CAMBRIDGE, MA - February 18 - Disappearing the Dead: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Idea of a New Warfare. PDA Research Monograph #9. Carl Conetta. 18 February 2004.
Exec Summary HTML: http://www.comw.org/pda/0402rm9exsum.html
Exec Summary PDF: http://www.comw.org/pda/fulltext/0402rm9exsum.pdf
Full Report HTML: http://www.comw.org/pda/0402rm9.html
Full Report PDF: http://www.comw.org/pda/fulltext/0402rm9.pdf
Weapons of mass destruction is not the only Iraq war-related subject clouded by misinformation. According to a new study, the Pentagon conducted "perception management" campaigns during the Afghan and Iraq wars that also obstructed the publics awareness of civilian casualties.
These activities included Pentagon efforts to "spin" casualty stories in ways that minimized their significance or cast unreasonable doubt on their reliability. Efforts also may have included the placement of misleading news stories. Such activities are "antithetical to well-informed public debate and to sensible policy-making," according to the reports author, Carl Conetta.
The report, Disappearing the Dead: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Idea of a "New Warfare", was released Wednesday by the Project on Defense Alternatives at the Commonwealth Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Besides examining several case studies, the report reviews the "news frames" promoted by defense officials to shape the public debate over casualties.
Among the suspect stories promoted by US officials were reports that the Hussein regime was stockpiling cadavers before the war in order to stage phony casualty incidents and blame them on the coalition. Another story asserted that the Iraqis were procuring uniforms like those of US troops so that they might commit atrocities that would be attributed to the United States. As in the case of Iraqs reputed possession of prohibited weapons, neither story was subsequently verified.
One case study examined in the report is the Baghdad marketplace bombing that killed more than three dozen people on March 28, 2003. Coalition spokespersons had insisted that Iraqi air defense missiles falling back to earth might have been the cause -- a scenario that the report assesses as highly unlikely. The coalition persisted in its stance even after debris bearing the serial numbers of US weapons was found at the site by a British journalist.
The report also concludes that defense officials consistently overplayed the idea of "precision warfare", giving the false impression that the Iraq war would be a low casualty event. In fact, the study estimates, as many as 15,000 Iraqis (including 4,000 non-combatants) were killed during the main phase of the conflict. Citing opinion polls, the report sees these casualties as one source of current anti-American activity in Iraq.
"Masking the casualty problem leaves America unprepared for the consequences of war," said Conetta. "Our troops are now paying a price for that in Iraq every day," he added. The report proposes treating casualties on all sides as a cost of war that must be examined, estimated, and disclosed. "One can be for a particular war or against it -- but, either way, we must face up to its costs," concluded Conetta.