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Alice in Wonderland – ZNet and the art of numbers

Gabriele Zamparini | 21.08.2007 21:26 | Analysis | Iraq | Terror War | World

“Can you do Addition?” the White Queen asked. “What's one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one?”
“I don't know,” said Alice. “I lost count.” [Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, Chapter IX, Queen Alice]

PART ONE – ZNet and Iraq Body Count

ZNet’s co-founder and co-editor Michael Albert chose to reply to my last piece [ ] privately and kept defending that article and ZNet’s editorial choice to not correct what he calls a “minor error”. In his emails, Albert gives preposterous arguments to sidetrack this debate completely off the rails. While I’m glad Albert at least and at last decided to voice his point of view, I would have preferred he had done so publicly, for this is not a “ridiculous Iraq Body Count bickering”, as Albert’s close friend Brian Dominick wrote me long time ago while he was trying to help IBC’s hectic efforts to discredit the Lancet’s and the few people who were trying to highlight this perverse propaganda mechanism that corporate media and IBC have been generating.

I will keep this debate public, for the main point is fighting against lies and propaganda and helping to create and support that awareness through which only we can hope to build a different, better world. When I write public I mean… on my own blog and a few other websites that still dare to defy that strange version of “solidarity” known in the real world as omerta.

Disgracefully most of the so-called alternative media seem still to obey to that perverted idea of “solidarity”, claiming to prefer to point its own lenses toward the “enemy” and the “real issues”. As a result too often the alternative media echo the mainstream media circus when it offers that grisly show of castrated lions roaring from behind bars of their own self-censorship.

On December 2005, replying to a question in Philadelphia, US President George W. Bush said:

“How many Iraqi citizens have died in this war? I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis. We've lost about 2,140 of our own troops in Iraq.”

It was December 2005. One year earlier the first Lancet’s had been published and immediately buried together with its findings, those 100,000 Iraqi killed in the first year and half alone of the US-led war of aggression, the supreme international crime for which the major Nazi war criminals were hanged in Nuremberg.

Iraq Body Count (from where those “30,000, more or less” came from) got then the official blessing of the man responsible for that carnage and the definitive endorsement of the state-corporate media worldwide.

While IBC and its many friends were busy with press releases, media interviews, articles, e-mails, etc. etc. etc. to discredit the Lancet’s and those few voices asking uncomfortable questions, most of the so-called “anti-war movement”, starting with United for Peace and Justice, “the largest coalition of peace and justice organizations in the U.S.”, kept using the amateurish organisation IBC’s figures and ignoring, misrepresenting and downplaying the findings of the only scientific study conducted by the world leaders in the field of epidemiology and published as peer-reviewed scientific papers in the world's leading medical journal. [For some more details read here]

When in October 2006 the Lancet published the second study conducted by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, IBC increased its efforts to discredit it.

At this point, Brian Dominick - one of the main members of Michael Albert’s ZNet’s family - who had been very busy in sending emails to help IBC’s plan to silence those few voices that dared to ask uncomfortable questions or, in Dominick’s vocabulary, a “ridiculous Iraq Body Count bickering”, went public on Media Lens message board in support of Iraq Body Count and its new efforts to discredit the Lancet’s and those few voices.

One million Iraqi deaths later, why can’t Michael Albert and the other ZNet’s editors even make a normal correction on such a grave matter? How can Albert call it a “minor error”? Why are there so few people complaining and voicing outrage?

I guess that solidarity and compassion toward the Iraqi people together with respect for the truth and for our readers should come before any other kind of consideration. What if ZNet had published an article with a grave error concerning the reputation of Noam Chomsky (for example a misquotation or a fact invented or misrepresented)? Would have ZNet waited five days and many people’s emails before correcting that error? Would have ZNet considered the will of the author before correcting that error? Would have Michael Albert called it a “minor error”? I don’t think so.

Of course it’s not the same.

The IBC’s figures - downplaying the carnage in such a shameful way - have tragic consequences for millions. But those millions can’t protest with ZNet.

In a world where sanity had prevailed, this “incident” would have never raised as a problem. Mistakes happen and they should get corrected, especially when they mean the death and the sufferance of so many human beings. Errare humanum est, perseverare autem diabolicum, dear Michael.

Since the total lack of IBC’s scientific credibility and IBC’s frenetic activism in discrediting the Lancet’s, why does ZNet keep considering IBC, its figures and the whole operation a credible humanitarian project?

I would have hoped that ZNet had been in the front line to fight against this propaganda that makes the carnage in Iraq not only possible but inevitable. I wonder if those one million lives had been Americans (civilians or soldiers), maybe ZNet’s sensitivity would have been different? Surely ZNet’s politics would have been different.

PART TWO – ZNet and Sectarian Propaganda

On 24 January 2007 ZNet published an original article by Munir Chalabi, Political Observations on Sectarianism in Iraq.

On 30 January 2007 I questioned that ZNet-Chalabi’s article in my Dissent this! - Part 1: ZNet between numbers and parallels

In that piece, I wrote:

Chalabi’s article is an interesting interpretation of Iraq’s history. The author writes:

“The sectarian massacres of over 300,000 Shiites and 200,000 Kurdish civilians, whose bodies were dumped in hundreds of mass graves, took place during the 1980s/1990s by the Baathist sectarian state (and not by the Sunni community in Iraq), well before the occupation. What the US/UK occupying forces have in fact done from day one was to deepen the divisions created by the Baathist state between the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds as part of their policy of ‘Divide and Rule’”.

The author doesn’t provide any source to justify these numbers. In another passage of the same article he writes:

“Between 1980 and 1985 the Baathist state forcibly removed from their communities over 350,000 Shiite civilians, the majority of whom were Arabs but some were Shiite Kurds (Fwellia), after confiscating all their businesses, property, money and even their Iraqi identity cards and passports. They forced them to walk through mine fields to the Iranian border where thousands of them lost their lives before the remaining survivors reached refugee camps in Iran. All of these civilians were Iraqi women, children and old men. All the young men (over 70,000 and some estimates put them at over 100,000) were arrested and then massacred and secretly dumped in the first of the hundreds of Shiite mass graves.”

This time Chalabi does provide a source for these other numbers. In Note 1, he writes:

“These figures were stated on several Iraqi TV stations -- Al-Diar, Al-Masar and Al-Salam -- dealing with ‘Saddam's mass graves.'"

I would have hoped to learn more from this interesting article and to find more serious sources than “several Iraqi TV stations” so I asked to an Iraqi friend who replied: “True, the Baath party was no ‘enfant de coeur’. Many were executed but I have serious doubts about the numbers put forward. (…) The figures (…) are still to be proven - Not one report I have read so far, gives proof of any of the above allegations. I did not say it did not happen. But I am questioning the extent of it.”

US historian William Blum wrote on November 10, 2005:

“The Bush administration never tires of repeating that line to us. As recently as October 21, Karen Hughes, White House envoy for public diplomacy, told an audience in Indonesia that Saddam had ‘used weapons of mass destruction against his own people. He had murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people using poison gas.’ When challenged about the number, Hughes replied: ‘It's something that our U.S. government has said a number of times in the past. It's information that was used very widely after his attack on the Kurds. I believe it was close to 300,000. That's something I said every day in the course of the campaign. That's information that we talked about a great deal in America.’ The State Department later corrected Hughes, saying the number of victims in Halabja was about 5,000. (This figure, too, may well have been inflated for political reasons; for at least the next six months following the Halabja attack one could find the casualty count being reported in major media as ‘hundreds’, even by Iraq's Iranian foes; then, somehow, it ballooned to ‘5,000’).

Just a few weeks ago, Robert Dreyfuss wrote:

“Convicted of war crimes by a puppet Iraqi regime that dispensed with niceties such as evidence and rebuttal, Saddam Hussein was blamed by his fiercest critics--such as Kanan Makiya, author of Republic of Fear, and others with strong motive to inflate the scale of Saddam's crimes--of killing 300,000 Iraqis during his thirty-five-year rule (1968-2003).”

Dreyfuss continues:

“In less than four years, George W. Bush has more than doubled that, with no end in sight. As war criminals go, Bush wins hands down. The 655,000 US victims in Iraq do not include the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, mostly children, who died during a twelve-year era of US-imposed sanctions on Iraq from 1991 to 2003, but those deaths, at least, were obscured by a fig leaf of legality, since the sanctions had been approved by the UN Security Council. Bush's Iraq War had no such cover: It was deemed "illegal" by Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general.”

In that article, I questioned both ZNet and Chalabi, “it would be really interesting if both Chalabi and ZNet decided to give some reliable sources of those numbers; as always one is entitled to opinions but not to facts”.

On 17 July 2007, in Once upon a time in Iraq… A Nobel Peace Prize for the Anglo-American Peacekeepers? I asked again ZNet and Chalabi:

In my January 30 piece I wrote: “by the way, it would be really interesting if both Chalabi and ZNet decided to give some reliable sources of those numbers; as always one is entitled to opinions but not to facts”. As of July 17, 2007 I haven’t got any reply.

That reply has yet to come.


It seems that ZNet is playing with numbers to better spin its own politics.

The megaphone for the post-modern anti-war movement, the mamma-mia anti-war movement , the quisling anti-war movement, the sectarian anti-war movement, and for all those "Americans who, terminally naive, still believe the Democratic Party is theirs", even ZNet should be entitled to its own opinion but not its own facts.

Gabriele Zamparini
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  1. Dead right — Danny