since, as he told me, he has read "Armed Madhouse.") If Kerry is so concerned about the aggressive posturing the administration is taking towards Iran, why don’t he and the Democrats running Congress do something about it? They have the impeachment power. Millions of Americans believe they should use it.
As stated above and as I have explained in numerous essays -- see "The Worsening Nightmare," "Morality, Humanity and Civilization: 'Nothing remains...but memories,'" and "Building an Effective Resistance," in particular -- because of the panoply of horrors that will result from an attack on Iran, this is the only issue that matters right now.

Andrew Meyer understands this, and he did something about it. Why -- why, in God's name -- won't more of you do something about it? Why the hell won't you wake up?
I've found Silber to be an especially eloquent voice on the topic of war and war crimes, and the consequences of further escalation - e.g., starting a war with Iran. Certainly he's far from alone in noticing how the US is practically sleepwalking its way to disaster. Gore Vidal keeps coming to mind:
We live in an impermeable bubble without the sort of information that people living in real countries have access to when it comes to their own reality. But we are not actually people in the eyes of the national ownership: we are simply unreliable consumers comprising an overworked, underpaid labor force not in the best of health: The World Health Organization rates our healthcare system (sic—or sick?) as 37th-best in the world, far behind even Saudi Arabia, role model for the Texans. Our infant mortality rate is satisfyingly high, precluding a First World educational system.
Also, it has not gone unremarked even in our usually information-free media that despite the boost to the profits of such companies as Halliburton, Bush’s wars of aggression against small countries of no danger to us have left us well and truly broke. Our annual trade deficit is a half-trillion dollars, which means that we don’t produce much of anything the world wants except those wan reports on how popular our Entertainment is overseas. Unfortunately the foreign gross of “King Kong,” the Edsel of that assembly line, is not yet known. It is rumored that Bollywood—the Indian film business—may soon surpass us! Berman writes, “We have lost our edge in science to Europe…The US economy is being kept afloat by huge foreign loans ($4 billion a day during 2003). What do you think will happen when America’s creditors decide to pull the plug, or when OPEC members begin selling oil for euros instead of dollars?…An International Monetary Fund report of 2004 concluded that the United States was ‘careening toward insolvency.’
Meanwhile, China, our favorite big-time future enemy, is the number one for worldwide foreign investments, with France, the bete noire of our apish neocons, in second place.
If one is not going to actively "stop traffic", I suppose there are other things one can do in advance of the inevitable collapse. I tried to highlight some of that a few months ago (The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades!). The bottom line comes down to simply not participating or at least reducing participation in the current system. I tend to quote liberally from Dmitry Orlov, who seems to have a pretty good vantage point having survived the collapse of his native Soviet Union. Wars fought for oil - and that's what we're doing, folks - have not only been bloody (at this point well-documented) but, given the amount of petroleum consumed in order to keep fueling these damned wars, are the height of absurdity. This is not a system that's built to last. The best we could do is to stop doing harm. Hoping that additional Democrats in Congress and maybe the White House will make that come to pass is a fool's game. You'd be better off betting the ranch on winning the Lotto jackpot. At the very least we can stop giving any of these goons any inkling of our consent.

If one is into trying to do something constructive in the way of activism with regard to preventing a cataclysm in Iran, I have noted and endorsed some of Arthur Silber's suggestions. To act on any of those suggestions though presupposes one basic assumption: You must be awake!

Happy Halloween

Neiwert on Rumsfeld

Found this on his blog Orcinus:
A lot of people are distressed by the realization that the traditional remedy for a presidency as misbegotten as the one we're currently enduring -- impeachment -- simply isn't going to happen, at least not as a political reality and given the time frame remaining.

But I like to cheer them up by reminding that while impeachment may be off the table, but a war-crimes trial is not.

We got a little reminder of this yesterday:
NEW YORK - Donald Rumsfeld, the former U.S. secretary of defense, is facing criminal charges in France for ordering the torture of prisoners in Iraq and at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Last week, some of the world’s leading human rights law groups filed a complaint before a French court charging Rumsfeld with authorizing and ordering torture.

The complaint was registered at the office of the prosecutor of the Court of First Instance in Paris when Rumsfeld was in the city for a talk sponsored by Foreign Policy magazine.

“We will not rest until those U.S. officials involved in torture are brought to justice,” said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a non-profit human rights law firm in the United States.

In filing the complaint against Rumsfeld, Ratner’s group received full support from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the French League for Human Rights, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

“Rumsfeld must understand that he has no place to hide,” Ratner added in a statement after filing the complaint. “A torturer is an enemy of all humankind.”

The charges against Rumsfeld were brought under the 1984 Convention against Torture, ratified by both the United States and France, which has been used in France in previous torture cases.

The criminal complaint states that because of the failure of authorities in the United States and Iraq to launch any independent investigation, it is the legal obligation of states such as France to take up the case.

Ratner and his colleagues in France’s legal community contend that Rumsfeld and other top U.S. officials are subject to criminal trial because there is sufficient evidence to prove that they had authorized the torture of prisoners held on suspicion of involvement in terrorist acts.

“France is under the obligation to investigate and prosecute Rumsfeld,” said FIDH president Souhayr Belhassen. “It has no choice but to open an investigation.”
Of course, Rumsfeld can just do a Kissinger and avoid getting into situations where he might ever actually be hauled before one of these courts. But eventually, the pressure is going to mount for some accountability:
This is the fifth time Rumsfeld has been charged with direct involvement in torture stemming from his role in the Bush administration’s global response to the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and other parts of the United States.

Two previous criminal complaints were filed in Germany under its universal jurisdiction statute, which allows Germany to prosecute serious international crimes regardless of where they occurred or the nationality of the perpetrators or victims.

The first case was filed in 2004 by CCR, FIDH, and Kaleck, who is an attorney in Berlin. That case was dismissed in February 2005 in response to official pressure from the United States, in particular from the Pentagon, the plaintiffs said.

The second case was filed last fall by the same groups as well as dozens of national and international human rights groups, Nobel Peace Prize winners, and the former UN special rapporteur on torture.
Of course, we've known since early in its tenure about the Bush adminstration's hostility to the international courts. It's not hard, in retrospect, to see why that was.

But then, very early in the "war on terror," the issue of war crimes and torture was being raised. It only reached the public eye after Abu Ghraib, at which time it was becoming apparent that this went far up the food chain at the White House.

Of course, we can't even count on our Congress to stop the torture of prisoners in our hands. But I still hear the wheels of justice churning, and I can't help but believe they will catch up to these characters some day.
One can always hope.

Arthur Silber sez

BREAK THE FUCKING GODDAMNED RULES.

Read the whole post & check out a few more.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Estimates of the Iraqi death toll: a follow-up

Discussions on the merits of the Lancet study (published in the fall of 2006):

Huge rise' in Iraqi death tolls

An estimated 655,000 Iraqis have died since 2003 who might still be alive but for the US-led invasion, according to a survey by a US university. The research compares mortality rates before and after the invasion from 47 randomly chosen areas in Iraq. The figure is considerably higher than estimates by official sources or the number of deaths reported in the media.It is vigorously disputed by supporters of the war in Iraq, including US President George W Bush.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimate that the mortality rates have more than doubled since the invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein, causing an average of 500 deaths a day. In the past, Mr Bush has put the civilian death toll in Iraq at 30,000, and hours after details of the latest research were published he dismissed the researchers' methodology as "pretty well discredited".

The Johns Hopkins researchers argue their "cluster sample" approach is more reliable than counting dead bodies, given the obstacles preventing more comprehensive fieldwork in the violent and insecure conditions of Iraq. "I stand by the figure that a lot of innocent people have lost their life... and that troubles me, and it grieves me," Mr Bush told reporters at the White House. "Six-hundred thousand or whatever they guessed at is just... it's not credible," Mr Bush said.

Sharp rise

The researchers spoke to nearly 1,850 families, comprising more than 12,800 people in dozens of 40-household clusters around the country. Of the 629 deaths they recorded among these families since early 2002, 13% took place in the 14 months before the invasion and 87% in the 40 months afterwards. Such a trend repeated nationwide would indicate a rise in annual death rates from 5.5 per 1,000 to 13.3 per 1,000 - meaning the deaths of some 2.5% of Iraq's 25 million citizens in the last three-and-a-half years. The researchers say that in nearly 80% of the individual cases, family members produced death certificates to support their answers.

Reliable data is very hard to obtain in Iraq, where anti-US insurgents and sectarian death squads pose a grave danger to civilian researchers. The survey updates earlier research using the same "cluster" technique which indicated that 100,000 Iraqis had died between the invasion and April 2004 - a figure that was also dismissed by many supporters of the US-led coalition.

'Survivor bias'

While critics point to the discrepancy between this and other independent surveys (such as Iraq Body Count's figure of 44-49,000 civilian deaths, based on media reports), the Bloomberg School team says its method may actually underestimate the true figure. "Families, especially in households with combatants killed, could have hidden deaths. Under-reporting of infant deaths is a widespread concern in surveys of this type," the authors say. "Entire households could have been killed, leading to survivor bias."

The survey suggests that most of the extra deaths - 601,000 - would have been the result of violence, mostly gunfire, and suggests that 31% could be attributable to action by US-led coalition forces. The survey is to be published in a UK medical journal, the Lancet, on Thursday. In an accompanying comment, the Lancet's Richard Horton acknowledges that the 2004 survey provoked controversy, but emphasises that the 2006 follow-up has been recommended by "four expert peers... with relatively minor revisions".

A computer scientist with a blog called Good Math, Bad Math (who appears to be politically neutral) says:

I've gotten a lot of mail from people asking my opinion about the study published today in the Lancet about estimating the Iraqi death toll since the US invasion.

So far, I've only had a chance to skim the paper. But from what I can see about it, the methodology is sound. They did as careful an analysis as possible under the circumstances, and they're very open about the limitations of their approach. (For example, they admit that there were methodological changes compared to earlier studies to reduce the risk to members of the survey team; and there were several data collection errors leading to invalid or incomplete data which was then excluded from the analysis.)

My guess would be that this study is a pretty solid upper bound on the death toll of the war. Population-analysis sampling based techniques like this do tend to produce larger numbers than other analyses, but over the long term, while the sampling techniques tend to over-estimate, those higher numbers have tended to be quite a bit closer to the truth than the lower numbers generated by other techniques.

When I compare this to what the US government has been trying to feed us, I find that I trust these results much more: this study is open and honest, tells us exactly how they gathered and analyzed the data, and is honest and forthcoming about its limitations and flaws. In comparison, the official US estimates are just black-box numbers - our government has refused to provide any information on how their casualty estimates were produced.

Faced with that contrast, and the history of causalty recording and analysis in past wars and natural disasters, I'm strongly inclined to believe that while we will probably never know the real number of people who've died as a result of our invasion of Iraq, the figure of 600,000 deaths as of today estimated by the Lancet study is far closer to the truth than the US government estimate of 30,000 as of last december.

Believe me, nothing would make me happier than being wrong about this. I really don't want to believe that my country is responsible for a death toll that makes a homicidal maniac like Saddam Hussein look like a pansy... But facts are what they are, and the math argues that this mind-boggling death toll is most likely all too real.

He then followed that post up with:

As expected, the Lancet study on civilian deaths in Iraq has created a firestorm on the net. What frankly astounds me is how utterly dreadful most of the critiques of the study have been.

My own favorite for sheer chutzpah is Omar Fadil:

I wonder if that research team was willing to go to North Korea or Libya and I think they wouldn't have the guts to dare ask Saddam to let them in and investigate deaths under his regime. No, they would've shit their pants the moment they set foot in Iraq and they would find themselves surrounded by the Mukhabarat men counting their breaths. However, maybe they would have the chance to receive a gift from the tyrant in exchange for painting a rosy picture about his rule.

They shamelessly made an auction of our blood, and it didn't make a difference if the blood was shed by a bomb or a bullet or a heart attack because the bigger the count the more useful it becomes to attack this or that policy in a political race and the more useful it becomes in cheerleading for murderous tyrannical regimes.

When the statistics announced by hospitals and military here, or even by the UN, did not satisfy their lust for more deaths, they resorted to mathematics to get a fake number that satisfies their sadistic urges.

You see, going door to door in the middle of a war zone where people are being murdered at a horrifying rate - that's just the peak of cowardice! And wanting to know how many people have died in a way - that's clearly nothing but pure bloodthirst - those horrible anti-war people just love the blood.

And the math is all just a lie. Never mind that it's valid statistical mathematics. Never mind that it's a valid and well-proven methodology. Don't even waste time actually looking at the data, or the metholodogy, or the math. Because people like Omar know the truth. They don't need to do any analysis. They know. And anyone who actually risks their neck on the ground gathering real data - they're just a bunch of sadistic liars who resort to math as a means of lying.

That's typical of the responses to the study. People who don't like the result are simply asserting that it can't be right, they know it can't be right. No argument, no analysis, just blind assertions, ranging from emotional beliefs that the conclusions must be wrong to accusations that the study is fake, to claims that the entire concept of statistical analysis is clearly garbage.

The Lancet study is far from perfect. And there are people who have come forward with legitimate questions and criticisms about it. But that's not the response that we've seen from the right-wind media and blogosphere today. All we've seen is blind, pig-ignorant bullshit - a bunch of innumerate jackasses screaming at the top of their lungs: "IT'S WRONG BECAUSE WE SAY IT'S WRONG AND IF YOU DISAGREE YOU'RE A TRAITOR!"".

The conclusion that I draw from all of this? The study is correct. No one, no matter how they try, has been able to show any real problem with the methodology, the data, or the analysis that indicates that the estimates are invalid. When they start throwing out all of statistical mathematics because they don't like the conclusion of a single study, you know that they can't find a problem with the study.

Majikthise, also from last fall:

The right wing noise machine is clanking and shuddering. They're outraged about this study, published in the Lancet. The study estimated that 665,000 more Iraqis have died after the US invasion than would have been expected based on pre-invasion death rates. (I discuss the study in more detail here)

Here are today's talking points. Or should we say talking flails? There aren't many actual points here:

1. 655,000 is an awfully big number. That would mean that this war killed a whole lot of people. (Jane Galt)

2. If 770 extra people were dying in Iraq every day, why don't we hear about them on the news? (Gateway Pundit)

3. The study was published before the election. (Instapundit) (Political Pitbull)

4. The peer-reviewed paper must be bogus because the editor of the Lancet goes to anti-war rallies. (Anti-Idiotarian Rotweiler)

5. The pre-invasion death rates are too low. Surely, Saddam was filling mass graves two months before the invasion. (Chuck Simmins)

6. Those peacenik scientists just wish there were more dead Iraqis. ("When the statistics announced by hospitals and military here, or even by the UN, did not satisfy their lust for more deaths, they resorted to mathematics to get a fake number that satisfies their sadistic urges," Omar Fadil.)

7. I just know the study's wrong, but I can't figure out how. Math people? (AllahPundit)*

8. Sure the study's methodology is standard for public health resesarch. But don't forget that public health is a leftwing plot. (Medpundit)

9. These "statisticians" say that you can take a small sample from a large population and learn a lot about the whole population. As if. I'll believe those 665,000 Iraqis are dead when they tell me so. (Tim Blair)

Cowards, all of them. They own this war, but they won't face up to the fact that their little adventure helped kill over half a million people.

More debunking from Tim Lambert, Appletreeblog, and Liberal Avenger. Stone Court scrutinizes Jane Galt.

At the blog Kiko's House we get the following summary:
I've now had an opportunity to read the article and accompanying documentation in The Lancet on the controversial new study that concludes nearly 655,000 Iraqis have died because of the war. My initial skepticism has been replaced by, well . . . non-skeptical anger.

Over the years I've been involved in a fair amount of cluster sampling such as that used in the study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the resulting mortality numbers seem pretty solid to me, if mind blowing.

For me, keys to the accuracy of the numbers are:
The pro-active nature of the sampling. Virtually all previous surveys on civilian deaths have been passive; that is, statistics were gleaned from secondary sources. With the Hopkins survey, the numbers were compiled in the field through interviews with the families of the victims.

Who did the sampling.
Four-member teams of medical doctors fluent in English and Arabic led by supervisors did the interviews. Death certificates and other documents were examined to determine exact cause of death.

How the numbers were crunched. The statistics were derived from 50 population clusters determined by size of area. Heavily populated Baghdad had 12 clusters while Kerbala and four other sparsely populated areas had one each.
Most surveys on Iraqi civilian war deaths have been passive in the extreme. This is because most have been based on news media reports. The consensus conclusion of these surveys has been that between 40,000 and 50,000 Iraqis have died since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

This survey method has two big problems:
* The media has concentrated on the carnage in Baghdad, where the city's Central Morgue and the Ministry of Health have kept seemingly accurate mortality tallies which are grim in their own right.

But beyond those figures media accounts are typically anecdotal since there seldom is any follow-up reporting to validate their accuracy.

* There has been no reliable way to tally deaths in the outlying provinces, which increases the Baghdad-centric bias of these media account-driven surveys.

I have long suspected that deaths outside the capital have been higher on a per capita basis than in the capital, in part because of the absence of news media representatives and because deaths in villages and rural areas tend to go unnoticed by all but immediate families and tribal members anyway. The Hopkins study confirms that is indeed the case.
My confidence level in the study also was raised because efforts were made to iron out problems in a 2004 study that might have skewed the results or made accurate results more difficult to obtain.

An example: Survey sites were determined by random numbers applied to streets or blocks rather than with global positioning units as had been the case two years ago. The random approach is less skewed and therefore more accurate. GPS units also were ditched because people using them might be viewed with suspicion and be put at risk in a country far more violent than in 2004.

Some other nuggets from the article on the survey:
* The civilian death rate has increased every year since the war began.

* Two out of three victims have been males, typically ranging in age from adolescence to middle age.

* Non-violent deaths during the same time period included cardiovascular conditions (37 percent), cancer (14), chronic illness (13), infant deaths (12), accidents (11) and old age (8).

*The Department of Defense keeps records of Iraqi deaths. The most recent accounting is in a classified 2006 report called the Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq. When the Pentagon says it doesn't know how many Iraqis have been killed, it's lying. If and when the report is released, expect the DoD's numbers to be dramatically lower than the Hopkins survey.
The survey team was candid about possible biases that might skew the results in one direciton or another.

These included the large-scale migration out of Iraq which has decreased population size, households not available on an initial visit were not called back because of security concerns, and there were instances when entire families were killed and there was no one to interview. (Don't you hate when that happens?)

The article's conclusion is chilling:
"In the Vietnam war, 3 million civilians die; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, conflict has been responsible for 3.8 million deaths; and an estimated 200,000 of a total population of 800,000 died in conflict in East Timor . . . We estimate that almost 655,000 people -- 2.5% of the population in the study area -- have died in Iraq. Although such death rates might be common in times of war, the combination of a long duration and tens of millions of people affected has made this the deadliest international conflict of the 21st century and should be of grave concern to everyone."
I have highlighted in red print those passages I found particularly salient to the discussion.

I'll have to say that much of the criticism towards the Lancet studies and the ORB studies cited in an earlier post strike me as eerily reminiscent of arguments in favor of Holocaust Denial (sometimes euphemistically referred to as "revisionism"). The talking points indeed seem to amount to little more than "that's too big a number," the science behind the analyses is bogus, that merely using a hand-held calculator and official Green Zone scribed reports is preferable to actually relying on research conducted as well as one can in a war zone, based on a representative sample of real human beings, and in which the vast majority of the interviewees produce death certificates to back up their claims. Why don't we "hear about these awfully high daily death tolls in the news (after all, our mass media would never lie to us, except, supposedly to diss "Dear Leader")? When in doubt, I suppose one can always resort to the usual accusations that those who read the reports, comb through the methodology, and who accept that the analyses are likely accurate are somehow "unpatriotic moonbats" or whatever names they wish to hurl.

I hinted at the fact in a previous comment that the methodology employed by ORB, which itself has an excellent reputation for methodological rigor, was used to estimate the death toll from 1994's Rwanda genocide. As far as I am aware, there seems to be little debate out there as to the accuracy of that genocide's death toll or the methods utilized to estimate the Rwanda death toll. Where's the disconnect? Is it okay to accept the methodology employed by ORB or the Johns-Hopkins researchers who published in Lancet when it's someone else's genocide, but completely unacceptable when coming to grips with what is arguably our own?

One thing that would be worth mentioning: we scientist types (whether physical, biological, medical, behavioral, or social) tend to be rather conservative in the sense of being cautious and skeptical. When faced with a finding that seems excessive or counterintuitive, the first impulse is to question its veracity. When I first read about the initial Lancet report, my initial impulse - and this comes with the usual caveat that I have been against this war from the get-go - was "that can't be right. How did they come to their conclusions?" The numbers in those studies were, to say the least, horrifyingly large. After reading the original article and its follow-up, I have been left with little doubt that the estimates from that research are about as good as we're going to get from an on-going war zone, and are likely to stand the test of time once the war ends.

At this point, I have found the right-wing "arguments" against the current approximation of 1 million Iraqi deaths due to the US invasion and occupation to be unconvincing. Time will tell.