Thursday, October 12, 2006

Lancet Study Co-author on Democracy Now!

Press could easily confirm 650,000 number by talking to graveyard attendants

Speaking on this morning's Democracy Now!, Les Roberts, a co-author of the study published yesterday in The Lancet which shows 650,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the U.S. invasion, responded to President Bush's comment that the methodology was not credible:

I just want to say that what we did, this cluster survey approach, is the standard way of measuring mortality in very poor countries where the government isn’t very functional or in times of war. And when UNICEF goes out and measures mortality in any developing country, this is what they do. When the U.S. government went at the end of the war in Kosovo or went at the end of the war in Afghanistan and the U.S. government measured the death rate, this is how they did it. And most ironically, the U.S. government has been spending millions of dollars per year, through something called the Smart Initiative, to train NGOs and UN workers to do cluster surveys to measure mortality in times of wars and disasters.

Are Americans more willing now to face the tragic human death toll in Iraq? Roberts sees a significant change in how the American press and public is responding to this study, compared to a similar study two years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Les Roberts, I saw you Upstate New York a while ago, after your first study came out, and you commented on how little it was commented on or picked up here in this country, though cited all over the world. But now you have the report out in The Lancet, and you have the President Bush responding to it, even if he is discounting it. You’ve got General Casey responding to it. What about the U.S. press looking at these figures?

LES ROBERTS: You know, I think that -- this is just my opinion -- the U.S. press sort of follows public opinion. It doesn’t necessarily lead it, except in a few circumstances, like AIDS in Africa. And the public is ready to think, “Wow, things might be going badly in Iraq.” And I don’t think the public was ready to say that two years ago.

And so, when this study came out, Tony Blair was asked three times -- I’m sorry, the 2004 study came out, Tony Blair was asked three times in the week that followed, "What do you think of this estimate that 100,000 Iraqis had died in the first 18 months of occupation?" No one asked George Bush about how many civilians had died or about our study for 14 months after the study came out. And then, when he was asked, it was just by a member of the public in a forum in Philadelphia.

And now, within about four hours of the study coming out, he was asked directly, he was forced to respond, there was a dialogue going on. So, I think that the nation, as a whole, is more ready to honestly talk about Iraq, and that’s led the press to be more able to honestly talk about Iraq.

Roberts said the press working in Iraq could easily verify the information by simply asking graveyard attendants how many more bodies are being buried now than in 2002.

Would the embedded U.S. press do anything so daring that might require a little independent research? We're not holding our breath.

Transcript, audio and video links at Democracy Now!

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