Thursday, October 12, 2006
Last night's broadcast of BBC Newsnight, which episode you can watch here, provided David Frum, Bush's former speechwriter, with an opportunity to attack the figures. He hinted, but did not say, that there might be something wrong with the data, or the clustering, or something of that kind. (Les Roberts, also present, replied that such errors would be insufficient to account for the massive escalation of deaths detected). Frum went on to add that the US was, after all, in combat with the real killers. He, and people like him, have no idea how ridiculous they sound. It will never wash quite as clean as all that. Anyone who has seen the figures know that of those deaths which are attributable, the 'coalition' is responsible for the bulk. Even if the coalition were in no way directly responsible for the vast number of violent deaths resulting from 'unknown' causes (which is simply incredible), they bear direct responsibility for close to 200,000 violent deaths - what does one say? That this is all accidental? Words like 'accident' have no meaning when you seal off and destroy towns and cities, cut off the water and electricity supply, pound mosques, houses and hospitals, shoot up passing vehicles, use chemical weapons and drop cluster bombs over civilian areas. When troops come out and tell you that people can, and do, kill "hajji" with impunity, and that they are indoctrined to believe that "'Islam is evil' and 'They hate us'", and that "'This is hajji! This is hajji!'", with surreptitious permission to shoot up civilians, with all the predictable consequences - well, those consequences aren't accidental. And of course, the occupiers are not only responsible for at least a very large portion of the 'unknown' deaths (not simply on the balance of probabilities, but on account of known policy, that of using surrogates such as the Special Police Commandos and the Badr Brigades), but also for every single excess death that has resulted on the classical definition of responsibility provided by the Nuremberg Tribunal:
To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.
Notice that I am not valorising international law as such: but it may be permitted as an immanent critique of the Bush administration's policy since they adhere to the form of legality, and declare on those grounds that its intervention in Iraq was a defense of its national rights, and therefore not a war of aggression. Since we cannot find its case remotely plausible, the US has violated the peremptory norm that it appeals to, a norm that is jus cogens, binding on all states. Having violated the norm it proposed to protect, it bears unique and unmixed responsibility for what has taken place in Iraq, and owes the people who still live there a massive debt: first, to arrange an expeditious withdrawal through dialogue with the resistance; second, to arrange massive compensation to the victims of its crime; and third, to allow its leaders to be tried. The fact that in no event is this likely to happen short of a revolution merely illustrates the most damning shortcoming of "just war" theory, a theory that proposes to make moral distinctions in the making of war, based on the premises of international law. Martin Shaw (in his War & Genocide, 2003) puts it like this: "the fact that it has been violated more often than it has been observed - even by liberal states - does raise fundamental questions about whether war can generally be regulated by moral principles". The materialist answer is that they cannot be, given their origins in the social structure, and given the agents which wage them.
Now, yesterday the United States government did what it vowed it would never do: it set a deadline of sorts. The American government has declared that it intends to remain in occupation of Iraq until 2010. At the present rate of acceleration, (not simply the rate of increase, but the increased rate of increase), the number of deaths by 2010 could stand, on my very rough calculations, at over ten million.
This is how it stands:
• March 2003-April 2004: 3.2 deaths/1,000/year
• May 2004-May 2005: 6.6 deaths/1,000/year
• June 2005-June 2006: 12.0 deaths/1,000/year
• Overall post-invasion: 7.2 deaths/1,000/year
Each year of the occupation has seen the death rate approximately double. Over the next year, 2006-7, it will be 24 deaths per thousand per year. The year after, 2007-8, 48 per thousand. Then, 2008-9, 96 per thousand. Then, 2009-10, 192 per thousand. To try and get hold of the scale of this, this is what those figures translate at, using the present population total as reported in this survey:
• March 2003-April 2004: 86,631.04
• May 2004-May 2005: 178,676.52
• June 2005-June 2006: 324,866.40
• June 2006-June 2007: 649, 732.80
• June 2007-June 2008: 1,299,465.60
• June 2008-June 2009: 2,598,921.20
• June 2009-June 2010: 5,197,862.40
• Overall post-invasion: 10,336,156.96
Cease your internal dialogue for a second: of course, this is very rough calculation; of course, this is only a potential trend, based on the trend that has persisted until now, and there is every possibility of a plateau or a decrease in the rate of acceleration, or a decline in the rate of deaths. It is also possible that the rate of acceleration will increase, so that the total by 2010 will be even higher than this grotesque chance. Do you feel like betting Iraqi lives on those possibilities? The US has declared that it will insist on continuing to impose the main political factor that has produced the acceleration to date, and this is one potential outcome of that, one that current trends indicate is highly possible. So, what do you think: stay the course?