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What goes around, comes around

"Our respect for human rights requires us to execute him"

— Nouri al-Maliki, president of Iraq

Well, it looks like they're determined to kill Saddam Hussein. Which is no surprise, and I won't be shedding any tears for him, other than on the general principle that the death penalty is always wrong, no matter who is on the receiving end of it. But leaving aside the sentence, the whole business raises certain unpalatable issues ...

That Saddam himself handed out many death warrants (and on occasion executed the victims himself) is well-documented; he was not remotely an innocent. He richly deserved to be hauled up in court to account for his crimes. And yet, we learned that his appeal against the sentence had been denied, from the politicians, before the judges handed down their decision. And when an earlier judge appeared to be trying to give him a real trial, defense and all, the judge was sacked and replaced by a political stooge. And several defense lawyers were murdered or forced to withdraw after threats to their family.

I shouldn't have to say "this really, really stinks". I don't want to be backed into the corner of seeming to defend an odious tyrant in his final extremity. But evil acts do not demand restitution by the commission of more evil acts, and dressing this one up in the garb of "respect for human rights" merely serves to make a travesty of human rights. Hanging Saddam won't bring even one of his victims back from the grave: all it'll do is turn him into a martyr to Iraqi nationalism, a dubious honour that will result in more blood being shed in his name down the months and years and decades to come. Saddam deserved just one thing — a fair trial (and one in which the true record of his crimes would be scrutinized impartially and made public, so that no future revisionist might claim him to be a hard-done-by innocent). The judgment of history will plainly be that he didn't get a fair trial ... and the fact that he was denied one speaks volumes about the circumstances under which he was prosecuted and the people who presided over the entire charade.

If they couldn't give him a fair trial at home, then they should have handed him over to the International Criminal Court in Brussels, who know how to deal with dictators and genocides. That they didn't is indicative of the low esteem in which the new government of Iraq holds the rule of law. And it suggests that the substance behind all that high-spoken guff about invading Iraq to restore freedom and democracy — the stuff the sabre-rattlers fell back on when the lies about weapons of mass destruction and an Al Qaida link-up turned out to be hollow — is just so much festering corruption.

"Our respect for human rights requires us to execute him". Nouri al-Maliki, I doff my hat to you — you've just invented an oxymoron to stand beside "we had to destroy the village in order to liberate it" as an exemplar of moral corruption and folly.

And I expect it's a statement that will come back to haunt you.

99 Comments

1:

I disagree with you about the death penalty always being an evil -- personally I wouldn't mind that guy getting trampled to death with extreme prejudice -- but you're right, the lack of respect for the process is very disturbing.

I think it's less a case of corruption than it is of misplaced perceived expediency. "We all know Saddam is guilty, why belabor it?" "We all know Iraq has WMDs, why prove it?" etc. The fact that the U.S. (along with the Iraqi government) is so willing to short-change the process depresses the hell out of me. It's the entire reason we're the "good guys" in the first place.

2:

Ridiculous comment by Al-Maliki, but I won't lose any sleep over Saddam's execution. Good riddance!!!

3:

David, remind me again who the good guys are?

I'm looking at those Lancet figures and thinking, round about now the real news isn't that US fatalities in Iraq have exceeded the death toll from 9/11, but that Iraqi fatalities ... well, we ought to be raising the upper error bar over the million mark.

The Enemy Is Us.

4:

Political critic: I'm not really losing sleep over Saddam, what I'm losing sleep over is the unsung death of the Rule of Law.

5:

Why should Bush and his cabal be inconsistent? Trashing the letter of law for political expediency is about par for the course.

It won't, however, diminish me a bit when Saddam is executed. At least - and it's amazing it hasn't happened yet - that a few dozen civilians haven't been held hostage against his imminent release.

6:

"If they couldn't give him a fair trial at home, then they should have handed him over to the International Criminal Court in Brussels, who know how to deal with dictators and genocides."

If you mean the International Criminal "court" in the Hague, they are no more fair than the kangaroo court in Iraq.

Trust me, I know. From bitter experience. I have watched them playact at "justice" when it comes to the Land That Doesn't Exist Any More. Their definition of a war crime appears to be "anything done by a Serb and never, under any circumstances, anything done TO a Serb".

The whole thing is a travesty. If we had a "fair" international court we would see people like Madeline Albright handed to them for investigation - the woman who is on record as having said, "what's the point of having teh world's best military if you don't use them?" and then proceeded to throw them against a small country which had done nothing to the US just to show that she could.

Ahhh. DOn't get me started.

7:

Well, I agree with you about the lack of fair process and the political nature of this whole three-ring circus, but the unfortunate fact is that 95% of the human race still thinks that justice == retribution. Given that, how else could it turn out?

The irony is that it all comes just a couple of months too late for Bush, the one who probably pushed for this. If it had happened in late October, it might have had a significant effect on the elections in the US (all the Republicans needed was for one Senate seat not to go Democrat, and they'd still have sufficient control of Congress that Bush wouldn't now be talking about "changing strategies".) Now it won't do him a damn bit of good unless he can make sure that the execution and his speech on the new strategy don't take place in the same news cycle.

Still, there was an alternative that the Coalition of the Willing overlooked in this case. It would have been cruel, but if the soldiers who found him simply put him back in that hole and kept him there for the rest of his life, it would be a fair sterner punishment than the death penalty.

8:

Anghara, if we had a "fair" international court, every damn' US president back to Teddy Roosevelt would have ended up in front of it. (Except maybe Warren G. Harding -- did he invade anyone?) Along with every British Prime Minister from 1851 to 1947 inclusive, just about every Middle Eastern political leader ever (including the Israeli ones, yes), and Margaret Thatcher.

But we don't, and most of these criminals face, at worst, the sort of retirement that Henry Kissinger and Alfredo Pinochet got. (You know Kissinger doesn't dare show his nose anywhere in the EU these days?)

What we've got is a court in Brussels that hears the cases it's allowed to hear. That it's not allowed to prosecute crimes committed against (as opposed to, by) Serbs is bad: but that's not an argument for abolishing it, it's an argument for expanding its jurisdiction.

9:

What I dont really "get" is the mess it seems to be in. If Iraq really was a country in good shape, there wouldn't be all this confusion. The 10 O'clock news said it was still not clear if he would be hanged tonight, tommorrow or whenever, and contained some speculation. It seems to me that the confusion might be due to some kind of political manouvring in Iraq just now, between various groups, but of course I dont know that just now. ALl I can tell is that its a mess.

10:

Guthrie: you need to go read Riverbend's blog.

Then it will make a bit more sense.

11:

I suspect one of the reasons he wasn't tried at the International Criminal Court was that they didn't want a long, drawn-out trial a la Milosevic which drags on so long that the defendant eventually dies of natural causes.
Another reason, I guess, was that they wanted the symbolism of him being tried by Iraqis in the country he'd terrorised for so long.
If we're being honest, the outcome was never really in doubt. That it's the right outcome doesn't excuse the questions about the probity of his trial.

12:

Since we all agree Saddam is guilty as charged, how can a trial that found him guilty be unfair? It's the product that matters, not the process.

He was charged with a crime and allowed to defend himself in open court. His defense failed because he was guilty, guilty, guilty.

The ICC is, of course, a solemn farce and was turned into a pathetic three-ring circus by Slobodan, until he saved them further embarassment by shuffling off the mortal coil.

And how Saddam is dealt with is a matter for Iraqis to decide; last time I looked, making laws and establishing courts were perrogatives of sovereign states. Anyone want to bet against a "hang him" verdict if it was put to popular vote there?

As to capital punishment, if Britain were as democratic as the US, the UK would have it to this day.

Polls consistently show majority support for capital punishment in Britain.

The fact that it's not a 'live' political issue in the UK is evidence of the political class conspiring to keep it off the radar and refusing to let anyone within the establishment bid for those votes without being excommunicated -- which is deeply, deeply undemocratic and a very bad sign.

Freud may have been wrong about individual psychology but "the return of the repressed" does indeed operate in politics.

All across Europe, big chunks of the electorate are getting more and more cheesed off with the elite's refusal to address the issues they consider important, or even to allow them to be discussed in public.

If respectable parties won't, un-respectable ones will... and they'll start getting so many votes that it becomes impossible to exclude them any more. That will serve the consensus-mongers right, too.

13:

International courts are a bad idea anyway, because they procede from a fundamental confusion about the nature of law.

Some people talk about "international law" as if it were the same sort of thing as the law that operates within sovereign borders, but it ain't.

It is the nature of the sovereign state that it makes, and enforces, law within its borders.

But it is also the nature of sovereignty that nothing binds a sovereign state in its relations outside its borders except its own will and its fear of retaliation in kind.

What is generally referred to as "international law" is a mix of treaties and customary standards of behavior. But states can break treaties (usually by "interpreting" them) and violate customs, and there's no policeman or World State to come and arrest them for doing so. No enforcement = no law.

They may think twice about doing so because they're afraid of retaliation (war, economic sanctions, etc.) or because the agreements and customs , but that's an entirely different matter -- more in the nature of the shifting alliances between Mafia families.

States making war on one of their peers or otherwise putting on the knuckle for breaking the rules is _not_ equivalent to the police and courts enforcing laws. Again, it's more like "going to the matresses", or the rule of blood-feud in a clan-based society.

International affairs are not ruled by law because there is no law beyond the reach of sovereign authority and its monopoly of legitimate force within its own borders.

International affairs are an anarchy _sensu strictu_, ruled by force, power and the threat, spoken or unspoken, of the same.

Note, the above is a _descriptive_ statement, not a prescriptive one. That is, it is a statement of how things _actually are_ as far as I can see.

14:

No, sorry, SM, the process matters too. In a situation like this it has to be absolutely scrupulous, whether Saddam was guilty as charged or not.
It might suck, and it might leave a bad taste in the mouth - it certainly leaves one in mine - but in a civilised society he deserved a fair trial, as Charlie says. Any doubts that he got one will just come back to bite us.

15:

thanks Charlie- useful reading, I should have read it ages ago.

Mr Sterling, maybe it is the way you've phrased it, but it seems to me your saying, regarding Saddam, that the ends justifies the means. I.E. that it doesnt matter if the process is flawed, as long as it achieves the desired outcome. This does seem rather as if you have no respect for the rule of law. Also that you are ignoring the general societal usefulness of having a law process that is seen as pretty fair and balanced, since having such helps reduce internal tensions.

If the UK were as democratic as the USA, I'm sure we would manage to be in as much mess as we currently are. I assume by your last dig that you are talking about the BNP. However, what you seem to ignore is the complexity of the situation. Not everyone who votes BNP is racist, neither are all Dialy Mail readers. I suspect however that the issues that you think the electorate in the UK think are important will differ from those considered important by us here in the UK.

16:

"but that Iraqi fatalities ... well, we ought to be raising the upper error bar over the million mark. The Enemy Is Us."

-- Charlie, apart from the fact that I wouldn't believe the Lancet on this issue if they told me the sun would rise tomorrow, I fail to see how it's our karma if Iraqis want to kill other Iraqis.

If Iraqis don't want Iraqis killed, they can do the obvious thing and stop blowing up mosques and vegetable markets and kidnapping people and cutting their throats and so forth.

We probably killed about 60,000 Iraqi soldiers in the first three weeks of the war, mostly with bombardment of the 'kill boxes', where they had about as much chance as a sheep in a slaughter pen.

But if you're in uniform, you're a fair target no matter how helpless you are.(*) And if a civilian happens to be standing too close to a military target, well, that's just hard cheese and the military target's fault for not coming out into the open, or so say the customary rules.(**)

After the march to Baghdad, we we've been scrupulous to the point of absurdity about avoiding hurting bystanders to the limited extent that there are bystanders in counterinsurgency warfare -- we let all the women, children, elderly and other noncombatants leave Faluja before doing a number on the jihadists there, for example. Then we killed everything that moved and drove tanks over the rubble, which was perfectly fair.

(*) the rules state that you have to let people surrender, but they impose no obligation to give them an opportunity to do so.

(**) the customary rules make terrorism impossible and guerilla warfare nearly impossible, if you abide by them. They essentially say that you have to come out into the open and fight toe-to-toe, and abide by the results. If you don't do that, then of course the other side isn't bound either and it becomes a war with no rules at all, so the side which choses that has no right to complain about anything whatsoever. Ya pays ya money and ya takes ya chance, as the saying goes.

17:

SM - `If Iraqis don't want Iraqis killed, they can do the obvious thing and stop blowing up mosques and vegetable markets and kidnapping people and cutting their throats and so forth.'
There's your exit strategy right there. Let's all go home.

18:

S.M. you seem to think that democracy is the same thing as mob rule. Forget morality, human rights, protection of minorities, efficacy and all the rest - if the majority want the death penalty give it to them. So if the majority want homos castrated or Jews deported..?

19:

David S - actually, in one sense democracy _is_ mob rule...

20:

"Warren G. Harding -- did he invade anyone?"

Didn't need to. His eros/thanatos ratio was sane. Warren G. Harding paid $20,000 hush-money to mistress, Carrie Phillips, whose relationship lasted 15 years before Harding became president. She had letters from him which she threatened to publish during the election campaign, and demanded $25,000.

Harding's next mistress, teenager Nan Britton, gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Elizabeth Ann, in 1919, and a kiss-and-tell bestseller published after Harding's death: "The President's Daughter." She claims that they trysted in the Oval Office closet.

It is said that a Cabinet meeting was once interrupted when a nearly nude Nan Britton ran in through one door, and quickly out another. The cabinet secretaries rose to their feet, which is good, because seconds later President Warren G. Harding ran through the room, equally unclad.

I'm not sure how trustworthy is the book by a former FBI agent who had gone bad, was implicated in the Lindbergh kidnapping case, and wrote a biography of Warren G. Harding. "The Strange Death of President Harding", published in 1930 by Gaston B. Means. Means died in prison, convicted in the Lindbergh baby kidnapping.

True, too, Harding's Department of Interior appointee, had illegally sold interests to Sinclair Oil. The resulting "Teapot Dome" scandal has revisionist interpretations. But it in no way implicates Larry Niven personally, Mr. Niven having not yet been born as scion of that family which discovered petroleum in Los Angeles.

Drunk on single-malt scotch, Harding was said to have gambled away the White House china in a poker game. He died in a San Francisco hotel room in 1923, allegedly by food poisoning, from a bad serving of crab, but rumors of murder swept the country. Was he killed by his wife, who could stand no more humiliation? Or by one of his gangster appointees who Knew Too Much? Was he not a President ahead of his time?

Harding's life, so far as I know, has never been the basis of a movie. Maybe it would have, it he had launched an invasion, or been the target of an invasion by eldritch tentacles extraterrestrial demons.

21:

Dave (no relation): I'd say that that's its basic definition. Those things that David listed are what need to be *added* to democracy to make it halfway palatable.

As for the death penalty, I have no problem with its application to the guilty. It's that the application is necessarily handled by governments that is the problem.

22:

It is the nature of the sovereign state that it makes, and enforces, law within its borders.

But it is also the nature of sovereignty that nothing binds a sovereign state in its relations outside its borders except its own will and its fear of retaliation in kind.

Thank you for your words of wisdom, Stirling. I feel, however, that you fail to take your logic a step further.

It is the nature of freedom that nothing binds a free individual except their own will and their fear of retaliation. It's good, right and natural that a free individual rape, murder or steal if they want to, and if they're able to evade the police or prepared to take the risk of detection.

Freedom, like sovereignty, is above limitation by moral consideration. The law is a matter of convenience and can be ignored if the individual so judges.

23:

SMS:"It's the product that matters, not the process."

Come on now, you know that's not true -- not in matters like justice. While the end does justify the means, the end is only half served in this case of people don't think the verdict was reached in a just manner.

Half the reason we have courts at all is to prevent private justice. If people aren't confident in the courts they'll start taking matters into their own hands. Of course, in the case of Saddam I don't think it will matter much -- his supporters don't need more excuses. But in general you want people to feel that justice was served regardless of which side of the trial they were on. Remember, the natural state of justice in humanity is blood-feud. Fair trials exist in part to prevent that.

All in all it would have been better if Saddam had pulled a Hitler* and killed himself, or else been shot while trying to avoid capture. I knew as soon as I heard he was captured that his trial wouldn't be fair and that all that had happened was that his death was delayed. He's too dangerous and devisive to let live.

*Wow, imagine if Hitler had been captured and put on trial. Now that would be the trial of the century...

24:
After the march to Baghdad, we we've been scrupulous to the point of absurdity about avoiding hurting bystanders to the limited extent that there are bystanders in counterinsurgency warfare
Steve, I wouldn't call it absurdity, but I agree that the manner and actions of our troops in Iraq have been highly professional and as humane as soldiers can be, in general. Certainly the standards of the present volunteer military have been well above those I saw in the conscripted forces in Vietnam. Even the National Guard troops have handled themselves with professionalism and honor that I did not expect of them. And I agree with the rest of what you say about our military actions in Iraq.

But Iraq never was a military problem; we knew we had the means and the people to handle that. The problem was, and is, political. History has shown a great many times that a stellar military force can be completely defeated by trying to fulfill an inappropriate political objective.

I fail to see how it's our karma if Iraqis want to kill other Iraqis.
It's our karma because we set up the conditions in which that happens. We took Iraq quickly and cleanly, decapitated the government, and then completely failed to deal with the (entirely predictable and predicted) collapse of large parts of the civil organization and physical infrastructure. Then, after the electricity and water stopped, and we finally admitted that maybe we should be doing something about the looting, we promised to help fix the problems. In the last three years we've reneged on those promises, and much of the money and effort that was supposed to go to those fixes was given to or stolen by friends of the Bush administration.

So, we broke it. Should we buy it? I hope we don't have to, but I see that we do have some responsibility for what's happening, and we can't in all honesty just shrug it off with "let 'em all go to hell in their own fashion." I won't pretend I know how to deal with Iraq at this point, but I'm certain that simply changing military tactics won't do the job, and just pulling out will save some American lives, and will be politically good mojo for American politicians, but I don't see it helping anyone else. Nor do I believe it will help US foreign policy or long-term interests.

25:

Sorry, Mr. Stirling, but I'm with Charlie on this one. If Saddam had had a fair trial then his execution this morning for the massacre at Dujail would have been justified. The kangaroo court - and there is no other way to describe it - followed by the 21st century equivalent of his being handed over to the secular arm for execution, has ensured that we shall spend the next 50 years at least fighting those who sincerely believe he was martyred. That's not the jihadis, who will latch on to any excuse for their devilment ("Return Al-Andalus or die, infidel scum") but Guardian columnists and the like, who will probably prove far more destructive to our society in the long term than terrorists.

26:

Stirling is on to something important here: we all think "international law" would be a good thing, but so far there isn't any. We talk about it, but it hasn't emerged... yet.
:-(

Most politicians get away with crimes, known and unknown. History books are filled with cases of Getting Away With Murder. I'd love to see this changed. But it won't be easy, and it won't come soon.

Think of Saddam Hussein's trial and execution as a beginning. It will create a "meme" among politicians... a tightening sensation around the throat, if you like.

While maybe not a success in the strictly legal sense, the event is important in the history of ideas, and ideas can control the course of civilization.

(Imagine if Saddam had been tried like O.J.Simpson...)

27:

It seems I've been too charitable in my condemnation of this execution ...

To quote from Juan Cole's analysis in Salon:

"Like everything else in Iraq since 2003, Saddam's trial became entangled in sectarian politics. ... When Saddam visited Dujail, Dawa agents attempted to assassinate him. In turn, he wrought a terrible revenge on the town's young men. Current Prime Minister al-Maliki is the leader of the Dawa Party and served for years in exile in its Damascus bureau. For a Dawa-led government to try Saddam, especially for this crackdown on a Dawa stronghold, makes it look to Sunni Arabs more like a sectarian reprisal than a dispassionate trial for crimes against humanity.

"The tribunal also had a unique sense of timing when choosing the day for Saddam's hanging. It was a slap in the face to Sunni Arabs. This weekend marks Eid al-Adha, the Holy Day of Sacrifice, on which Muslims commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Shiites celebrate it Sunday. Sunnis celebrate it Saturday –- and Iraqi law forbids executing the condemned on a major holiday. Hanging Saddam on Saturday was perceived by Sunni Arabs as the act of a Shiite government that had accepted the Shiite ritual calendar.

"The timing also allowed Saddam, in his farewell address to Iraq, to pose as a “sacrifice��? for his nation, an explicit reference to Eid al-Adha. The tribunal had given the old secular nationalist the chance to use religious language to play on the sympathies of the whole Iraqi public."

Are we clear on the problem yet?

The whole kangaroo court nature of the affair is clear: Saddam was tried by his enemies, on specific charges relating to what he did to them (rather than his most serious crimes), and was given no chance to defend himself. Then they picked a date to execute him that would be a slap in the face for the Sunni minority. Meanwhile, he got to position himself as a martyr, which we in the west tend to overlook the importance of: it's a big issue in the middle east, much as it was in pre-reformation Christendom, and it lines up a whole bunch of excuses for revenge.

28:

International Criminal Court in Brussels The Hague

This is actually not as straightforward as you might think.

There are in fact five different international courts in the Hague (none in Brussels), and none of them has the right mandate for this job.

Going through them in the order that they were established: The Permanent Court of Arbitration doesn't take criminal cases; the International Court of Justice takes only inter-state cases; the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal is obviously not appropriate for the job; and while I completely disagree with what Alma has written above about the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, I think we would all agree that it was also geographically excluded from Saddam's case.

You were probably thinking of the International Criminal Court, which at first glance seems the most obvious choice - its remit includes genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. However a) it can only take cases where the alleged offences took place after 1 July 2002, which was less than a year before Saddam was overthrown, b) it can only take cases where the domestic courts are clearly incapable of taking the burden on (which indeed was arguably the case in Iraq, but someone has to make that determination, either the Iraqi authorities themselves or the UN Security Council), and most crucially c) it can only take cases from countries which have signed the Rome Statute setting it up, which notably do not include the United States or Iraq.

For an international prosecution process for Saddam Hussein to take place would have required an ad hoc decision either by the allies who over threw him (which would have been even more obviously victors' justice than what we have had) or a decision by the UN Security Council (which would never have happened, as too many of its members, including some with vetoes, would have seen such a move as tantamount to complicity in Bush's war).

So an Iraqi judicial process was the best we were ever going to get; though it is reasonable to say that this judicial process is not a good advertisement for the idea that you can impose universal principles of justice by force.

Having said that, the verdict was inevitable. The sentence was not. Capital punishment is never right.

29:

It's our karma because we set up the conditions in which that happens.

It was still their choice to kill each other. We may have put the figurative gun in their hands, but they chose to pull the trigger. Probably a billion people live in similar or worse situations around the world...

30:

What, you mean we are arms dealers to the world and make it easier for lots of people to kill each other? I'm glad we agree, Andrew.
;)

To put it another way, would you be surprised if, after handing out guns to a bunch of teenagers or indeed adults, that some of them shot each other?

31:

Yeah, this is not good.

Capital punishment: bad!

Fuel for the insurgency: bad!

What does it serve to execute someone? Do they get to live out their lives ruminating on their crimes? Do they get to see the error of their ways? No. They're dead and gone to whatever lies beyond death.

Meanwhile, justice goes undone here on Earth. What bullshit.

32:

What does it serve to execute someone? Do they get to live out their lives ruminating on their crimes? Do they get to see the error of their ways? No. They're dead and gone to whatever lies beyond death.

On the plus side, they can't do any more harm. Sometimes there are some people who just need to be killed.

33:

To put it another way, would you be surprised if, after handing out guns to a bunch of teenagers or indeed adults, that some of them shot each other?

I'd be dissapointed by their lack of self control. It would be unfortunate, but they have free will and can choose to do good or to do harm. I'd rather give everyone the freedom to kill each other and themselves than to lock them away in a (metaphorical) padded room and treat them like kindergardeners.

We gave Iraqis freedom, and at least some of them have chosen to use that freedom to try and make themselves top dog and ultimately take away the freedom of others. Because they are free to make their own choices, any harm that comes from it is their fault and our hands are clean.

34:

Andrew, its far more complex than "We gave Iraqis freedom and some of them misused it". At least you are making some differentiation between the different groups, unlike many other commentators. But you seem to overlook how the fact that the USA, as the de fact conquerors of the country have a duty to ensure that things stay stable. However the fact that things are not stable can be traced right back to the beggining of the invasion, starting with the lack of proper planning for the aftermath.

As for the freedom or padded room stuff, thats a bit silly. So the choice is potential anarchy or else being told what to do all the time? You do realise that bears no resemblance to the "real" world?

35:

"That's not the jihadis, who will latch on to any excuse for their devilment ("Return Al-Andalus or die, infidel scum") but Guardian columnists and the like, who will probably prove far more destructive to our society in the long term than terrorists."

-- well, rope is reusable, so...

36:

Note that before 2003, hundreds of thousands died in Iraq annually because Saddam stole the money allocated for food and medicine under the oil-for-food program. Mostly children and largely Shia.

And spent it on palaces and guns, not to mention wholesale bribes to European (primarily but not solely French) politicians.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, where Saddam wasn't in control but exactly the same sanctions regime applied, there was no excess mortality.

37:

As for the Sunni minority in Iraq, it's time to stop coddling them. Screw their feelings.

Since the British put Iraq together back in 1919, they've run it -- with a spectacular degree of incompetence and brutality towards the Shia majority, who are 60% of the total population, and more than that if you don't count the Kurds.

(And speaking of which, they gave wiping the Kurds out entirely the old college try.)

And they still fantasize about taking over again.

Now it's payback time, and payback's a bitch.

The Iraqi Sunni are the Afrikaners of the Middle East and if they want to survive at all, they have to start adapting to the status of a powerless minority. Or they're going to end up in refugee camps in Syria and Jordan -- if they're lucky.

Right now, American power is the only thing preventing wholesale ethnic cleansing all the way to Iraq's western border. The appropriate attitude on their part would be humble, submissive gratitude, which we're not seeing.

If annoyed enough, we can simply stand aside, point the Shia and the Kurds in their direction, and give an encouraging cry of: "Take revenge, take their land, take their homes, take their oil! Kill! Kill!"

38:

Andrew, its far more complex than "We gave Iraqis freedom and some of them misused it". At least you are making some differentiation between the different groups, unlike many other commentators. But you seem to overlook how the fact that the USA, as the de fact conquerors of the country have a duty to ensure that things stay stable. However the fact that things are not stable can be traced right back to the beggining of the invasion, starting with the lack of proper planning for the aftermath.

Well, I do agree that the war should have been planned better from the start. I get the feeling that the administration kept changing its mind as to what it's goals were. I felt all along that the invasion was too soon, and that there was no plan for what to do after we won. I have a hard time believing that our military was surprised at how easy it was to invade.

That's said, it's not our responsibility to ensure perfect stability. We prevented wholesale starvation and slaughter, mass exoduses of refugees, etc. Which is pretty goods given the history of wars fought this past century. Things could have turned out a lot worse.

As for the freedom or padded room stuff, thats a bit silly. So the choice is potential anarchy or else being told what to do all the time? You do realise that bears no resemblance to the "real" world?

I was speaking a bit metaphorically -- it's impossible to remove all danger from the world, you have to take your chances.

In the specific case of Iraq, the only real way to reduce the Iraqi on Iraqi violence is by applying even more force. Either we kill a lot of people, or the insurgents do. There's no peaceful way to wage war.

That being the case, I'd rather give them their freedom to make their own choices than to try and tie their hands by force.

But maybe I just think that way because the whole middle east seems like an insane asylum to me, fresh out of straitjackets.

39:

SM Genocide Advocate: American power? I think you missed out the giant carbombs and company-sized assaults on Shia-run police stations. If you want to be a war fan, at least pay it the respect of keeping up. However, that would involve confronting discrepant information...

What's Her Name: Errrr, the ICC can't prosecute anyone in the Balkan wars because its charter gives it jurisdiction over crimes committed after 2002. The ICTFY *has* prosecuted a number of Croatian generals for war crimes committed against Serbs. Facts, facts, facts.

40:

Funnily enough Andrew, I did think back in 2003, that one thing that might work in the aftermath of the invasion, that would also utilise some ideas that you and I might have in common, would be to give every household a kalashnikov and ammunition (And training), and put people into every area helping them get organised on a local basis, so that the local councils could then form regional councils, and so on.
Then, in order to kick start the economy, either you give money to people, or else employ only locals for your improvement projects.

I think that might have worked quite well, for starters anyway.

The thing is, you prevented the wholesale slaughter etc etc during the invasion- but it was after that that the real problems began. Nobody doubted that the USA could have walked straight over Saddam with half the forces it had, but the problem as always was what to do after, and that is where the USA gets critiscised.

41:
Note that before 2003, hundreds of thousands died in Iraq annually because Saddam stole the money allocated for food and medicine under the oil-for-food program. Mostly children and largely Shia.
OK, and the US bears some responsibility for that, since we supported him as a matter of foreign policy for two decades before we decided he was a liability, and then we refused to deal with the problem completely when we had a chance. Should we then accept the necessity of the invasion as restitution for that suppport? I don't think so, but then I don't think we should have invaded, and that if we had to, we should have had someone competent plan the followup, based on the advice given before the invasion. Having invaded, and not handled the aftermath effectively, we can't shirk the responsibility of the consequences since they flow directly from an act that we committed (that's what responsibility is).
Since the British put Iraq together back in 1919, they've run it -- with a spectacular degree of incompetence and brutality towards the Shia majority, who are 60% of the total population, and more than that if you don't count the Kurds.
And we can also thank the British (no offense, guys, we're talking about the FO and the rest of the kleptocracy here) for the mess in Palestine/Israel (and if you think a partitioned federation is a good solution for Iraq, just remember what the Balfour decision has resulted in, and be uneasy about the solution).

Come down to the last muffin on the plate, though, the world is just a little too small and a lot too full of nasty people with access to large-scale weaponry for the US to be safe twirling a stick in the wasp's nest, and then walking away, expecting someone else to clean up the mess. The invasion of Iraq was a bad idea in the first place because it was (at least publically) based on the idea that Iraq was a danger to us in this sense, and this idea was mistaken and/or mendacious.

But maybe I just think that way because the whole middle east seems like an insane asylum to me, fresh out of straitjackets.
That's what things look like when a major shift in the political landscape causes tectonic forces that had been held in stasis to be released. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War released the restrictions that the Soviets had placed on ethnic tensions in Eastern Europe and parts of Central Asia. The consequent ramping down of proxy wars in the area meant that the US could ignore the area and spend its military and political capital elsewhere. It's to be expected that there would be a time of payback and jockeying to fill the power void. The same thing has happened before; look at Africa over the last 30 years, or South America in the 19th Century, or western Europe after the retreat of the Roman legions. And Iraq hasn't quite reached the level of craziness of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War.

But it's easy to overlook the fact that those crazies represent a minority (maybe even a small minority) of the population they're torturing. There are a whole bunch of people living there who aren't interested in continuing ethnic conflict, but would just like to get on with their lives. There are fewer than there were a couple of years ago: a large part of the middle class, the people who can afford to leave, have done so. This leads me to the one solution for Iraq that might actually work, that might save something valuable from the flames, and might still be acceptable to all of us here on this list, and by extension, most of the populations of the countries that would have to implement it.

The solution: we do what Steve suggests, we let the Iraqis go to hell in their own fashion, but first we evacuate everyone who wants to get out to some place outside Iraq, where we use the money we had promised to fix Iraq's infrastructure to build a refuge that allows a reasonable quality of life (no tent cities). This allows us to do something positive about the situation without an open-ended committment to trying to keep order at the mad tea party, and gives us some needed positive PR in the Moslem world.

I doubt very much this is a politically acceptable idea in the US or in Britain, and I expect to get flamed from all sides about it, but it seems to me that it's at least possible, and has more upside than any other proposal I've heard.

42:

As to capital punishment, if Britain were as democratic as the US, the UK would have it to this day.

Yeah, and over 60% of Americans want the US to get out of Iraq, where's *their* representation?

43:

Steve:

If annoyed enough, we can simply stand aside, point the Shia and the Kurds in their direction, and give an encouraging cry of: "Take revenge, take their land, take their homes, take their oil! Kill! Kill!"

Genocide advocacy (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) again? Uncultured, that.

44:

Yeah, and over 60% of Americans want the US to get out of Iraq, where's *their* representation?

Starts work in January.

But since those same voters reelected Bush in 2004 and he's the commander in chief, we'll see if anything actually changes in Iraq. My bet is no, not until January 2009.

45:

Starts work in January.

That bunch isn't going to do much (though as one of the things they probably won't sign up for is an attack on Iran it's not all bad). Without the votes to override the veto all they can do is try to hold the administration to account for the way the war's been misconducted up to now, and I shan't be surprised if they muff that. The point is their opinions on withdrawal can't really be expected to faithfully represent those of the voters, since that's just one of a range of things the voters were concerned about. Same with capital punishment in the UK (but more so, since it was never a major issue with most people other than immediately after terrorist attacks).

But since those same voters reelected Bush in 2004 and he's the commander in chief, we'll see if anything actually changes in Iraq. My bet is no, not until January 2009.

It's going to be in absolutely *splendid* condition by then, I'm sure.

46:

"Come on now, you know that's not true -- not in matters like justice. While the end does justify the means, the end is only half served in this case of people don't think the verdict was reached in a just manner."

-- I was trained in law, and therefore don't associate law with justice, much... 8-).

And in any case, in Iraq Saddam's supporters wouldn't have thought the verdict was just in any case, because they think he was perfectly right to kill and torture.

47:

Alex: "American power? I think you missed out the giant carbombs and company-sized assaults on Shia-run police stations."

-- sigh. OK, I'll restate it in simple terms. The Sunni are 20% of the total population of Iraq. The Kurds and the Shia both hate them and have demonstrated a desire to kill them.

Now, do you think that the Sunni minority could defend itself against the Shia-dominated army, if its objective was not to _govern_ (which is fairly difficult) but just to _kill_ (which is relatively easy).

Really?

48:

"Yeah, and over 60% of Americans want the US to get out of Iraq, where's *their* representation?"

-- Tsk, tsk; dishonest rhetorical trick, classic bait-and-switch.

There's no effective bar to running on an antiwar platform in the US. If 60% of the American people want immediate withdrawal from Iraq (actually they don't, but granting it for the sake of argument) politicans can bid for their votes by promising to do just that.

They could, for example, have elected Kerry in 2004.

There _is_ an effective bar to running on a pro-capital-punishment platform in the UK, despite a generation of polls showing it's a widely popular position.

Anyone who did so would be expelled from the major political parties and pilloried by a hostile press; in essence, the 'establishment' has decided that their 'enlightened' view must be forced on the public whether they like it or not.

It's the tyranny of the bien-pensant.

In 2008, the American people will elect a new president. Probably John McCain, unless the GOP goes completely nuts.

49:

It all seems a bit rushed; and while most people here are nitpicking, let's consider the luscious cruelty of making Saddam sit in mute(emphasis on this-- he knew, even in the stockade, how to stir the pot with rhetoric) witness to the Middle East sorting itself out. Whether 'glorious-liberator-assault-friends' Amerika has a part in it or not.

In my opinion, they can sort themselves out. When we assume a culture is 'childish' and cannot create its own destiny, we perpetuate colonialism. We may not like what the New Middle East may be, but we do not live there, we just buy our oil from them.

Saddam just caught the easy train outta town. What's that phrase, "Dying's easy, living, now that's the hard part"?
Keeping a war criminal alive is in now way a sign of weakness.

Although, if we invent War Criminal Thunderdome, then they have their uses...

50:

Pilloried by a hostile press? I doubt it. There are half a dozen newspapers that would bay loudly for the reintroduction of the death pentalty, if they thought it would get them more readers, and it would make a change from endless articles on Princess Diana.
I'd love to know which establishment your talking about as well.

51:

-- Tsk, tsk; dishonest rhetorical trick, classic bait-and-switch.

Yer classic bait and switch is a type of fraud. This is merely a parallel you happen to disagree with.

There's no effective bar to running on an antiwar platform in the US.

The fact that the American people aren't ready to vote for it yet seems pretty effective to me.

They may need more pain.

If 60% of the American people want immediate withdrawal from Iraq (actually they don't, but granting it for the sake of argument) politicans can bid for their votes by promising to do just that. They could, for example, have elected Kerry in 2004.

Quite a few people think they probably did. And I don't remember him saying he was going to withdraw immediately, either.

Sometimes two-party systems don't actually provide the full range of options on everything.

There _is_ an effective bar to running on a pro-capital-punishment platform in the UK, despite a generation of polls showing it's a widely popular position.

Anyone who did so would be expelled from the major political parties and pilloried by a hostile press; in essence, the 'establishment' has decided that their 'enlightened' view must be forced on the public whether they like it or not.

And you know this how, exactly? Absorbing the zeitgeist by reading the Guardian? People just may not care about it all that much, particularly now that the IRA have downed tools on account of the fact that you lot woke up and realised that they were in fact terrorists after all, thanks for that, it's an ill wind, etc.

I mean, you want regular referendums on whether you're allowed to wipe your arse clockwise on a Sunday, by all means move to Switzerland. But in normal representative democracies we delegate a bunch of that stuff upwards. Doesn't always produce the desired effect, but it allows us to get on with our lives, most of the time.

It's the tyranny of the bien-pensant.

I *think* it's actually EU law, not that I imagine you'll see any difference.

In 2008, the American people will elect a new president. Probably John McCain, unless the GOP goes completely nuts.

Can't see either Hillary or Obama quite making it, I admit. It'll be nice to be able to stop making comments about chickenhawks, anyway.

52:

Mr Stirling, the next time you want to bitch about your readers thinking the Draka are the heroes, I shall be sorely tempted to point to some of your posts in this thread.

53:

I think that Charlie's initial statement about the importance of rule of law is critical to the whole situation.

Iraq has operated under a system of laws, Saddam simply ignored them when he felt it was necessary. He did not take kindly to anyone else ignoring them.

Stability of government, particularly transfer of power without military action, requires that the population believe that the law has a hold, no matter how weak, over those in power. This trial has ruined that point possibility at least for the near future.

If they had done the trial properly then the population of Iraq would have had a future in which the present government could be deposed and held responsible for their actions through the Law. Now they can only look forward to the next military force stepping forward killing their predessors and continuing as usual.

As regards the British and their reorganization of the Middle East. It didn't make much difference, no government in the area for time immemorial has managed to keep the peace for much more than a generation. Yugoslavia has a MUCH shorter history, and look at the problems it has with the same sort of powderkeg.

54:

I *think* it's actually EU law, not that I imagine you'll see any difference.

Actually I think it's the Council of Europe (not the European Union).

55:
. Yugoslavia has a MUCH shorter history, and look at the problems it has with the same sort of powderkeg.
The problems in the former Yugoslavia stem from something like 800 years of history, much of it in which pairs of empires ground their borders against each other in that region (my previous metaphor of continental plates was not chosen lightly). For most of that time one of the contenders was at least nominally Christian, and one was Moslem, so *that* aspect of the polarization has become well-entrenched over almost a millenium. The addition of another axis to the rivalries, Catholic vs. Orthodox, just adds the possibility for alliances and betrayals that can be remembered and revenged over time along with the atrocities.

What's happening right now in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia (and to a lesser extent in East Asia and East Africa), is in large part the playing out of forces that have been acting out (pun intended) since the Crusades and the rise of the Seljuk Empire. It's a large-scale re-enactment of the small-scale cycle of retribution that we've seen recently, repeated over and over for centuries.

That's not to say that we are all in the grip of irresistable historic forces, and the world is condemned to continue in this cycle. But it will require people with enough foresight and courage to call a halt to retribution and attempt some sort of modus vivendi to stop those forces. Such people appear to be very thin on the ground.

56:

"That's not to say that we are all in the grip of irresistable historic forces, and the world is condemned to continue in this cycle. But it will require people with enough foresight and courage to call a halt to retribution and attempt some sort of modus vivendi to stop those forces. Such people appear to be very thin on the ground."

-- or you might look at what used to be similarly intractable problems between Poland and the Czechs on the one hand and the Germans on the other, or between the Poles and whoever's running the Ukraine.

These problems aren't problems any more, largely due to the 'simplification' of the area carried out after WWII by Stalin.

There aren't any Germans in the Sudetenland or Polish Silesia any more, and their descendants have on the whole accepted this. The Poles of the Ukraine got turfed out into Poland at the same time, moving that whole country one 'click' west.

Likewise, the only real remaining flashpoint between Turkey and any European country is over Cyprus, where British annexation in 1878 froze the ethnographic situation in aspic.

(The Austrians did the same in Bosnia-Herzogovina, and look at the long-term joy _that_ produced.)

Crete, which was Turkish until the 1890's, used to have about the same ethnic mix as Cyprus does today; and Greeks were a minority in Thessaly and what's now Greek Thrace. There are no problems between Greeks and Turks in Crete now, largely because there are no Turks there.

Likewise, there used to be a very large Greek minority in Anatolia, until the population exchange of the 1920's. Since that time there's been peace between Greece and Turkey, albeit not a very friendly one.

I could go on; suffice it to say that the fall of the Turkish empire in Europe was accompanied by a series of drastic expulsions -- one-third of Turkey's present population are descended from refugees from the Balkans.

Subsequent interethnic conflict has been largely confined to areas where the 'rough sorting' was interrupted by one factor or another.

It's all very well to say these people should all learn to live together in multicultural harmony; but in point of fact they don't and won't.

Once two intermingled populations have developed a mutually hostile national consciousness, they're probably going to keep on killing each other unless both are under the fist of some draconian tyranny or until they're physically disaggregated, as happened (to give one example) in Cyprus in 1974.

And the iron-fisted tyrant is a temporary solution; as soon as the tyrant's hand is removed, the bombing and throat-slitting recurs. "Better a terrible end than endless terror", as the saying goes.

The way to end a war is to fight it through to a definitive conclusion that nobody can hope to overturn. Cease-fires and negotiations and the "peace process" just keep the pot boiling and set the stage for another round of inconclusive fighting.

57:

Whoops, that last post wasn't finished; just glue this part on to it:

The way to end a war is to fight it through to a definitive conclusion that nobody can hope to overturn. Cease-fires and negotiations and the "peace process" just keep the pot boiling and set the stage for another round of inconclusive fighting.

I sure hope you are wrong about this, Steve; if that's correct, then we're not going to get any real relief from ethnic violence until a bunch of places get nuked, and I don't mean figuratively.

But assume for a second that your analysis is not absolutely true, but is the high probability outcome for such cases. Then doesn't it make sense to try to figure out how to make a better, low probability outcome occur?

58:

The way to end a war is to fight it through to a definitive conclusion that nobody can hope to overturn.

*So* Third Generation.

59:

Steve Stirling: "Since we all agree Saddam is guilty as charged, how can a trial that found him guilty be unfair? It's the product that matters, not the process."

Steve, once you have the basic knowledge that would come with the equivalent of taking (US) high school civics, we'll welcome your comments. Until then, please STFU.

Yngve, I've answered your comment on another blog, but for the sake of readers here: 'lose power and be executed' is part of the job description of being a dictator. Saddam's death was basically 'same old same old' for dictators; it's what they'd expect. If anything, the additional lesson is 'never, ever give up WMD's, if you can get some'.

Andrew G: "We gave Iraqis freedom, and at least some of them have chosen to use that freedom to try and make themselves top dog and ultimately take away the freedom of others. Because they are free to make their own choices, any harm that comes from it is their fault and our hands are clean."

OBL kneels five times each day, and prays prayers of thanksgiving for enemies such as you.

To others: Andrew G's philosophy that it's all the Iraqi's fault is not him being tough-minded, of independent thought, or anything like that. It's just the latest line from the GOP excusing themselves from blame for this catastrophe.


60:

"Charlie, apart from the fact that I wouldn't believe the Lancet on this issue if they told me the sun would rise tomorrow[.]"

And why wouldn't you, exactly? Please elaborate; what are the specific problems with the study in question? Or is this another case of the "bowel cognition"?

-- Wakboth

61:

Wakboth,

Serious questions about the Lancet's survey are raised here:
www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110009108

His biggest ones are over the low number of cluster points, and the lack of respondent demographic info -- but I recommend reading the whole thing.

62:

To others: Andrew G's philosophy that it's all the Iraqi's fault is not him being tough-minded, of independent thought, or anything like that. It's just the latest line from the GOP excusing themselves from blame for this catastrophe.

Hey, don't lump me with the GOP...

The US is to blame -- for coddling dictators and tyrants like Saddam over the past century in the name of realpolitik. We should have deposed him 15 years ago. There at least was a somewhat reasonable excuse for not doing so during the Cold War, but in the 90s there's no excuse for letting dictators have their way. And Europe's probably equally to blame for that, especially France and Russia.

I don't particularly care about Bush's made up excuses for the war, it was a just war on the ground of removing Saddam alone.

The current situation, however, is more the responsibility of the Iraqis. If they didn't like they way we handled things, they should have deposed Saddam themselves.

I strongly believe in accepting responsibility for one's actions, and the situation in Iraq represents the failure of the US government, Europe, and the Iraqis to do so. But you can't blame the US alone, our major mistake occured over a decade ago.

63:

To futher illustrate the US's mistake, here's an interesting comment then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney made in 1992, following the first Gulf War, on what would have happened if the US had deposed Saddam:

"I would guess if we had gone in there, I would still have forces in Baghdad today. We'd be running the country. We would not have been able to get everybody out and bring everybody home.

And the final point that I think needs to be made is this question of casualties. I don't think you could have done all of that without significant additional U.S. casualties, and while everybody was tremendously impressed with the low cost of the (1991) conflict, for the 146 Americans who were killed in action and for their families, it wasn't a cheap war.

And the question in my mind is, how many additional American casualties is Saddam (Hussein) worth? And the answer is, not that damned many. So, I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the President made the decision that we'd achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq."
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/192908_cheney29.html

64:

"His biggest ones are over the low number of cluster points, and the lack of respondent demographic info -- but I recommend reading the whole thing."

AFAICT, the number of cluster points seems adequate. (Note: I'm very much not an expert with statistics, so take this with salt.)

According to the Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lancet_surveys_of_mortality_before_and_after_the_2003_invasion_of_Iraq), epidemiologists and statisticians seem to accept the methodology as generally sound.

65:

Right, SMS: this is it. All evidence suggests otherwise, but the principle of charity requires I make one more effort before concluding that your problem is mendacity rather than ignorance.

There are more than one, mutually hostile, Shia political entities in Iraq. There is the SCIRI and the Dawa Party, who can be treated together. They have controlled the government in large measure since 2004 and totally since 2005. The SCIRI paramilitary, the Badr Corps, makes up essentially all the non-Kurdish forces the Iraqi government can consider loyal. These are the Ministry of the Interior torture boys with their Sterling-endorsed power drills. They used to be the 36th Battalion of the ICDC, then of the ING, now they are the "Iraqi Special Forces". Same guys, except for the dead.

The rest don't turn up for the fighting. Then there is the Fadhila party in Basra. This is a regionalist party dedicated to not getting involved. You can count the 5-10 per cent Fadhila supporters out.

Then there is the Sadr movement and its Mahdi Army. This is officially equal in popularity to SCIRI/Dawa, but it may now be a majority. It is violently opposed to SCIRI and Dawa, which it considers traitorous catspaws of Iranian power *and also* collaborators with the US. It maintains good relations with the Sunni insurgents.

Knocking off Fadhila, that gets you to 50 per cent. Divide by two for Sadr, 25 per cent. Remember, you've got to deal with Sadr *as well as* the Sunnis. Obviously, the Kurds will save you - or not. There are currently some Kurdish troops in Baghdad, perhaps a brigade. What are they doing? *Guarding the Iraqi Government, because everyone else is disloyal.* So you can't move them.

Now, what would the Kurds' top military priority be? Answers on an empty cartridge case to Survival, Inc. Even when they did march a Kurdish battalion down to Fallujah in November, 2004, only 140 men out of a ration strength of 700 turned up.

25 per cent versus 45 per cent. Smells like victory, just for the wrong side.

66:

Alex - agree with you.

Another point: on the two occasions when US soldiers attacked Sunni fighters in Fallujah, the US had high losses in equipment and dead and wounded. When the US fought Mahdi people in Najaf and other parts of the south, the losses were light and the fighting was over quickly.

Sunni fighters are determined, clever, and plan ahead. Their ex-officers are teaching military tactics -- recall the sand table and blackboards found in Fallujah? Their attack groups are slowly growing larger.

It will be years before the Shia get the necessary training, experience, and mind-set to do significant damage to anybody. I don't think Negroponte's contemptible "El Salvador option," death squads from parties allied with Iran, is going to work -- too small scale, and the times are different now.

67:

Randy: take two magazines. One's the very top peer-reviewed medical journal, and the other's an opinion outlet for the (heavily ideologically biased at an editorial level) Wall Street Journal.

I'll pay more attention to criticisms of the Lancet study when they can get past the peer review process at, say, the BMJ or the NEJM, or the equivalent actuarial publications.

68:

Charlie,

I don't deny that. Nevertheless, he raises interesting questions and I don't have to take the Lancet on faith either.

Peer review evidently didn't seem to do the study's appendix any good -- to say nothing of the questions I've had before.

69:

Fascinating comment thread, Charlie. How do you stand it?

70:

We gave Iraqis freedom,

Andrew, I'd make a wish that someone gives you the same sort of "freedom", but quite frankly I don't despise you that much.

Let's hope someone frees Stirling...

71:

Andrew, I'd make a wish that someone gives you the same sort of "freedom", but quite frankly I don't despise you that much.

Actually, someone did -- the French working with local militias. For the first 11 years we had an extremely week central government and no real national military. Our extremely decentalized nation had 13 regional autonomous zones with their own government and no sharing of revenue on a national level.

Even after our second national government was formed, sectionalism was extremely high, and voting rights were limited to an extent that would be unacceptable today. There was a national policy of ethnic cleansing, and widespread oppression of minorities. This lasted for about 75 years or so.

And yet, the US managed to have one of the highest standards of living in the world at the time, and only one major war in the first 125 years after post-colonial independence.

And that was without international peacekeepers, or external imposed stability, and with a heavily armed and very religious population.

Not too different than Iraq really, except of course that the people involved chose to behave completely differently.

72:

One's the very top peer-reviewed medical journal...

While peer review is a wonderful tool, it does have some flaws when dealing with politically charged subjects. Reviewers are usually invited to review by the editors of the journal, which can lead to bias.

In this case, I think enough concerns have been raised that it's safe to say the review process for this study was flawed.

73:

"Peer reviewed" can also (as is obvious in the case of the Lancet Iraq study) mean nothing more than "we ran it by a couple of guys, and they didn't find any glaring math errors before we sent it off to the printers." It does NOT mean "we sent someone to Iraq to find out if the people who did the data collecting were telling the truth, or if their samples were real."

It does even less good when your peer reviewers are too closely linked to a submitter by ideology.

Between the Iraq death guesstimates and the MMR vaccine debacle, The Lancet is no longer a "top" medical journal, except as nostalgia.

74:

Noel: it has a certain fascination to it, like witnessing a slow-motion replay of a train wreck.

... And I like to keep an eye on what the wingnuts are thinking, too. (I'm currently waiting for the dolchstosslegend to show up. Best bet is 6-12 months ...)

75:

Damn, it's 2007 and I'm still only a wingnut...

76:

Are people still slagging of the Lancet study without any evidence to back up their assertions? I thought we had finished with all that. I still cant believe that non one else wants to run a similar or other study to try and see if the numbers match or not. That would be the simplest way of dealing with it- get some evidence.

Andrew G- you are aware of the very large differences between post colonial USA and Iraq, arent you? They render your attempt at a comparison moot.

77:

The US is to blame -- for coddling dictators and tyrants like Saddam over the past century in the name of realpolitik. We should have deposed him 15 years ago. There at least was a somewhat reasonable excuse for not doing so during the Cold War, but in the 90s there's no excuse for letting dictators have their way. And Europe's probably equally to blame for that, especially France and Russia.

ISTR the word was that Turkish input had a part to play there. Course, they've had a while to plan for the contingency of a free Kurdistan now.

I don't particularly care about Bush's made up excuses for the war, it was a just war on the ground of removing Saddam alone.

There's a whole bunch of other just wars waiting in the wings, then.

The current situation, however, is more the responsibility of the Iraqis. If they didn't like they way we handled things, they should have deposed Saddam themselves.

You make it sound so easy, but a lot of the people who might have done it were wiped out when 41 encouraged them to rise up in '91 and then had second thoughts. After that, anyone who was left must have thought keeping their heads down was a pretty good idea.

78:

Andrew G- you are aware of the very large differences between post colonial USA and Iraq, arent you? They render your attempt at a comparison moot.

Sure, the main one being that we had working local and regional goverments. The point I was trying to make is that by today's standards the early post-independence government of the US would be totally unacceptable. If there was a situation in Iraq exactly like the early US, the international community would be up in arms over it, decrying human rights violations, instability, violence, etc.

79:

It looks like there are some interesting new things coming out about the execution. It seems that the US had requested a delay, and wanted assurances that the execution was legal. Also that the execution went ahead without the approval of the President (which may or may not have been needed). The cellphone footage is also causing a lot of controversy.

It looks like there were alot of issues with the way the Iraqis handled things...

80:

dolchstosslegend? You mean like "we would have won the war if the damn bete noir party> politicians hadn't meddled in military affairs"? Or are you talking about a real Wingnut Conspiracy Theory(TM), like "the Jews tricked us into attacking Iraq to draw attention away from the fact that they caused the 9/11 attacks"?

I'd say that first one would be very popular real soon now except that reading the front page of my local paper this morning, it looks like they're trying to blame the top generals (with a side dish of crow for Rumsfeld, now that he's been pushed off the pyramid of power). Well now, we wouldn't want to be reusing our parents' excuses from old failures like Vietnam, would we?

81:

Andrew G: ITYM "someone is claiming that the US had requested a delay".

Dunno if it's true yet, and the phrase "well, he would [say/deny] that, wouldn't he?" (© Mandy Rice-Davies, 1962) springs to mind, with respect to the entire disgusting spectacle.

82:
Damn, it's 2007 and I'm still only a wingnut...
Don't let it bring you down, the way things are going, pretty soon only the wingnuts will have a clear view of what's really going on in the world.

Bruce
Proud to be a Wingnut since 1963.

83:

Interesting ... The New York Times reports, under the byline of JOHN F. BURNS, who appears to be one of their own reporters,

"One report circulating among senior Iraqi officials today, which no American official would confirm, was that the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, had appealed in the last hours before the execution for a delay of 14 days to provide time for all the constitutional and legal questions surrounding the hanging to be resolved, and for detailed planning of the execution to take place.

A little later in the article, "American officials say privately" a whole bunch of things that sound like they're trying to send the message that Maliki is not the person they want at the top of the Iraqi government, even if Shrub did pat him on the back a couple of weeks ago. I predict a coup de Marionette sometime RSN.

84:

"Andrew, I'd make a wish that someone gives you the same sort of "freedom", but quite frankly I don't despise you that much."

Actually, someone did -- the French working with local militias.

The French invaded the thirteen colonies, tortured Americans, turned George Washington over to a puppet government to be executed and built a honking great colonial conmpund in the middle of Washington?

When did this happen, Andrew? I don't recall that in any of the texts about the American Revolution...

85:

Are people still slagging of the Lancet study without any evidence to back up their assertions?

No, we're slagging it after several months of pointing out severe flaws, with no real response from the guys who wrote it.

One of the huge problems is that they suggest that the number of deaths in Iraq are underreported by a huge percent, and that death certificates aren't issued on a regular basis.

...except that about 90% of the Lancet's own samples claim to have death certificates for the reported deaths. Which means that either their sample is not representative, or that about 90% of deaths in Iraq are correctly reported and collected (in the areas they got their samples, death certificates are given out by hospitals, with a solid reporting system).

Let's repeat this: they multiply the death estimate by a huge amount because they assume that most deaths are unreported, except that almost all of the deaths they sampled were reported.

86:

When you think it through, Saddam faced "the short drop and a sudden stop" because he didn't have WMDs, not because he did. In retrospect, if he had co-operated with the weapons inspectors would he still be President of Iraq rather than rotting in the earth? Doubt it, because Scary George would have come up with another excuse. Iraq was about oil; preventing the Chinese from getting their hands on it. Quite a legacy for George W. Bush. Hard to pretend the current situation in Iraq is part of a cunning plan, except perhaps bin Laden's, pre-supposing he's still alive. Out of curiosity, does everyone unquestioningly still accept that OBL was the brains behind 911?

87:

Anyway, I'm sure Sterling will agree with me that this entire "United States of America" problem could have been averted had we just decided to torture that foreign jihadi terrorist La Fayette to death.

88:

I hate to disagree with Charlie about fair international trials, and the leaders of the US and Britain who should have been tried, but he's wrong.
Too long to go into here - perhaps another time.

Also Anghara is wrong.
I beleive several Croats have been successfully prosecuted at the Hague for War/Humanity crimes.
I expect they'll get Mladic in the end - either that or he'll get killed in the snatch - not that anyone will cry for him.

89:

Ha! Bless you, SpeakerToManagers. We should get some teeshirts made up...

90:

I doubt that it matters much whether ObL was behind 9/11 or not. He's been given the credit by everyone's favourite Texan fighter jock.

And he still hasn't been caught. In some ways, it doesn't even matter if he's alive or not. He's been built up into the uber-terrorist, so that people on both sides use his name. And look at the return he can claim, with all the terror induced by Western governments and their security theatre, and the mass of supporters he's gained as a reaction to Iraq.

He's as real as Robin Hood. And that's more than real enough to matter.

91:

Survey Design is a rather specialised, and important, branch of statistics. Do it wrong, and you don't have the good data the maths depends on, even if the calculations are without error.

Apparently, the Lancet survey allowed the field workers to choose where they did their surveys, in a way which destroyed the essential randomness.

92:

Dave:

Apparently, there was nearly zero randomness in parts of the Lancet study. Some of the folks who have looked into it seriously have pointed out that far, far too many of the places they "sampled" were next to major intersections of major roads (you expect some, but when the majority of them are from those places, the death rate goes up by a factor of four or five, since that's where most of the incidents actually take place).

They also had the freedom of deciding some areas were "unsafe" (due to prompting from the local folks who were giving them directions), and were steered to other interview spots. All it takes is one local guide who has a few "friends" with prepared stories, and your "death rate" goes through the roof.

This is very similar to the current Associated Press problem with the mythical "Jamil Hussein," who supplied all sorts of gory tales for AP reporters. Unfortunately, he (and many of the events he was a source for) doesn't seem to exist, except in wire service reports.

93:

Andrew Milner: "When you think it through, Saddam faced "the short drop and a sudden stop" because he didn't have WMDs, not because he did. In retrospect, if he had co-operated with the weapons inspectors would he still be President of Iraq rather than rotting in the earth? "

Uh, he did. Hans Blix and crew went in and cleared him of all but a few minor violations. 'Cleared' in the sense of going through the list of sites given by the US and finding nothing. True Holy Pure Clearance, of course, can only be granted after the non-existance of WMD's is actually proven, which is sorta hard to do.

94:
Out of curiosity, does everyone unquestioningly still accept that OBL was the brains behind 911?
Accepting, for a moment, that Western security agencies are essentially correct in their publicized analyses of what happened on 9/11, bin Laden's genius is that he didn't have to be the brains behind the operation, only the inspiration. He doesn't even have to pick targets himself; the local cells do all the planning and the work. This also means he can claim credit for anything that happens; most local groups would be happy to be associated with him in the press, whether there was any direct connection or not.

This gives alQaida the equivalent human resources to a large nation's espionage and covert ops agencies, at a cut rate. The last is necessary, at least for now, since the group's funding is not yet as institutionalized as the tax collection of a nation, nor as lucrative.

So it really doesn't even matter if there never was any such person as Osama bin Laden; the decentralized cells can go on acting as if he exists, and the operations will go forward, every successful one increasing bin Laden's fame and drawing power.

Note that this works fine for any Western security agency that wants to instill yet more fear into the heart of its nation, since they can agree that it's all bin Laden's fault, and increase the fear factor of this one name. Reminds me a little of those horrible old racist Sax Rohmer novels about the evil Chinese genius Fu Manchu.

So it's a win-win for the fear industry, no matter who planned 9/11.

95:

To the critics of the Lancet study - go to the Wikipedia article and actually read it, including links. I haven't seen a single criticism which hasn't been rebutted. Going to Deltoid, in Scienceblogs.com, and checking out the section on the survey (http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/lancetiraq/) will also enlighten you.

As to the under-reporting of deaths in Iraq - which Shiite militia is in charge of the Ministry of Torture ^K^K^K^K^K^K Health, and why would you trust their figures?

96:

Barry:

Seen the Wikipedia site, and the other is mostly rehashing and excusing the flaws in the Lancet study.

When you see things like "epidemiologists agree that the methodology is sound," all it means is that they used standard math to massage the data - it doesn't mean that the data was collected correctly or honestly.

"As to the under-reporting of deaths in Iraq - which Shiite militia is in charge of the Ministry of Torture ^K^K^K^K^K^K Health, and why would you trust their figures?"

The problem isn't that the Ministry of Health is screwing around with the figures, it's that the Lancet study has problems within ITSELF. When you say that you're assuming that most of the conflict-related deaths are not reported or recorded, yet your own survey shows that 90%+ of the deaths YOU record have actual, recorded death certificates, there's a huge problem with the survey.

Considering that the Lancet study is the ONLY study that shows anything like the number of deaths they're estimating, and that the highest of all of the others is less than one-tenth of the Lancet's, they have a helluva lot of questions to answer. The very first one is: "did one or more of your local interviewers massage your data, or were they naive enough to get 'handled' by Baathist holdovers?"

Heck, their first assumption (that Iraq's pre-war mortality rate - during UN sanctions and when they were claiming massive health problems from those sanctions - was 5.5 per 100,000 per year) is so laughable that they should have just stopped the whole process right there. Supposedly, during UN sanctions and under one of the most brutal dictatorships around, they managed a per capita death rate of less than 2/3 the world average, and about half that of the EU as a whole.

Just think for a second: according to the time period and the numbers, they claim that around 1000 people PER DAY were dying of violence. During a time when 20 or 30 deaths reported was supposed to be evidence of a civil war. As someone said, "count the funerals." It didn't happen.

The entire issue of the Lancet work isn't "did they use standard statistical practices when analyzing the data," it's "why should we trust a survey that doesn't even agree with itself?"

97:

But Cirby, thats the problem- what on earth do you do to arrange the data honestly? Can you tell us?

Also, one of the reasons teh Lancet study shows such a high death count is that it counts excess deaths. Secondly, as far as I am aware it is the only study of its kind, using standard epidemeological methods to have been done since the last survey. Which other surveys are you talking about? THe Iraq body count, whose method systematically underestimates total deaths? Or the Ministers of the top of his head estimate of 150,000 dead? Or what?
Presumably you are also aware that countries with very high birth rates, such as Iraq, Egypt and others, have very low death rates.

As for funerals, who has been counting the funerals? Any idea?

98:

But still, Andrew, by the standards of the time the USA was acceptable. It is the standards of the time that count- these things are relative.
Actually, do you have any evidence for something approaching modern democracy in Iraq just now, apart from there having been some sort of election? Of course you know that having a mdoern democracy takes much more than simply having an election, but I am getting worried that the number of people who have left the country, not to mention the difficulties in getting food and petrol etc, cause severe problems with having any kind of civil society.

99:

guthrie:

For a good, honest dismantling of the Lancet study, got to iraqbodycount.org, and look at their press release. They talk about all of the big problems with the study.

Here's a summary, from their press release:

1. On average, a thousand Iraqis have been violently killed every single day in the first half of 2006, with less than a tenth of them being noticed by any public surveillance mechanisms;
2. Some 800,000 or more Iraqis suffered blast wounds and other serious conflict-related injuries in the past two years, but less than a tenth of them received any kind of hospital treatment;
3. Over 7% of the entire adult male population of Iraq has already been killed in violence, with no less than 10% in the worst affected areas covering most of central Iraq;
4. Half a million death certificates were received by families which were never officially recorded as having been issued;
5. The Coalition has killed far more Iraqis in the last year than in earlier years containing the initial massive "Shock and Awe" invasion and the major assaults on Falluja.

There have been other studies (at least one of which was much larger than the Lancet one), and they all ended up in the same ballpark. The ONLY study that claims such high numbers is the Lancet one.


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