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Thursday, July 22, 2004

More Grave Numbers

A comment by racerx over at dKos pointed me to this press briefing from March of 2004, by USAID administrator Andrew Natsios. You'll recall the USAID brochure on the subject (see this post for details) quoted British PM Blair claiming that 400,000 bodies had been discovered in mass graves in Iraq. We now know that was "untrue," and the actual number is only 5,000. In any case, here's what Natsios had to say:

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Thank you very much. Today I'd like to talk about an issue the Iraqi people are only beginning to come to terms with, and that is the atrocities committed under the -- under Saddam's murderous tyranny and the terrible evidence of those crimes now revealed in the mass graves that we are discovering across the country.

I'd also like to discuss some of the progress Iraqis are making on their own and with U.S. assistance. Across Iraq, more than 270 mass graves have been reported. About 50 of them have been confirmed as they begin to yield their tragic secrets -- the bones tell us a story of horror and shame; arms of people were bound together; skulls pierced from behind; hundreds of bodies have been discovered in long trenches.

Leaders of the new Iraq and the international community have now joined together to begin the long and painful process of accounting for the dead. In order for all Iraqis to move into their new democratic future, there must be an accurate accounting of these past atrocities. How many died in these mass murders? Some say 300,000, some say 400,000. There are estimates of upwards of a million. We are helping the Iraqis as they begin the terrible task of counting.

And then this bit of an unnamed "Senior Administration Official" speaking on background (i.e., anonymously and without accountability) and briefing the press on a meeting between Blair and Bush back in November of last year:

Q: Tony Blair today mentioned that 400,000 bodies have been exhumed from Iraq. Can you confirm that number and give us an idea of how many graves?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I've heard numbers ranging from 300,000 to as high as 500,000 sort of expected mass graves. They're still unearthing mass graves and they're still doing certifications of, to be graphic about it, how many bodies there actually are there, given deteriorated state of remains and so forth. And so we've seen numbers that are in the hundreds of thousands. It's certainly absolutely at least 300,000 or more; it could be as high as -- I've heard numbers as high as 500,000. But this is a science, as well, which is going and actually exhuming and actually counting, and so they're still in that process.

So there's an answer to a direct question. But watch as this same unnamed official then comes right back around and then throws up these hundreds of thousands of bodies they say they've exhumed as a deflection from criticism and a defense of administration policy. The question is asked of those that might protest this president and his war:

Q: One of your colleagues said earlier that the President was aware of protests along his travels the last couple of days, he saw them, he heard them. You've been with him a lot. What was his response when he crossed paths with those people?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: His response has been that people really do have a right to protest and that's part of what makes democracies so vibrant. He also encounters an awful lot of people who wave American flags and who acknowledge the friendship between the United States and Great Britain, just like we have around the world. Not everybody is protesting. As that Guardian poll showed, the British people know that the United States is a force for good, and an awful lot of Britains are very happy to have the President here to submit that.

We've had to do some difficult things, and everybody knows that, and not everybody has agreed with them. But the great thing about democracies is that people can go into the streets and they can protest.

Q: So in his private moments when you've been with him, when he's seen these people, he said to you the same thing?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely. And he says probably with more vigor, "I'm really glad that people in Baghdad and Kabul can do the same thing." And that's the only thing that I think everybody would like people to recognize, which is that it's one thing to protest, nobody likes war; but as the President said, sometimes -- yesterday in his speech -- sometimes evil men have to be, or dangerous men have to be stopped, violent men have to be stopped by violent means. And sometimes the stopping of violent men by violent means leads to the liberation of people. And that's what's happened in Iraq.

And it's fine to protest, but it would be awfully good to remember that 300,000 or 400,000 mass graves, it would be awfully good to remember that when you're protesting, a whole lot of people whose tongues used to be cut out for speaking against the regime, whose children were thrown into prisons, who were thrown into mass graves, who were gassed by this regime no longer have to fear that. And that's worth celebrating, not protesting.

A blatant case of why these numbers had been puffed up and bandied about in the first place: as a defense against criticism. How could anyone with a heart, after all, disagree with a war to avenge the deaths of "hundreds of thousands of men and women and children clutching their little toys, as a result of this person's brutality?" A sucker-punch to be brandished against naysayers, now revealed, as most everything else associated with this war and its planners, as yet another lie.

So again, when will we see some brave soul (Helen Thomas?) in the White House Press Corps ask the question of why we've been fed these astronomical numbers when they are, in fact, not true. Come on y'all.

[UPDATE] There's more right here.

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