As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Secrets of Counting Revealed

Karen DeYoung has been pretty dogged in trying to determine what makes a killing in Iraq sectarian and what makes it, you know, just a killing, and therefore not important, or something:

On Sept. 1, the bullet-riddled bodies of four Iraqi men were found on a Baghdad street. Two days later, a single dead man, with one bullet in his head, was found on a different street. According to the U.S. military in Iraq, the solitary man was a victim of sectarian violence. The first four were not.

Such determinations are the building blocks for what the Bush administration has declared a downward trend in sectarian deaths and a sign that its war strategy is working. They are made by a specialized team of soldiers who spend their nights at computer terminals, sifting through data on the day's civilian victims for clues to the motivations of killers.

The soldiers have a manual telling them what to look for. Signs of torture or a single shot to the head, corpses left in a "known body dump" -- as the body of the Sunni man found on Sept. 3 was -- spell sectarian violence, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dan Macomber, the team leader. Macomber, who has been at his job in Baghdad since February, rarely has to look it up anymore.

Is this that banality of evil that Hannah Arendt was talking about? Seriously, people at terminals trying to massage statistics until they can come up with something appropriating progress? Dead people are dead people. And the most recent statistics given by the Pentagon show that there are the same amount of dead people every month in Iraq now than there were before the surge, whether you accept that the surge began in January or May or September. There are still lots and lots of dead people, and more troops haven't made it any better.

By the way, kudos to Spencer Ackerman and the TPM crew, who made a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the methodology Petraeus used to come up with his shiny bar graphs, in a manner similar to that which DeYoung describes here.

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