War Watch

Counting the Dead

Dahr Jamail, the young man from Houston, and more recently Anchorage, who became an international war correspondent by volunteering for the job, visited Austin last week as a guest of the UT Journalism Dept. Senior Fellows program. Introducing Jamail at Bass Lecture Hall, UT prof. Robert Jensen described him as "an ordinary man who has done extraordinary things." Jamail told the audience that he traveled to Iraq on his own for the first time, in late 2003, because he had become convinced that the entire U.S./British invasion had been based on lies, and he wanted to see for himself what was happening on "the front lines of empire." What he saw there, Jamail said, first during the relatively chaotic conditions of the military "victory" and then the subsequent, devastating months and now years of siege and guerrilla war, is "the true face of what my country shows to the world."

Jamail has spent a total of 16 months reporting from Baghdad and around the country, and is now at work on a book based on his time there. He was among the first to report the U.S. use of flesh-burning, "white phosphorus" weapons against civilians in the April 2004 siege of Fallujah – reports that the U.S. first denied outright, then months later claimed their use as accidental. He framed his UT talk as a sardonic, matter-of-fact refutation of an early March statement by Gen. Peter Pace, chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, describing "how things are going" in Iraq: "I'd say they're going well. I wouldn't put a great big smiley face on it, but I would say they're going very, very well from everything you look at."

Among the many consequences of the war Jamail addressed: the rise of death squads; the new kidnapping economy; the increasing frequency of U.S. war crimes from exhausted and brutalized soldiers; the expansion of major, permanent U.S. bases; the continuing use of such internationally outlawed weapons as phosphorus, cluster bombs, depleted uranium munitions, and gasfire bombs. Most importantly, he emphasized the under-reporting of both U.S. and Iraqi civilian casualties over the course of the war. Beyond the official military death toll of more than 2,400 combatants, he said, are roughly 10 times as many "seriously and permanently wounded." In recent months, the Bush administration and U.S. press have grudgingly acknowledged a civilian death estimate of about 30,000, a total long-outpaced by the 2004 Lancet study that estimated more than 100,000 civilian deaths. That's been out of date a while, Jamail said. "We shouldn't be discussing 100,000 deaths; the real current estimate is somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000."

For more on Jamail's reporting on the war, see www.dahrjamailiraq.com. For his analysis of casualty estimates, see "Learning to Count," at www.dahrjamailiraq.com/hard_news/archives/newscommentary/000381.php.

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