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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Why Not Call the North Carolina Assault Terrorism? Excessive Religious Sensitivity?

Chances are most of you haven't heard about the terrorist assault at the University of North Carolina, where a Muslim graduate, Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, injured nine people as he deliberately drove a jeep into a popular part of campus called The Pit. He claimed he did this to punish the US and to avenge Muslims. In his initial court appearance Monday, he said he was "thankful for the opportunity to spread the will of Allah."

This was a deliberate act to hurt or even kill multiple people for political reasons. Sounds like an act of terrorism to me, but university officials, Federal officials, and the media refuse to call it terrorism. Some groups are playing the "racist" card to criticize some of those who are denouncing this act crime.

Look, I respect the Muslim faith, and know that many good Muslim people reject violence and are disgusted with those who abuse their religion to express hate or obtain raw power. But the refusal to recognize this crime as a terroristic act or at least as a hate crime due to politically correct sensitivity is irresponsible. We do have people in this nation who hate Americans, and we need to face that. We can respect Muslims while also recognizing that there is a risk among a small minority of them, just as we can face the fact that there are some crazy alleged Mormons who defy their faith and the law by having multiple wives and sometimes engaging in dangerous fights among themselves. Let's deal with the real problems without insulting or punishing an entire faith. Let's take off the PC blinders when it comes to terrorism and crime of any kind. (Of course, Mormonism has never been a recipient of much PC sensitivity.)

29 comments:

Curtis said...

Your point is well taken, however, in the USA, we have little moral authority to be calling people terrorists. At the same time Bush was saying that anyone who harbors the terrorists are the same as the terrorists, our government was in the act of harboring their own terrorist, Jose Posada Carriles, a man guilty of many acts of terrorism as well as bombing a Cuban passenger plane and killing 72 people in the 1970's. He was trained by the CIA, a homegrown terrorist so I guess that makes it different somehow in the eyes of the government. His partner, Orlando Bosch was his name I believe, is also running free in Miami, having been pardoned by Bush I many years ago. So, I guess we are the same as the terrorists by Bush's own definition, therefore, we have no moral authority to be calling other people terrorists.

Gnuosphere said...

Mormanity says:

"Look, I respect the Muslim faith, and know that many good Muslim people reject violence"

Surely they don't reject violence. They identify with a religious movement invented by thought which fears. That cuts them off from the whole of humanity. Just as mormonism or buddhism or atheism does. The actual identification enables extreme violence to take place. We identify with religion because we don't understand ourselves. We are afraid and in order to escape from fear we join some religious movement. Just because one didn't fly a plane into a tower or directly participate in the invasion of Iraq doesn't mean that one is not contributing to violence. You are the world. Calling oneself a mormon or communist or muslim or hindu denies the simple fact that you are the world. And the denial of facts is confusion which breeds violence. I am the violence, I am not separate from it.

When you say they (or you) reject violence yet call yourself a mormon or hindu or jainist or whatever - you are rejecting violence only through the idea of "non-violence". If I really rejected violence I would reject the actual cause of it - ME and my petty religious beliefs that I use to cover up my fear - not take on some abstract belief/idea that "we should all get along." You are the world and the world is you.

ltbugaf said...

Jeff, I agree with your post, except that I wonder whether we should classify anything as a "hate crime." I think we should prosecute crimes as crimes and limit our mind-reading as much as possible. I'm not sure that deliberately killing or injuring a large number of people is somehow worse because it's motivated by religious, racial, or other hatred. It's just as evil irrespective of the motives, and ought to be punished the same.

Mormanity said...

Yes, I agree that the use of "hate crime" as a special category is wrong. It opens up the door for punishing people based on their thoughts rather than actions.

And to gnuosphere, I think you're way off in left field to blame such violence on religion per se. Agitators seeking power corrupt religion to generate violence - the Crusades are a great example - but it was not the pure religion of Christ that motivated the slaughter of the Crusades, but the evil of vile men seeking power who used religion as a tool. Atheism (e.g., in Nazi and Communist nations, for example) has done far more evil in terms of slaughtering millions that any corruption of religion ever did. Nations and politicians that believe in God are much less likely to slaughter millions.

Gnuosphere said...

Mormanity says:

"to gnuosphere, I think you're way off in left field to blame such violence on religion"

I did not. That's like blaming the gun when I shoot you. If I am an alcoholic do I blame alcohol? Obviously not.

To identify with religion or nation (inwardly - I don't suggest torching your passport documents) supports the so-called "evil" one perceives as separate from oneself. To say "I am christian" or "I am atheist" or "I am Muslim" or "I am Mormon" is a seed of violence. I may not actually fly the plane into the tower or invade the "other" country - I may even speak out against the violence. But as long as I am identifying with nation or religion I am contributing to the extremism. I am enabling it. Perhaps I'm not selling the extremists arms, but I am helping provide a psychological basis upon which they stand. It would be absurd to deny this. The violence that erupts around the world in the name of god and religion is simply a projection of my petty self-enclosing religious and national beliefs. I am the world. As long as I continue to identify in order to escape my fear of insecurity I will aid the destruction of this planet and its inhabitants. And of course, I will pronounce my beliefs to be true and my nation to be right - continually pulling the wool over my eyes because I'm afraid of life itself. I am the disorder. I must face life itself if I wish to bring order to this world. Not run to some guru, book, saint or savior.

Mormanity also says:

"Nations and politicians that believe in God are much less likely to slaughter millions."

?!

Gnuosphere said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mormanity said...

Look at the Democide Website to better understand who is doing all the mass killing.

Curtis said...

Who is doing all the mass killing now though? We have Darfur and other conflicts around the world, but what about the USA itself? The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health study had US forces killing 100,000 people in Iraq as of Sept. 2004. Who knows how many have died in Afganistan of hunger after we caused a massive refugee situation where all food imports into the country were stopped during the war. We killed in Yugoslavia something like 15,000 people. Indirectly though, we have killed many more through our economic policy and support of brutal governments such as Saddam's when he was at his worst. I Guess mormanity's premise that nations and politicians that believe in God are less likely to slaughter millions.

Walker said...

Curtis:

So let's just give up the war on terrorism. Die and let die. Let U.S. citizens of the world fend for themselves. After all, if we have no "moral authority" to call people terrorists, we shouldn't be hunting them down. Let the terrorists attack--we deserve it.

Just remember--the 3,000 people in the WTC probably weren't too concerned about Jose Carriles were two planes were flying at their faces.

Anonymous said...

Bull.

http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/meast/10/29/iraq.deaths/

"In a survey published on the Web site of the Lancet medical journal on Friday, experts from the United States and Iraq also said the risk of death for Iraqi civilians was 2.5 times greater after the invasion.

There has been no official figure for the number of Iraqis killed since the conflict began 18 months ago, but some non-government estimates have ranged from 10,000 to 30,000.

The researchers surveyed nearly 1000 Iraqi households in September, asking how many people lived in the home and how many births and deaths there had been since January 2002."

The range is crazy, the margin of error is insane, the research method is faulty , and the data extrapolation includes hot seats such as Falluja, and they included deaths from normal means as part of the data!

This is one of the worst cases of research done that I've seen.

And Falluja is no longer a hot seat, the war is going very badly for the terrorists in Iraq, not that most Americans would know from the MSM reports, and these causalities aren't due to a targeted attack against citizens. Unlike, say, Saddam. He killed anywhere from 600,000 to 800,000 of his own people during his reign. Not to mention his death camps, his rape camps, his sons' violent and sadistic nature, the beatings of the soccer team comes to mind.

If Saddam really was a monster of our creation, then we had the moral obligation to do something about it. We supported him during the era of the Cold War as an 'enemy of my enemy' tactic. Kissinger's policy of "he's a b*st*rd, but he's our b*st*rd" was very much in effect at the time, as well.

It was a gamble, a hot point conflict that we were hoping would stay localized and not erupt into a US vs Soviet Union war, just as the USSR was doing the same thing with their proxies.

America has moral weight, not because we are sinless and error-free, but because we are willing to risk the blood of our best and brightest bringing democracy to a benighted part of the world. We are seeking to change the political landscape of the Middle East, cut off support of the radical Islamic terrorist, and make the world safer for all.

We have moral weight, not because God said so, but because we fight for the ideals as stated in our founding documents "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." We believe this extends to all men, to all countries on the face of the Earth.

If you still want to paint the US as the bad guy, go right ahead. But tell me, please, which county in the past 200 years or so has done more to spread freedom across the globe?

Walker said...

just fyi

i hope everyone caught the sarcastic tone in my last comment. The "no moral authority" position simply won't fly given our willingness and ability to protect those who can't protect themselves (a touch idealistic, I know, but it's an ideal we should at least pretend we believe)

John said...

Am I the only one here that has absolutely no idea what gnuosphere is talking about half the time? He reminds me of the Sphinx from the movie Mystery Men.

Gnuosphere,

Wouldn't calling us "human" or "the world" cut us all off from aliens and make it so we have horrible wars with them? We are the universe, man. Expand your mind.

Walker said...

The reason we don't understand Gnuosphere is because our minds are too feeble to comprehend such depth, such breadth. While we putter around with such banalities as service and the acquistion of knowledge, he's pondering the the mysteries of the kingdom (which kingdom, as he sees it, is simply the kingdom of his own mind.

Eugene Genovese: "As an athiest, I like this God. It is good to see him every morning while I am shaving."

Curtis said...

Walker,
The official body count used by the Bush administration is the number quoted by Iraq Body Count and lands around 30,000. There are 7 or 8 studies out there estimating the carnage in Iraq and the Johns Hopkins study actually falls about in the middle with their 98,000 number (as of Sept. 2004 that is).
Your criticism of the paper is not very intelligable. You say the Fallujah data was included, but this is untrue. The authors come right out and say they left out the Fallujah data since it would have skewed the results upwards another 50,000 deaths or so. They were extremely conservative and probably could have come up with a number well above what they came up with. They left out many violent cities of the time since all clusters were chosen randomly. The "margin of error" is actually a confidence interval bell curve where there is a very small chance that the true number of dead is at either extreme of the curve (8,000 or 194,000) and the most likely number of dead lies at 98,000. This type of study is used in these sorts of situations all the time and with similar confidence intervals.
In 2000 an epidemiological team led by Les Roberts (the same guy who did the Iraq study) of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health used random sampling to calculate the death toll from combat and consequent disease and starvation in the ongoing Congolese civil war at 1.7 million. This figure prompted shocked headlines and immediate action by the UN Security Council. No one questioned the methodology.

The fact that non-violent deaths were included in the data is a good thing since war increases all forms of death and to get a true understanding of how our cutting of water supplies to Fallujah for example, or our bombing of water sanitization facilities spread disease and death over and above that which was there before the war, is a good measure of the true carnage of war. That being said, most of the deaths were due to violent deaths attributed to coalition aerial bombing.

This study was rigorously peer reviewed at the Lancet and is a very good study. If you think this is the worst research you've seen then I'm afraid you don't know much about research design. If you like to paint the USA as the good guys that's your perogative. I think what we've done over their is unconscionable.

Curtis said...

Walker,
The official body count used by the Bush administration is the number quoted by Iraq Body Count and lands around 30,000. There are 7 or 8 studies out there estimating the carnage in Iraq and the Johns Hopkins study actually falls about in the middle with their 98,000 number (as of Sept. 2004 that is).
Your criticism of the paper is not very intelligable. You say the Fallujah data was included, but this is untrue. The authors come right out and say they left out the Fallujah data since it would have skewed the results upwards another 50,000 deaths or so. They were extremely conservative and probably could have come up with a number well above what they came up with. They left out many violent cities of the time since all clusters were chosen randomly. The "margin of error" is actually a confidence interval bell curve where there is a very small chance that the true number of dead is at either extreme of the curve (8,000 or 194,000) and the most likely number of dead lies at 98,000. This type of study is used in these sorts of situations all the time and with similar confidence intervals.
In 2000 an epidemiological team led by Les Roberts (the same guy who did the Iraq study) of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health used random sampling to calculate the death toll from combat and consequent disease and starvation in the ongoing Congolese civil war at 1.7 million. This figure prompted shocked headlines and immediate action by the UN Security Council. No one questioned the methodology.

The fact that non-violent deaths were included in the data is a good thing since war increases all forms of death and to get a true understanding of how our cutting of water supplies to Fallujah for example, or our bombing of water sanitization facilities spread disease and death over and above that which was there before the war, is a good measure of the true carnage of war. That being said, most of the deaths were due to violent deaths attributed to coalition aerial bombing.

This study was rigorously peer reviewed at the Lancet and is a very good study. If you think this is the worst research you've seen then I'm afraid you don't know much about research design. If you like to paint the USA as the good guys that's your perogative. I think what we've done over their is unconscionable.

Curtis said...

Walker,
The official body count used by the Bush administration is the number quoted by Iraq Body Count and lands around 30,000. There are 7 or 8 studies out there estimating the carnage in Iraq and the Johns Hopkins study actually falls about in the middle with their 98,000 number (as of Sept. 2004 that is).
Your criticism of the paper is not very intelligable. You say the Fallujah data was included, but this is untrue. The authors come right out and say they left out the Fallujah data since it would have skewed the results upwards another 50,000 deaths or so. They were extremely conservative and probably could have come up with a number well above what they came up with. They left out many violent cities of the time since all clusters were chosen randomly. The "margin of error" is actually a confidence interval bell curve where there is a very small chance that the true number of dead is at either extreme of the curve (8,000 or 194,000) and the most likely number of dead lies at 98,000. This type of study is used in these sorts of situations all the time and with similar confidence intervals.
In 2000 an epidemiological team led by Les Roberts (the same guy who did the Iraq study) of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health used random sampling to calculate the death toll from combat and consequent disease and starvation in the ongoing Congolese civil war at 1.7 million. This figure prompted shocked headlines and immediate action by the UN Security Council. No one questioned the methodology.

The fact that non-violent deaths were included in the data is a good thing since war increases all forms of death and to get a true understanding of how our cutting of water supplies to Fallujah for example, or our bombing of water sanitization facilities spread disease and death over and above that which was there before the war, is a good measure of the true carnage of war. That being said, most of the deaths were due to violent deaths attributed to coalition aerial bombing.

This study was rigorously peer reviewed at the Lancet and is a very good study. If you think this is the worst research you've seen then I'm afraid you don't know much about research design. If you like to paint the USA as the good guys that's your perogative. I think what we've done over their is unconscionable.

Anonymous said...

This is Curtis writing:

Walker,
The official body count used by the Bush administration is the number quoted by Iraq Body Count and lands around 30,000. There are 7 or 8 studies out there estimating the carnage in Iraq and the Johns Hopkins study actually falls about in the middle with their 98,000 number (as of Sept. 2004 that is).
Your criticism of the paper is not very intelligable. You say the Fallujah data was included, but this is untrue. The authors come right out and say they left out the Fallujah data since it would have skewed the results upwards another 50,000 deaths or so. They were extremely conservative and probably could have come up with a number well above what they came up with. They left out many violent cities of the time since all clusters were chosen randomly. The "margin of error" is actually a confidence interval bell curve where there is a very small chance that the true number of dead is at either extreme of the curve (8,000 or 194,000) and the most likely number of dead lies at 98,000. This type of study is used in these sorts of situations all the time and with similar confidence intervals.
In 2000 an epidemiological team led by Les Roberts (the same guy who did the Iraq study) of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health used random sampling to calculate the death toll from combat and consequent disease and starvation in the ongoing Congolese civil war at 1.7 million. This figure prompted shocked headlines and immediate action by the UN Security Council. No one questioned the methodology.

The fact that non-violent deaths were included in the data is a good thing since war increases all forms of death and to get a true understanding of how our cutting of water supplies to Fallujah for example, or our bombing of water sanitization facilities spread disease and death over and above that which was there before the war, is a good measure of the true carnage of war. That being said, most of the deaths were due to violent deaths attributed to coalition aerial bombing.

This study was rigorously peer reviewed at the Lancet and is a very good study. If you think this is the worst research you've seen then I'm afraid you don't know much about research design. If you like to paint the USA as the good guys that's your perogative. I think what we've done over their is unconscionable.

Curtis said...

Oops, sorry for posting so many times.

Walker said...

Curtis,

just so ya know, I wasn't the guy who cited the study. I only wrote the paragraph long critique before him. Easy enough mistake to make though.

I still think that previous mistakes/expediencies/practicalities does not remove our moral authority to carry out a mission of democracy today. "Unconsciousable" is an odd word to describe the Iraq situation. Whatever you think of our current military policy (a seeming diplomatic war of attrition--something I don't agree with), I can in very good conscious believe that removing Saddam was a fundamentally good thing (and let's not forget that Clinton launched air strikes on Saddam for something as relatively petty as an assasination attempt on Bush I).

Agree or disagree, let's not villainize--it's a sure sign of intellectual laziness and often the first side effect of war (except in this case, we are villainizing ourselves instead of the terrorists).

Curtis said...

Sorry Walker for the mistake on addressing you,
I used the term unconscionable (if I spelled it right) because we have punished the Iraqi people instead of Saddam (who, of course we supported thru all of his atrocities, even after the Gulf War I). I have mentioned the deaths caused since the war, but there is the sanctions deaths too where over a million people died as a direct result of the UN sanctions according to UNICEF (mostly kids). It is a good idea to get rid of Saddam I agree, but we should have helped the Shiites to do it in 1991 after the Gulf War. Instead, we hovered overhead in helicopters, watching and refusing requests to supply them with guns captured in the war. It is entirely arguable that if we hadn't weakened the people so with the sanctions, they would have risen up by themselves and taken care of Saddam. A few days ago an article came out in the NYTimes which said that Saddam was weak on defense against the US in part because he was concentrating his military strength on defending himself from inside threats.

Anonymous said...

You know, after re-reading my post, I agree, it was murky. My apologies.

There several places that have destroyed the Lancet data 6 ways from Sunday, and I'm kicking myself for not bookmarking them at the time.

Here's a few I was able to track down: http://www.slate.com/id/2108887/

http://www.seixon.com/blog/archives/2005/12/death_of_statis_1.html

If you truly believe that 'peer review' carries a lot of validity, I'm sorry. Peer review just means you got published. It has little to do with the validity of the research or data.

Grab any peer reviewed journal. If you don't find at least two or more articles that violate standard data gathering and reporting methods, I'll eat the journal. Some all too common mistakes : using unpublished data, using unpublished data from research done by the same group, failure to implement a double-blind study properly, plain ol' factual errors in the article, faulty premises, the list goes on.

The Lancet study is classic case of bad research dressed up in all the right ways.

For example, if we take a poll of Utah during the height of polygamy of how many married men are there, and then apply the results to the nation, or even just the Western US, the numbers are skewed. Removing or adding Provo to the count doesn't change the problem.

Same with war time random polling of Baghdad and other points, a war torn country has hot spots, these, naturally, skewer the data. Random polling as done by the Lancet study focused on the war areas, at very least it pegs the war hot spots as being dangerous.

Well, no duh. The part that many disagree with is applying this statistical analysis across the rest of the country, were war casualties are so low the become statistical anomalies.

Not everyone agrees the study, it hasn't be subjected to replication as defined here : http://gking.harvard.edu/replication.shtml
that I know of.

The Lancet study seems to be upheld by those that want to see the US as the bad guy, and debunked, doubted and discredited bu those that don't.

Draw your own conclusion.

I hope I've explained my position a bit better.

"If you like to paint the USA as the good guys that's your perogative."

Ah, but the Iraqis are painting us as the good guys, with purple fingers, and in large numbers.

Re: Sanctions. Bunk, again, http://www.slate.com/id/1008414/


"It is a good idea to get rid of Saddam I agree, but we should have helped the Shiites to do it in 1991 after the Gulf War. Instead, we hovered overhead in helicopters, watching and refusing requests to supply them with guns captured in the war. It is entirely arguable that if we hadn't weakened the people so with the sanctions, they would have risen up by themselves and taken care of Saddam."

Something we agree on!

Alas, Bush Sr. got weak in the knees and folded like a cheap card table.

Had he pushed on with the promises, Iraq would be a much different place. Who knows how many people would had lived instead of being ground up by Saddam's rule?

Walker said...

"whom we supported after Gulf War I"

Supported? You make it sound as though Washington were in cahoots with Hussein while at the same time launching air strikes. The thought is outrageous. If you mean that we sent humanitarian aid that was grafted by him for his personal benefit, then that is a very different from "supporting." We "supported" South Vietnam. We supported Iraq (and Iran) in the Iran-Iraq war of the early 80s.

I agree as to our failure on military strategy in Gulf WarI--though Bush I was just afraid of doing what Bush II is. Again, however, I just ask that we not simplify the picture by merely stating 'we supported' scumbag A or B. The truth is ALWAYS more complex than that.

Curtis said...

To whom it may concern,
(sorry, your name doesn't appear on my computer screen)
you said:
"For example, if we take a poll of Utah during the height of polygamy of how many married men are there, and then apply the results to the nation, or even just the Western US, the numbers are skewed. Removing or adding Provo to the count doesn't change the problem.

Same with war time random polling of Baghdad and other points, a war torn country has hot spots, these, naturally, skewer the data. Random polling as done by the Lancet study focused on the war areas, at very least it pegs the war hot spots as being dangerous."

I have read the links you posted and they may have some good points. However, the point you make above is not valid I think. They chose randomly and many of the most violent places were not polled due to chance. A few violent places were chosen such as Fallujah (the data from which was left out since it was an outlier and to the author's credit, they decided to leave out data that would have placed the mean at 268,000 rather than 98,000), but many non-violent places from the south of Iraq were also included in the data. The list of places polled was from the entire country as opposed to just the war affected places, so your Utah polygamy example doesn't work.

One of the links you provided mentions the Iraq Body Count as a more reliable source, but I think it is highly likely that the number lies much higher than what they report. Their number (around 30,000 currently) is taken from news reports in the western media, confirmed by 2 sources or more. This is fine, but the big problem is that the western media for the most part is not present on the ground in Iraq. I wouldn't think it too much of a stretch to say that a lot of people are being killed that we never hear of in our media. This is compounded by the fact that we are flying nearly 150 sorties/month now, each time dropping bombs who knows where. You can't go around dropping bombs without doing a lot of damage and that damage never gets reported in our press with uncommon exceptions. They also leave out Arab media sources.

You also said:
"Ah, but the Iraqis are painting us as the good guys, with purple fingers, and in large numbers."

The purple fingers don't mean much for our popularity if the people were voting for a government that would send the occupation forces home as is suggested by a poll recently by the British Ministry of Defense where the following results were obtained:

• Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;
• 82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops;
• less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;
• 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;
• 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;
• 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.

Curtis said...

By the way, when the study by the Johns Hopkins team was written, I took the liberty of writing Dr. Roberts with a few questions about the study. I was delighted to see that he replied to me. Here are a few of his comments:

"You are right. In most wars, surveillance data is weak (like Kosovo,
DRC, and East Timor where if I am not mistaken, official government #'s
never added up to 10% of violent deaths or 10% of excess deaths). In
Najaf some months ago, ~1/3rd of all the dead were buried straight away.
In an assessment done a year ago in Baghdad, ~2/3rds of all dead did not
go to the Hospital and just went straight to the morgues. Until last
month, the Government data was just from Hospitals and the Minister of
Health himself admitted on Aug. 17th that the official numbers were
gross underestimates."

"This is the way we know the crude mortality in several dozen of the most
dysfunctional countries. This is the way we have obtained death tolls
from those recent wars for which a death toll exists (Darfur, DRC,
Kosovo, Somalia, Afghanistan...)"

"Conflict of interest has a specific meaning, but we had no conflict no
matter how you define it. Some of us were in favor of the invasion, all
of us were in favor of the occupation succeeding. The timing was
unfortunate. I never thought that these results would change our
election. But, in Baghdad, a city where the chief of police does not
allow his name to be known and where both times I saw the newly trained
Iraqi security forces on patrol they had bandanas over their faces so
nobody could recognize them and kill their families, I was very worried
about my collaborators. If we finished a survey on September 20th
showing ~100,000 deaths and it did not come out until after the US
elections, my colleagues would have been seen as covering-up for the
Americans and their would be little chance that they would be alive
today. We submitted to the Lancet on the condition it be considered for
publication in October, they did the right thing, all ended well. It
would have served the Iraqi's better if it had come out 2 weeks earlier
so that the candidates would have had to address this issue. Oh well."

"The 100,000 number is using the 7.9/1000/year rate. This is excluding
the Falluja data and just using it to say, if it is not 100,000 deaths
the number is probably higher not lower. A 60% increase in mortality is
shocking! This is an extremely conservative thing to do. If we just
analyzed the data without setting aside the Falluja cluster as many
thought we should do, we would be saying that we are 97.5% sure that the
true number of deaths is above 140,000."

"We confirmed 63 (about 25%) of all deaths....the first adult deaths
encountered in a cluster. This is a sample. There is almost no chance
that a significant portion of these deaths were made up. Indeed, deaths
probably were hidden as we discuss, indicating our estimate of deaths
may be low. We admit that many deaths may have been combatants. But,
a) they are deaths resulting from either the invasion or the botched
occupation thus they are tragic as well, and b) most people killed by US
bombs were women and children."

Curtis said...

In case you're interested, I've written the study author about the prewar mortality rate criticism Slate makes. If he answers me I'll post it here.

Here are a few others of the authors comments:

"Can one estimate national figures on the basis of a sample?

"The answer is certainly yes (the basis of all census methods), provided that
the sample is national, households are randomly selected, and great precautions
are taken to eliminate biases. These are all what we did. Now the precision of
the results is mostly dependent on sample size. The bigger the sample, the more
precise the result. We calculated this carefully, and we had the statistical
power to say what we did." (Dr. Gilbert Burnham, email to David Edwards, October
30, 2004)

Anonymous said...

"Iraq has 18 governates, and Les Roberts' Johns Hopkins University team were to distribute 33 clusters consisting of 30 people each across these. For this they used a process known as Systematic Equal Step Sampling, which you can read about here at CDC's website. After conducting this process, 17 of the governates received clusters. You can see the results of this in the table on the right. Now, had the JHU team proceeded from here to sampling for households to interview, you would not be reading this. Unfortunately they sought to make their sample less representative on purpose. They were concerned about traveling around to 17 governates in Iraq, they summarized in their report:

During September, 2004, many roads were not under the control of the Government of Iraq or coalition forces. Local police checkpoints were perceived by team members as target identification screens for rebel groups. To lessen risks to investigators, we sought to minimise travel distances and the number of Governorates to visit, while still sampling from all regions of the country.
The first thing to go when you start tampering with your sample out of convenience is the precision, how representative it is, and how random it is. The UNDP managed to interview over 20,000 households in Iraq for their Iraq Living Conditions Survey, in every governate. One might ask why the JHU team were not able to do the same thing. Was Iraq less secure in September 2004 than it was in May 2004 when the UNDP carried out most of their survey? Hardly. The UNDP understandably had more resources than the JHU team, but here's one reason their excuse for not traveling to other provinces falls flat: they purposely made sure that Fallujah would be interviewed, the most dangerous city in all of Iraq at the time.

They sought to eliminate 6 governates from the 17 that had received clusters to "lessen the risk" to their team. They decided to pair up 12 of the governates and then eliminate half of them. What about the remaining 5? They were spared from the possibility of being eliminated. The JHU team doesn't explain in the study why these governates were not paired up, but from looking at a map, it becomes quite obvious: convenience. The map on the right demonstrates the selections done by the JHU team, the dark green represent the ones that they spared from elimination, the light green are the ones that were eventually left after elimination, and the red are the governates that were never sampled.

In other words, central Iraq was ensured to be sampled in their survey, while the rest of Iraq was put on the chopping block. Was this done because central Iraq is easily the most violent, or because central Iraq was closest to the airport and the Green Zone? More importantly, Anbar province, the site of Fallujah, was ensured a slot while other larger governates were put through the elimination process.

This selection process biased the resulting sample towards central Iraq by treating these five governates unequally from all the rest.
"

"The Lancet methodology is constructed around the assumption that the paired governates have similar violence levels. The only way their methodology is valid is if this is true. The IBC data shows that it isn't true, as I have been saying for quite some time now, using Coalition death data as an indicator. The IBC data is a direct indicator which is compelling evidence that most of the pairs they had were in fact not similar, and thus their methodology, in assuming such similarity, produces wrong results.
"



Curtis: "The list of places polled was from the entire country as opposed to just the war affected places, so your Utah polygamy example doesn't work.
"

But it wasn't, that's one of the biggest complaints a number of critics have about this. It was done in selected areas, and then those areas were polled.

My analogy holds because it is the same basic methodology the Lancet study used. I selected Utah and randomly polled. Heck, I could select several counties in Utah based on population as my criteria and randomly poll. The methodology is basically the same. The results are skewed, no matter how many smart people want to defend it.

But I appreciate your spirited defense of the Lancet report, and your willingness to track down Dr. Roberts and ask him questions. I'm glad he responded to you, since he's been evasive with a number of other bloggers.

I have a hard time believing any poll results, having worked with them in college in the media department, and with them as in my professional field (which isn't stats, just happened to be a project I worked on), numbers can be made to sing and dance and do slight of hand like nothing else.

Hard data, which is in sort supply, would help clear this up, and I can see why the Lancet report gets so much play, but I can't accept the methodology or the premises, so I can't accept the conclusion.

Thanks for the discussion, Curtis. I'm afraid we're both too entrenched on this issue to change each other's minds, so let's shake hands and agree to disagree on the results of this study.

You did say something that caught my eye: "The purple fingers don't mean much for our popularity if the people were voting for a government that would send the occupation forces home..."

A) Our popularity in polls doesn't matter. Really. What counts is how well the Iraqis are assisting us, and from all the news I get from the boys on the ground, it's been good for awhile now and it just keeps on getting better.

B) We should leave, for the most part, as soon as the Iraqis can handle the terrorist mess on their own. They are getting there quickly. I hope it ends up like Germany after WWII, we'll have bases there, but they are running under their own steam.

Again, I thank you Curtis for the discussion and wish you the best of luck.

Curtis said...

Dear all,
Dr. Roberts wrote me back with this information about his study, in answer to Slate.com's point on the prewar death rate:

Dear Mr Strong,



A great deal has been written about this already. But, in short:



The death rate in Jordan and Syria is 5 / 100 per year. By the MOH’s own numbers, the couple years after the oil for food program got going (2001,2002) were the lowest mortality years post ’91 war. The UNDP survey (Jon Pederson at FAFO in Norway) which knew it was not catching all deaths had a lower rate.



Slate chose to focus on 1/3 of the results. If you add that finding below with the fact that violence was up 58 fold and that the one cluster giving insight in to Anbar Province suggested more violent deaths there than in all the rest of Iraq, the conclusion reached in line one in the Interpretation summary of the Lancet article (attached)

Is the results that the peer review process agreed was the summary of our study.



I hope this helps.



Les

He also sent me this paper:

Counting the dead in Iraq

Nicolas J S Davies


Most Americans know that more than 2,000 of their troops have been killed in Iraq. Many of them know that the death toll recently surpassed 2,300. However, when it comes to the number of Iraqis who have died as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation, the picture is not so clear. Project Censored named the civilian death toll in Iraq the second most under-reported story of 2005. The consensus phrase that the media have adopted is that “tens of thousands” of Iraqis have been killed.

As we reach the three-year point in the war, it is worth taking a look at several efforts that have been made to estimate the number of Iraqis who have paid the ultimate price for its successes and failures. Six distinct groups have conducted and published surveys of civilian deaths in Iraq since the invasion. Each of these surveys was conducted at a different point in the conflict and with a different methodology, and it is important to understand exactly what each of them was attempting to count. Some were actual counts, while others used statistical methods. Some counted only civilians killed by actual acts of war and some counted all violent deaths, while the Lancet report estimated total excess deaths from all causes resulting from the war.


Iraqbodycount web site

When President Bush recently spoke of 30,000 civilians killed in Iraq, his press secretary said that he was citing “published reports”. Directly or indirectly, what he was probably citing was Iraqbodycount (www.iraqbodycount.org). But Iraqbodycount’s database is not intended as an estimate of total deaths. Its methodology is to record only war-related violent deaths that are reported by at least two approved international media sources. This generates a record of deaths that is indisputable by the media that published these reports in the first place. Its authors acknowledge that thousands of deaths go unreported in their database, especially in the resistance-held areas that are the targets of U.S. attacks, but they say they cannot prevent politicians and the media misrepresenting their figures as an actual estimate of deaths. Iraqbodycount’s minimum number now stands at about 29,000.


The People’s Kifah Survey

Six months after the invasion, an Iraqi group called the People’s Kifah mobilized hundreds of academics and volunteers who “spoke and coordinated with grave-diggers across Iraq, obtained information from hospitals and spoke to thousands of witnesses who saw incidents in which Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. fire”. Unfortunately they were forced to abandon the project when one of their researchers, Ramzi Musa Ahmad, was seized by Kurdish militiamen and never seen again. However, after only a month or two’s work, the People’s Kifah had already gathered details of more than 37,000 civilian deaths by October 2003.


The Iraq Living Conditions Survey

This survey was conducted by the Iraqi planning ministry under the Coalition Provisional Authority in April and May 2004 and was published in May 2005 by the U.N. Development Program. The “UNDP” imprimatur and the large sample size gave credence to its reassuringly low figure of about 24,000 “war deaths”. However, this figure was derived from a single question posed to families in the course of a 90-minute interview on living conditions conducted by officials of the occupation government, and the Norwegian designer of the survey has said that it underestimated the true number of deaths. More than half of the deaths counted were in the southern region of Iraq, suggesting a focus on the initial invasion rather than on the ongoing war that followed it. In any case, apart from the invasion itself, we can now look back on the period covered by this survey as the quietest period of the war.


The Lancet report

In September 2004, an international team of epidemiologists based at John Hopkins School of Public Health conducted a “cluster sample survey” of excess civilian deaths caused by the war in Iraq, comparing the pre-invasion and post-invasion periods. Their results were published in the British medical journal, the Lancet. They estimated that at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians had died in the previous eighteen months as a result of the invasion and occupation of their country. This included additional deaths from heart attacks, strokes, infectious diseases and car accidents as well as from violence. However, they found that “violence accounted for most of the excess deaths” and, controversially, “that air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most violent deaths.”

The authors of the Lancet report made the conservative decision to exclude the much higher death-rate they found in a cluster in Fallujah from their results, effectively leaving Anbar province out of the survey altogether. Including this data would have resulted in an estimate of 285,000 deaths. They therefore had a high degree of confidence in their conservative estimate of at least 100,000 total excess deaths from all causes, and in their statements attributing the majority of violent deaths to coalition air strikes. The Lancet report remains the most comprehensive study of mortality in post-invasion Iraq, but its authors’ calls for additional studies to clarify its findings and for a reduction in air strikes have been ignored.


Iraqi Health Ministry reports

When Tony Blair was asked about the Lancet report in December 2004, he responded that, “Figures from the Iraqi Ministry of Health, which are a survey from the hospitals there, are in our view the most accurate survey there is”. However the Iraqi Health Ministry reports whose accuracy he praised actually confirmed the Lancet report’s conclusion that aerial attacks by “coalition” forces were the leading cause of violent civilian deaths. Nancy Youssef covered one such report in the Miami Herald on September 25th 2004 under the headline “U.S. Attacks, Not Insurgents, Blamed for Most Iraqi Deaths”.

The Health Ministry had been reporting civilian casualty figures based on reports from hospitals, as Mr. Blair said, but it was not until June 2004 that it began to differentiate between casualties inflicted by “coalition” and resistance forces. In the three months from June 10th to September 10th it counted 1,295 civilians killed by U.S. forces and their allies and 516 killed in “terrorist” operations. Health Ministry officials told Ms. Youssef that the “statistics captured only part of the death toll”, and emphasized that aerial bombardment was largely responsible for the higher numbers of deaths caused by the “coalition”.

BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson reported on another Health Ministry report that covered the six months from July 1st 2004 to January 1st 2005. This report cited 2,041 civilians killed by U.S. and allied forces versus 1,233 by “insurgents”. Then something strange but sadly predictable happened. The Iraqi Health Minister’s office contacted the BBC and claimed that their figures had somehow been misrepresented; the BBC eventually issued a retraction; and details of deaths caused by “coalition” forces have been notably absent from subsequent Health Ministry reports.





Iraqiyun survey

Iraqiyun, an Iraqi humanitarian group headed by Dr. Hatim Al-Alwani, released its report on July 12th 2005, making it the most recent survey to date. It counted 128,000 violent deaths, of whom 55% were women and children below the age of twelve. The report specified that it included only confirmed deaths, omitting the large numbers of people who have simply disappeared without trace amid the violence and chaos.


Conclusion

Violence against civilians by Iraqi government and resistance forces appears to have increased since most of these surveys were conducted, and the U.S. air war also appears to have intensified, especially during assaults on Fallujah and other towns in Anbar and Salahuddin provinces, and again during the last few months of 2005. The U.S. Air Force acknowledged conducting about 270 air strikes in November and December, compared with 200 altogether in the eight months between January and August.

More U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq during the period since the Lancet report was conducted in September 2004 than in the period it covered, and there is every reason to think that the same must be true of civilians. If, like the Lancet report, we are speaking of all civilian deaths that have resulted from the war, it would therefore now be appropriate to speak in terms of hundreds of thousands rather than tens of thousands. All six of these surveys, taken in their own context as well as collectively, are consistent with this view.

It is also worth noting that U.S. military officials in Baghdad admitted to Nancy Youssef of Knight Ridder that the Pentagon does keep its own count of civilian deaths in Iraq, but that this count is classified. They did not say why. As the public’s faith in the U.S. government reaches all time lows, and the United States finds itself increasingly isolated internationally, President Bush could restore some credibility to U.S. policy by releasing these figures instead of hiding behind “published reports”.


Nicolas J S Davies writes about war and peace in Z Magazine, Online Journal and Peace Review. He lives in North Miami, Florida.

Nephi said...

Back more on the original point, more specifically on the concept of "hate crimes" in general - I too was once conviced the concept was a bad idea, and that crime should be treated the same regardless of the motivations. However, it was recently pointed out to me that's never been the case. We do engage in "mind reading" when deciding whether a murder was a first-degree intetional murder, or a second-degree spur-of-the-moment thing. We also excuse homocide based on the perceptions and motivations of the killer at times - for example self-defense, or even finding your wife in bed with another man. So now I'm a little more agnostic on the issue.

ltbugaf said...

Yes, Nephi, I'm aware of those facts about the law. I said we should keep the mind-reading to a minimum, not that it has no place in the law. We do make determinations about the accused's state of mind. But I am not yet convinced that a person who murders out of racial or religious hatred is inherently more dangerous than one who does it for another reason. And what are we saying when we set up special categories of victims? That their lives are inherently more worthy of protection? That society is more harmed by their loss than by the loss of someone not in their category?

I believe the murder of a child, for example SHOULD be an aggravating factor in punishing criminals. But I don't believe it should matter what color or religion that child had, or whether the killer was moved to kill that child out of greed, or lust, or bigotry. The killer is just as guilty, the child is just as innocent, the life is just as worthy of protection, the society has lost just as much, and the punishment should be just the same. I think the crimes committed against Matthew Shephard are heinous beyond description. But I don't think our loss is greater, or the killers are guiltier, because he was a homosexual or because they hated him for being one.

(On a side note, I discussed the state-of-mind concept briefly with my criminal law professor last year, and suggested that the second-degree murderer--the one who's such a hothead he kills without planning it out in advance--is actually more dangerous to society than the first-degree murderer, who plans in cold blood. His answer was the best answer that can usually be given on such an issue: "You can certainly make that argument.")