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(DV) Street: "The Face of Sacrifice"







“The Face of Sacrifice”: Another Example of the
New York Times
’ Service to Imperial Power

by Paul Street
December 29, 2005

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Here's a little new wrinkle in the story of the corporate-liberal New York Times' servility to imperial power. Last Monday's Times contained an outwardly progressive item: a two-page photo essay on civilian casualties (what the paper calls “The Face of Sacrifice”) in Iraq (“The Face and Voice of Civilian Sacrifice in Iraq: Photographs by Adam Nadel,” NYT, 26 December 2005, pp. A16-A17).

“In Iraq,” the Times says, “nobody knows, and few in authority seemed concerned to count, just how many civilians have been killed and injured. Soon it will be three years since the American-led invasion. The estimates of those killed run into the tens of thousands, the numbers wounded two or three times the number who lost their lives. Even President Bush, estimating recently that 30,000 civilians may have been killed, acknowledged that was no more than an abstraction from unofficial calculation, not a Pentagon count.”

Of course, people on the left have been talking about -- and trying to put a human face on -- Iraqi civilian casualties since even before the murderous and illegal occupation was launched.

Maybe the Times’ willingness to see and show some of that that Iraqi civilian face is better late than never....

But there's a curious and revealing problem with the Times' photo essay.

It relates seven incidents in which Iraqis have been violently killed or injured since March 19, 2003 (day one of “Operation Iraqi Freedom”). And who did the killing in the small number of such incidents it chose to report?

In three of the seven, the killers are technically unidentified. Regarding these three cases, readers learn only that the damage was done by “a bomb” that somehow exploded, though the suggestion is strong that anti-occupation forces (“terrorists”) were the agents.

In another three of the seven incidents, the Times clearly identifies the occupation resisters (“terrorists”) as the perpetrators of violence against Iraqi civilians.

And in the last incident, located at the bottom right of the second page (A17), the Times shows a surviving husband who claims to have lost a wife and a daughter when his family's car was shot up by the American “liberators”. According to the Times, Ahmed Moayda “said his family was fired upon by an American convoy as they were traveling by car from Baghdad to Jordan.

The Times makes no such source qualification in regard to any of the other incidents related in Monday's photo essay. In the three attacks attributed to anti-occupation forces, the perpetrators’ identities are simply stated as an uncontested matter of fact, without any “he said/she said” prelude.


Just for the record, Iraq Body Count (IBC)'s recently published “Dossier of Civilian Casualties in Iraq, 2003-2005” reports that one in every 1,000 Iraqis was violently killed between March 20, 2003 (the day after the beginning of the U.S. invasion) and March 19, 2005. By projecting from readily available data on Iraqi marriage and childbirth rates, IBC infers that “tens of thousands of Iraqi women and children have lost a husband or father to violence since March 2003, a loss which will have long lasting psychological and economic consequences for the bereaved families.”

Iraqi families are also dealing with crippling injuries resulting from wartime violence. By IBC's tabulation, 42,500 Iraqis have been wounded during the occupation.

By IBC's meticulous account, based on multiple verifiable media reports, anti-occupation forces have killed less than 10 percent of the total number of the nearly 25,000 dead for whom the killers can be identified. “Criminal elements,” who have thrived in the lawless environment created by the destruction of Iraqi civil authority, killed 8,935 or 36 percent.

The biggest killers have been the US-led armed forces, which violently ended the lives of 9,270 Iraqis or 37.3 percent.

In separate databases that include real-time accounts from reporters in Iraq, IBC presents a number of accounts of Iraqis killed by American “liberators”. IBC's “Falluja Archive” contains (to give one among many examples) an April 2004 Associated Press (AP) story relating how more than 600 Iraqis, “mostly women, children, and the elderly,” were butchered during Uncle Sam's massive “retaliatory” (after the resistance killed US-funded Blackwater USA Security mercenaries) campaign in Falluja. “Iraqis in Falluja,” the AP noted, “complained that civilians were coming under fire by U.S. snipers.”

One such civilian was mentioned in an especially chilling account quoted in the Falluja Archive. “One of the bodies brought to the clinic,” wrote journalist Dahr Jamail in The Nation, “was that of a 55-year old man shot in the back by a [U.S.] sniper outside his home, while his wife and children huddled wailing inside. The family could not retrieve his body for fear of being shot themselves. His stiff corpse was carried into the clinic, flies swarming above it. One of his arms was half raised by rigor mortis.”

That would have been a good picture for the Times to have taken and included at the top, not the bottom of its photo essay.

If accurate portrayal of the violence's agents had been a value in the construction of its story, at least two of the Times' photos should have portrayed victims of direct U.S. violence. At least two should have portrayed victims of criminal violence related to America's destruction of Iraqi civil authority. No more than one should have portrayed victims of those resisting the occupation.

There's certainly more people in Iraqi authority than in American authority that are “concerned to count just how many civilians have been killed and injured.” And it was General Tommy Franks of US Central Command who said the following when asked how many Iraqis had died in the initial phases of the U.S. invasion: “We Don't Do Body Counts.” How odd and revealing for the Times to say that “even Bush” can give only an abstract estimate of Iraq's casualty number and “not a Pentagon count.”

Paul Street is a Visiting Professor of American History at Northern Illinois University. His latest book is Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, October 2004). He can be reached at: pstreet@niu.edu.

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