Iraq Body Count

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Swiftboating the Body Count

Swiftboating is the Bush administration's art of getting somebody else to say something that you aren't allowed to say. It typically involves discrediting those that disagree with what you want to say. The idea is to create the appearance of "two sides" to an issue. This creates doubt in the minds of people who disagree. It emboldens those on the side of the administration, and gives them a clear argument against opponents; i.e., "well, there are two schools of thought here."

The Bush administration doesn't want people to to know how many people have died in Iraq. So they have "swiftboated" the body count. They have found a site ( that claims an absurdly low number of casualties and pretended to believe it. The claims of are flat-out ridiculous.

What does really count? counts only media-reported deaths. This is the lowest possible count. It's also highly inaccurate. Nobody, including claims that the media report every death. Furthermore, each counted death needs to appear in at least two independent publications. They both have to be web sites. And they both have to be in English. For a total of 37 sites.

As if that wasn't constricting enough, the reports themselves have to conform to a set of standards used only by The report can't have too much information in it, or it doesn't meet their "economy of data extraction" requirements. It must have enough information in it to differentiate it from "proximate incidents with which it could be potentially confused". In fact, the only way to guarantee that the report is included is "restricting the number of items of information per incident to the core facts that most news reports tend to include". There are various other strange requirements, such has having to use the word "civilians". The word "people" isn't good enough.

I don't know of any publications that purposely conform to these standards. I've never seen these standards anywhere else.

In other words, counts only casualties which cannot be disputed. I.e., their methods are designed to result in the lowest possible count.

A tool of the left. The right claims that is massaging the figures upwards! Um, who exactly? And how do you massage these figures upwards when you're doing everything you can to make sure that there isn't a single undeniable death in your database?

You can get each report from them. But they won't tell you where the report came from.

There are plenty of other ways to get body counts that are more accurate. You could talk to the morgues, for example. But doesn't want to talk to morgues. They just want to read about casualties in the paper.

On first glance, appears to be anti-war. When I first saw it, my reaction was something like "Wow - that's not a lot of deaths. And even this anti-war site thinks that the count is this low."

If you look a little deeper, however, the doesn't appear to be antiwar at all. In fact, it ridicules other counts as "speculation" ( So, asking the morgues how many people have died violent deaths is dismissed as lacking rigour. admits that its own methods lack rigor and underrepresent the true figures. But they dismiss any higher count as speculative, or lacking "rigour". But they don't talk about the lack of rigour in the media reports they use. Statistics based on body counts at morgues seem like a far better source. This includes statistics published by the morgues.

So who uses this information? Well, basically, anybody who wants the count to be as low as possible. This includes the pro-war establishment. So this site might pitch itself, as

Other non-governmental organisations, though, suggest that Bush may have got it right. An independent watchdog group, Iraq Body Count, estimates that up to 30,892 Iraqis have died, a figure based on media reports.”

It doesn't seem to matter to that their methods are laughable. They make no attempt to defend them. They're there to smear the other studies. Or the whole idea of counting casualties. They're there to swiftboat the entire idea of actually figuring out how many people have died in this war.