Afghan civilian casualty figures supressed by U.S. 'free press'
January 2002

The Panama City News Herald sent a memo to staff in October saying to not put photos of Afghan civilian casualties on the front page, nor to publish wire stories which lead with civilian casualties (see "Foulest Media Memos" on p. 2). So we determined that the story of Afghan civilian war casualties should go on our front page. Here it is, economics Professor Marc Herold compiled a list from credible, corroborated press and eyewitness accounts. He estimated that between October 7 and December 10, 3,767 Afghan civilians were killed as a direct result of U.S. bombing.

The Pentagon could have compiled a list, but they were apparently too busy generating denials that they'd bombed villages, Red Cross buildings, old folks homes and hospitals, and then later mumbling retractions of their denials. Writing in the British newspaper The Guardian on December 20, Seumas Milne observes: "The Pentagon has been characteristically coy about how many people it believes have died under the missiles it has showered on Afghanistan. Acutely sensitive to the impact on international support for the war, spokespeople have usually batted away reports of civilian casualties with a casual "these cannot be independently confirmed," or sometimes simply denied the deaths occurred at all. The US media have been particularly helpful. Seven weeks into the bombing campaign, the Los Angeles Times only felt able to hazard the guess that "at least dozens of civilians" had been killed."

About Herold's reports, Milne writes: "Now, for the first time, a systematic independent study has been carried out into civilian casualties in Afghanistan... Based on corroborated reports from aid agencies, the UN, eyewitnesses, TV stations, newspapers and news agencies around the world, Herold estimates that at least 3,767 civilians were killed by US bombs between October 7 and December 10. That is an average of 62 innocent deaths a day-and an even higher figure than the 3,234 now thought to have been killed in New York and Washington on September 11.

"Of course, Herold's total is only an estimate. But what is impressive about his work is not only the meticulous cross-checking, but the conservative assumptions he applies to each reported incident. The figure does not include those who died later of bomb injuries... nor those who have died from cold and hunger because of the interruption of aid supplies or because they were forced to become refugees by the bombardment. It does not include military deaths (estimated by some analysts, partly on the basis of previous experience of the effects of carpet-bombing, to be upwards of 10,000), or those prisoners who were slaughtered in Mazar-i-Sharif, Qala-i-Janghi, Kandahar airport and elsewhere.

"Champions of the war insist that such casualties are an unfortunate, but necessary, byproduct of a just campaign to root out global terror networks. They are a world apart, they argue, from the civilian victims of the attacks on the World Trade Centre because, in the case of the Afghan civilians, the US did not intend to kill them.

"In fact, the moral distinction is far fuzzier, to put it at its most generous. As Herold argues, the high Afghan civilian death rate flows directly from US (and British) tactics and targeting. The decision to rely heavily on high-altitude air power, target urban infrastructure and repeatedly attack heavily populated towns and villages has reflected a deliberate trade-off of the lives of American pilots and soldiers, not with those of their declared Taliban enemies, but with Afghan civilians. Thousands of innocents have died over the past two months, not mainly as an accidental byproduct of the decision to overthrow the Taliban regime, but because of the low value put on Afghan civilian lives by US military planners."

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