08 November 2006

The Hidden Toll in Iraq

I listened to This American Life this evening. If you've never tuned in, give it a try. Each week, they choose a theme and present several stories related to that theme. Sometimes it's funny. Sometimes it's thought-provoking. It's always interesting. The host is Ira Glass. This is where I first heard David Sedaris, the hilarious openly-gay contributor and storyteller.

Tonight's program was poignant.

The theme this evening was What's in a Number?

The This American Life website is one of those annoying ones that won't let me copy a specific URL to get you where I'd like to direct you so I'll tell you how to find this episode if you'd like to listen to it. Scroll down in the left sidebar and type "episode 320" in the search box. That will get you to a synopsis of the program as well as a free podcast. You can also download the episode for $0.95, if you're so inclined.

The first part of tonight's trio reported on the Johns Hopkins University study presented in October 2004 that estimated the number of civilian deaths in Iraq since the start of the war. This study and a second one completed last month were published in the British medical journal The Lancet. If you register (for free) with The Lancet you'll be able to read summaries or abstracts of the studies they've published. The original study, published in October of 2004, estimated that 100,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed in the country since the invasion began a year and a half prior. It also found that most of those deaths were not at the hands of insurgents of from disease but at the hands of coalition forces. This is the summary of the Lancet article. The full text is available for purchase.

Part two of this evening's broadcast highlighted Captain Ryan Gist, a young American soldier who was charged with befriending and developing relationships with townspeople in an area where civilians had been killed by American bombs. Here is a photo of Capt. Gist. I believe the program said he's now out of the service and working for Human Rights Watch. He now asks the US military why they are not counting the number of civilian dead in the war since the Johns Hopkins study showed it is possible. He has not yet gotten a satisfactory answer.

The final segment of tonight's show offered commentary on the results of another estimate of civilian dead published last month, again in the journal, The Lancet. That study has now put the estimate of civilian casualties at 650,000. 650,000 over 41 months. That averages out to almost 16,000 per month. Of course, now more are dying at the hands of insurgents raather than US troops.

650,000 civilians have died in 3 and 1/2 years.

There has got to be a better way to get this job done.

I was a little distracted during the end of the second and most of the third part of tonight's broadcast by news that several news services have declared Jim Webb the winner in the Virginia Senate race, giving the Democrats control of both houses of the US Congress!

tags: Bush / human rights / Iraq / Iraq war / US foreign policy / US politics

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