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Sunday, November 05, 2006


Saddam, Dujail, the Anfal, the media, the Johns Hopkins report, and the facts

With the Dujail verdict in, the media has started to mention the other trial, the one for the Anfal campaign in which many Kurds were killed. I'm not here to excuse anything that happened, just to explore what did happen. On tonight's news I heard the newscaster casually refer, without attribution, to "200,000" Kurds killed during the Anfal campaign. Well, of course that's interesting, since most of the media haven't even mentioned the Johns Hopkins report of 655,000 (or "more than 480,000," as I prefer) dead because of the American invasion of Iraq. So naturally I ask the question I tend to ask - where did that number "200,000" come from? Does it have anywhere near the credibility of the "655,000" number?

Before turning to that, a bit of a reminder about the Dujail case. Back in May, I explored the claim that "250,000 acres of palm groves and orchards" had been razed in Dujail after the assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein. After analyzing the claim as highly improbable if not impossible, I discovered, by the admission of the New York Times reporter (John Burns) who had reported the claim, that there was no basis for the number whatsoever other than prosecution claims (an admission, by the way, which never found it's way into the Times).

So now let's look at the Anfal campaign. I always start at Wikipedia, which "informs" its readers that "The Anfal campaign, which began in 1986 and lasted until 1989, is said to have cost the lives of 182,000 civilians in the mostly rural areas of Kurdistan, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International." Well now isn't that interesting. Because Human Rights Watch actually says "By our estimate, in Anfal at least 50,000 and possibly as many as 100,000 persons, many of them women and children, were killed out of hand between February and September 1988." Do note the opening words "by our estimate." Because, unlike the Johns Hopkins Study, this wasn't actually a scientific study, as Human Rights Watch openly admits: "Two experienced field researchers...spent six months in northern Iraq between April and September 1992, gathering testimonial information about the Anfal." Now without any question serious human rights abuses, serious crimes, were documented by HRW. But nothing which could make their numbers anything more than what they in fact say they are - "an estimate."

And Amnesty International? Again, the claim that they have used a number of 182,000 is simply false. Here's what they actually say: "Amnesty International collected the names of more than 17,000 people who “disappeared” in this wave, but Kurdish sources put the total at over 100,000." And later, they even add, "However, during the 1991 uprisings, hundreds of people who had “disappeared” in the 1970s and 1980s were discovered alive in secret underground prisons."

Bottom line? There isn't any evidence of "200,000" deaths as I heard on the news tonight, or the "182,000" that Wikipedia falsely attributes to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Nor can I find any evidence that any actual epidemiological study of the deaths was ever conducted.

The conclusion is hardly surprising. When accusations are made against one of the "bad guys," no actual proof is required for the media (and others) to dutifully repeat the accusations. When data are collected showing the truth about American crimes, the standards suddenly become rather different.

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