A 'war on terror' that terrorised the world

A 'war on terror' that terrorised the world
A report by PSR argues that the number of civilians killed by the 'war on terror' amounts to a war crime approaching genocide, says Sophia Akram.
4 min read
28 May, 2015
PSR argues 1.3 million people have died due to the US's war on terror [AFP]

Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), a Nobel Peace Prize-winning group of health professionals, released a report in March called 'Body Count', which details the number of deaths that have been caused by the 'war on terror' waged by the Bush administration after 9/11. 

Bush's 'war on terror' sent a clear message that terrorist organisations and regimes would not be tolerated, and pre-emptive military operations would be embarked upon. But the corrosive term was abandoned by the UK in 2007, followed by the Obama administration six years later.

PSR forensically tallied the death counts from operations waged in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the results are startling. They calculated that at least 1.3 million people died as a result of the strategy.

The report takes into account the results of the renowned 2006 study by the Lancet 'The human cost of war in Iraq: A mortality study 2002-2006', that suggested the number of Muslims that had been killed amounted to genocide. Its calculation that 655,000 had died in Iraq was widely discredited. However, PSR and other commentators believe this is unjust. 

The 2006 Lancet study used a survey of 1,849 households to estimate that by 2006 approximately 655,000 people had died in Iraq because of the 'war on terror'. This figure was controversial because it was significantly higher than other studies. Iraq Body Count (IBC), calculated that during the same period 43,000 Iraqis had been killed.

Critics of the Lancet study focused on every conceivable distortion. They argued, for example, that the sample was too small, only households with many casualties had been interviewed, respondents made up deaths for political reasons, and that the figure was only an estimate.

     PSR forensically tallied the death counts from operations waged in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

However, the method used by the Lancet study is widely accepted by experts, and no other representative study has faced the same level of scrutiny.

Death certificates were produced for 90 per cent of those recorded as having been killed by the study, debunking claims that respondents may have lied about figures. Even if figures have been distorted by 10 to 20 per cent, the death toll is indefensible, which may explain why so much effort has gone into sweeping the results under the carpet.

A further look at IBC data exposes large gaps in information. This is due, for example, to a lack of reporting in areas known to have suffered heavy fighting, and figures sometimes contradict facts.

For example, Ahmed Di'aibil from Najaf province said that in Najaf, a city of 600,000 south of Baghdad, 40,000 unidentified corpses had been buried since the war began. IBC, however, has only recorded 1,354 victims in Najaf.

PSR analysed IBC figures, as well as those in the Lancet report and other studies on the Iraq war and civilian casualties, to argue the Lancet study's estimate was plausible. 

The Lancet studies differs from other studies because it includes figures of those who have been indirectly killed due to the war by, for example, malnutrition or disease.

The long awaited results of the Chilcot Inquiry, the UK's public inquiry into the country's role in the Iraq war, whose publication date has been repeatedly delayed, is unlikely to agree with the PSR.

Based on its much lower casualty figures, IBC has insisted that the inquiry pays special attention to the high casualty figures. However, it has argued that the inquiry has failed to treat the issue of civilian casualties "as a matter for serious investigation".

Adam Ingram, the British minister of state for the armed forces from 2001-2007, admitted there was no real count of civilian casualties in Iraq, but argued providing one would not have changed facts on the ground.

But the war itself that was of questionable legality, was opposed by many in the UK, and any official figure would have increased opposition to the 'facts on the ground'.

The result of not having a casualty count meant, according to a study by the AP news agency, that many Americans believed only 9,000 people had been killed in the war.

PSR's investigation concludes that more than one million died as a consequence of the Iraq war. Now add on the 220,000 deaths in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan. 

According to PSR this scale of death and misery amounts to a crime against humanity approaching genocide.

Genocide is defined in international law, and is not just about big numbers. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide states it is an act or acts carried out " with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group".

That argument is beyond this article, but such death and destruction should surely inform future governments of their responsibilities towards humanity.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.