Trying to Tally the Human Toll in Iraq
A total of 2,667 civilians were killed in Baghdad in September, about 400 more than in the previous month, Iraq's Health Ministry reported last week. Bad as that is, the number that really grabbed attention was much worse. A U.S.-Iraqi epidemiological team estimated a nationwide "excess" death toll of 655,000 Iraqis-civilians and combatants-since the 2003 U.S. invasion, according to a report in the British medical journal the Lancet. Could that number, more than 10 times the highest estimate of civilian casualties cited by U.S. and Iraqi officials, really be right? Said President Bush: "I don't consider it a credible report."
The peer-reviewed study, led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is based on information (including death certificates, in most cases) from a sample of 1,849 households in 16 of Iraq's 18 provinces and extrapolated for the nation-a practice used in other areas hit by wars or epidemics. Some researchers said the small sample size and sample locations could have distorted the outcome. The study had a range of deaths from 426,000 to 793,000, with a 95 percent statistical confidence level.
The study estimated some 600,000 of the "excess" deaths-which means those above a calculated pre-invasion mortality baseline-were a direct result of violence, mostly gunfire, and most involved young men. Interestingly, the study found only a small increase in nonviolent mortality due to factors such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Even at the low end of the range, the figures are shocking, if true. U.S. officials have offered past estimates of civilian casualties ranging from 30,000 to 50,000. "I do know that a lot of innocent people have died, and that troubles me and it grieves me," Bush said last week, disputing the report. "And I applaud the Iraqis for their courage in the face of violence."
More Flak Flying Over Gitmo
Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett released Britain's annual human-rights report with a rare slap at Washington, calling the detention without trial of terrorist suspects at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, "unacceptable in terms of human rights" and "ineffective in terms of counterterrorism." She added: "It is widely argued now that the existence of the camp is as much a radicalizing and discrediting influence as it is a safeguard for security." On the same day, 16 detainees from Afghanistan (and one from Iran), released after up to four years in Gitmo, arrived in Kabul, where an Afghan official told a press conference that "most" of them had been falsely accused because of personal dispute or for payment.
Where Poverty Trumps the Law
India extended its weak laws against child labor to prohibit children under 14 from such jobs as household servants and restaurant workers. Children were already banned from working in factories, mines, and other hazardous jobs, though critics say the government does a poor job of enforcing those rules. The reality is that millions of young children in India earn vital income for their impoverished families by working jobs such as carpet weaving, dishwashing, and selling food. The need to earn money keeps many from attending school, and they frequently suffer abuse from their employers. Child domestic workers, often young girls, are "nearly invisible and especially vulnerable," says a report by Human Rights Watch.