Archive for the 'Spin' Category

Counterterrorism terminology

The Associated Press reports that the National Counterterrorism Center in the United States has published guidance on using terms when talking about terrorism.

The last one is probably the best piece of advice:

Don’t use “salafi,” “Wahhabist,” “sufi,” “ummah” and other words from Islamic theology unless you are able to discuss their varied meanings. Particularly avoid using “ummah” to mean the Muslim world, as it is a theological term.

(Via Muse.)

Con Coughlin not telling the whole truth on Iraqi deaths

Con Coughlin continues his theme of combining pro-war propaganda and anti-BBC screeds in a tirade against John Humphreys.

Coughlin is outraged that Humphreys, in an interview with Jack Straw, suggested “many more people have died since the war than died under Saddam Hussein”. He then goes on to cite an official Iraqi estimate of 150,000 deaths. Unsurprisingly, given his credentials as a propagandist for the Iraq invasion (and other future wars), Coughlin is telling half the story. The official Iraqi estimate is not uncontested or without its (qualified) critics and needs to be understood properly in the context of the ongoing situation in Iraq.

First, it should be noticed that Coughlin doesn’t give any source for his official Iraqi estimate. The only thing I could find were news reports made back in 2006 in which an Iraqi official had estimated around 150,000 dead. That figure was not, in anyway, a serious statistical analysis and merely citing the figure of 150,000 does not tell the whole story. The only other place Coughlin could have taken the 150k figure from was a survey conducted by the Iraqi Health Ministry (IHM) and the World Health Organization (WHO), which was published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). This study suggested an estimate of 151,000 violent deaths since the American-led invasion. Although the study does not estimate non-violent deaths (pdf), it has been possible to use the data provided in the WHO report to get a rough estimate a around 400,000 violent and non-violent deaths since the invasion. And Coughlin’s trumpeting of the official estimate of deaths since the invasion contrasts with his dismissive attitude toward the 2004 Lancet study even though the WHO/IHM used similar methods to gather and analyse the data.

Secondly, was Humphreys really referring to a total or absolute figure for deaths before and after the invasion? I didn’t get the chance to listen to the Today programme, but it wouldn’t surprise me if what he was comparing the death rates before and after the invasion (notwithstanding the point that Humphreys was conducting an interview so making provocative points is not necessarily an expression of his own opinion). A commentator at the Telegraph suggests this was the case (scroll down to the comment left on 25 March 2008 at 13:38). Whatever the case, Coughlin has abused the source of the 150,000 figure by portraying it as it is the total number of deaths. The WHO study — from where I presume the 150,000 figure must have been extracted — actually says the death rate after the invasion is substantially worse than for a period before the invasion. This concurs, broadly speaking and with all the caveats needed for such comparisons, with the more ‘controversial’ studies published in the Lancet, the second of which received so much press attention for its estimate that 655,000 may have died as a result of the invasion (and occupation). Les Roberts, who has been the public face for the Lancet studies, noted in a National Public Radio (NPR) programme that the both the study he was involved in and the WHO study have underlying similarities to try and gauge the effects on the mortality rate before and after invasion — the key difference between the two were the numbers of deaths attributed to violence (the WHO attributes much smaller number of deaths to violence).

In other words, it stills holds that “things have got worse [since the invasion], and they have got a lot worse, not a little bit worse”.

The good news, though, is that lots of people who read Coughlin’s blogs at the Telegraph have realised what a mendacious character he really is and are not buying into his spin.

Meanwhile, over at her Spectator blog, Mad Mel joins in with Coughlin attacking both Humphreys and Straw. She concurs with Coughlin’s use of the official Iraqi figure (and uses the opportunity to make terrible historical comparisons between Saddam and Hitler). Back in January Mad Mel was keen to denounce the 2006 Lancet study as a propaganda exercise funded by an anti-war billionaire (George Soros) and conducted by ex-Ba’athists. The source of Mad Mel’s attack was an article written by the editor of the National Journal, Neil Munro, which is full of smears and innuendo against the Johns Hopkins team that did the research. This is the same Neil Munro who in 2002 was cheering for the “destruction of Iraq” (complete with a stupid remark about 11th-century Wahhabism**), yet has the nerve to call into question the motives and intentions of those who carried out the 2006 Lancet study because they may have opposed such “destruction”!. In the same NPR programme involving Les Roberts, Munro make another smear suggesting that in terms of reporting the number of Iraqi dead there were essentially two camps: people who want to show the war was a success; and those who opposed the war and want to prove what a bad move it was so, ‘like the al-Qa’ida guys’, plant bombs in market places***.

People like Coughlin, Mad Mel’s and Munro would probably like Iraq mess to be extinguished from the news cycle (Coughlin has certainly decried bringing up the origins of the Iraq War). They would probably not like to be reminded of the disastrous effects of the invasion on the people the war was meant to liberate, especially if we remember the Iraq invasion was one of choice, not of necessity, and action that they helped push in the media. Is it surprising then that any reminder of the disastrous choice must be met with yet more lies and spin until the reminder is discredited? The likes of Coughlin, the false humanitarians who claim to support the oppressed, do not appear to be bothered with actually trying to understanding the effects of ill-thought out, uninformed, interventionist policies. For all their nationalistic and supremacist bombast about Our Way Of Life, they don’t seem to be bothered about the effects of such adventures (for which they will probably never have to personally suffer) on our national security and armed forces.

For further reading I would suggest Diane Farsetta’s article at PRWatch, the extensive Lancet archives at Deltoid and numerous posts at Crooked Timber.

*Does Mad Mel realise this is the same Lancet in which a study critical of her other pet hate, MMR vaccines, was published?

**It seemed beyond a simpleton like Munro to perform a quick check. Wahhabism, at the very earliest, could not have arisen before the mid-late 1700s, and even if its ‘true origins’ are pushed back to Ibn Taymiyya that is still only the 14th-century.

***Actually, the invasion of Iraq fits perfectly in with the ‘jihadist’ narrative.

45 minute claim not found in early draft of Iraq dossier

The Foreign Office has complied with a ruling from the Information Commissioner (pdf) to release the secret first draft (pdf) of the notorious dossier Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: The assessment of the British Government, which was published by the government back in 2002. Unsurprisingly, no mention of the infamous claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes is found in this first draft:

The notorious claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes was not contained in an early draft of the controversial dossier, but the draft version did warn that the country had acquired weaponry intended to “terrorise, intimidate and destabilise”, it was revealed today.

The draft written by John Williams, who at the time was head of press at the Foreign Office, and released today under the Freedom of Information Act, also said that Iraq “was actively assembling an arsenal of terror weapons with which to intimidate its neighbours and the wider international community”.

Williams wrote that Iraq was “developing as a priority longer-range missile systems capable of targeting Nato (Greece and Turkey?)” and “covertly attempting to acquire technology and material for use in nuclear weapons”.

But later in the document it was noted that Iraq would “find it difficult to produce fissile material [for nuclear weapons] while sanctions remain in place”.

Williams also qualified concerns about the regime’s chemical weapons capability by adding he could not be sure “whether these [weapons] have been destroyed”.

The former Daily Mirror journalist referred to a number of atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein, who he said “maintained power by torture, rape and execution”.

He referred to the late dictator’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the 1998 chemical weapons attack on the village of Halabja, which killed some 5,000 Kurds.

The 45-minute claim became a key plank of the government’s case for going to war and Tony Blair was subsequently accused of “sexing up” the dossier with the help of spin doctors.

John Williams, the author of the draft, has tried to defend his role in an article written for the Guardian. But quite what a spin doctor was doing drafting (let alone ‘sexing’) up a document which should have been dispassionate analysis of intelligence and risk experts is never addressed by Williams.

Meanwhile, Con Coughlin, the Telegraph’s executive foreign correspondent, has a post on the paper’s political blog arguing that the release of the draft by the FO is a waste of time:

I fail to see what is to be gained by this obsessive raking over the origins of the dodgy dossier.

For a start, the release was important if only to see how well the Freedom of Information Act works, and how well the government responds to rulings from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Secondly, and most importantly, the real reason Coughlin would like us to forget about the run up to the Iraq war is because he was one of the war’s chief cheerleaders. Even as late as 2006, he was defending the war. His other bloopers include declaring Saddam dead, trying to link Saddam Hussein to 9/11, even going so far as to find someone in Iraq who would verify the 45 minute claim.

Nowadays though, Coughlin has a new hobby: linking Iran to al-Qa’ida


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