Thursday, January 27, 2005

Freedom will be air-borne: Burmese and their Outpost of Tyranny

This FBC Posting contains:

1). Burma: Lead, Follow or Get Out of The Way
2). Researchers Who Rushed Into Print a Study of Iraqi Civilian Deaths NowWonder Why It Was Ignored

Compiler's Remark:

The newly-minted Secretary of State Condi Rice's catchy polemics labellinganti-US, truly authoritarian states or left-leaning governments "outposts oftyranny," which preceded her boss's "Freedom Inaugural Speech," has instilledhope and excitement among some Burmese opposition quarters. Some Burmese andforeign activists have tried not to miss Mr. Bush's liberty train by soundingto have bought into the Grand Presidential Double-speak.

Thank Buddha, there are also sobering Burmese opposition voices. For instance,a Burmese Internet cartoon gently reminded us that after the irrational ,initial euphoria upon hearing the hyped-up word "freedom" from the hallowedchambers of power in Washington, the Burmese should do well to remember theyhave no one else to rely on - but themselves - for their own freedom.

Comparing this freedom speech with Woodrow Wilson's announcement of for self-determination at the time much of the non-European world(Asia, Latin America, and Africa) was in colonial bondage at the hands of theEuropean powers, a Western scholar remarked pointedly during our lunch thatsuch moralistic speech lacking seriousnes or credibilty of a policy or practiceis dangerous and immoral. It gave false hope and misled the down-trodden andthe oppressed.

I reminded the scholar that there have been more recent examples - than Dr.Wilson's magnificent polemic - of Senior Bush's Administration openlyencouraging the Kurds under Mr. Hussein to rise up against his brutal rule. The Kurds bought into Washington's polemic only to find themselves left unaidedby Washington, when Mr. Hussein decided to use his chemical weapons against theWashington-encouraged Kurds. The rest is history.

In this posting, I am sharing with you two pieces of writing: one is a letterto the Editors of the on-line Asian Tribune by one Texas-based Burmeseexpatriate who is "Senior Advisor to the Burmese Resistance" - whatever thatis. His letter promotes fantastically the speculation or hope that there willbe a swift military assistance should the people of Burma take to the streetsin a 8.8.88-style popular uprisings.

And the other is a news article on how the mainstream American media chose toignore the release, on the eve of the recent US presidential election, of asolidly scholarly article regarding violence-related Iraqi civilian death toll. The latter appears at today's Chronicle of Higher Education (in the UnitedStates).

The Burmese should pause for a moment and reflect before they take to thestreets. We may be seduced to think the following: if NLD is not inspiring themto rise up against the Lords in uniform, finally Washington is sending them aclear signal.

In 1988, there were rumors of the sightings of a small number of US NavalVessels from the 7th Fleet/Pacific Command near or in the Burmese waters. Butas a matter of policy or principles Pentagon's toys do not roam our blue watersto protect us from our home-grown tyrants. They were - and they will be -there to first and foremost evacuate the members of the American Outposts. Like any other national armed forces, Rumsfeld's Pentagon and its primarymission is to protect its own national interests , as it were.

We natives have to figure out ways to re-build, repair or dismantle thetyranical outpost on our own native soil.

If we have to cry wolf or jump with excitement each time a foreign powerpromised liberation or help with our unfinished, inter-generational job, then Iam not sure we are equipped to run our own country independently,democratically and self-reliantly?

Not that the prospects for US-liberation of Myanmarese are high or even there,but even hypothetically speaking, what if Washington says to uspost-dismantling of tyrany in our midst - that it would be there for quite sometime to come to raise our people's "capacity" so that we can govern ourselves -as it is now telling the Iraqis and the world?

This is all dejavu (spelling?): Kipling told us a century ago that our forefathers and mothers were half-children who needed to be processed , throughcolonial rule and Western education, the burden the White Men and Women took onas their noble mission.

But again the embryonic slaves among us might rush to embrace the New Mastersin GI Fatigue. After all, with all the nationalist pride and celebration, wewere a nation who addressed our despotic kings "my lord", the Britishcolonialists "Thakhin-gyi" or "Big Lords", the Japanese militarists "Masters"and crooked, power-mad civilian MPs of the post-independence parliamentary"democracy" era "Lord Representative".
After all, with this kind of collective psyche or mentality, perhaps "capacitybuilding" by "new liberators" might not be such a bad idea, in theory.

Sarcasm aside the Burmese, especially those who are looking for solutions forour inter-generational troubles beyond our own national boundaries should thinkbefore they clamour for the dismantling of the Yangon Outpost by foreignpowers. They should make sure they are not, in fact, preferring to live undera foreign tyranny to a home-grown one.

Asian TribuneDate : 2005-01-27

Burma: Lead, Follow or Get Out of The WayBy Myint Thein - Senior Advisor to the Burmese Resistance

Condoleezza Rice in her Senate confirmation hearings read from prepared textlisting the six "Outposts of Tyranny". It should be noted that these countrieswere not listed in alphabetical order. Burma is listed second after Cuba.

Countries ranging from Saudi Arabia to Russia are confused about PresidentBush's speech on Freedom. They do not seem to realize that his speech wasprimarily directed at these six "Outposts of Tyranny".

President Bush in his Inaugural Address for his second term as President said"When you stand for liberty, we will stand with you". I am confident that theBurmese will soon take a stand against the Burmese military government.
U Shwe Ohn, a 82 year old Shan ethnic leader, in the December 2004 issue of theIrrawaddy criticises the National League for Democracy (NLD) for lacking aviable political strategy. He said "Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is very intelligentand well-read.....but she is not capable of playing practical politics. Becauseshe does not play as a clever politician to make a change, we all suffer".
Tin Maung Than in the same issue of Irrawaddy stated " I think the NLD is verymuch like a party operating under democracy not under oppression. The NLD hasproduced a lot of statements of political demands but not actions or apractical transitional plan. Sadly I would express Burmese politics asoppression versus statements. Some NLD leaders are campaigning, but notorganizing or building a network to stage a mass movement".
President Bush sent a loud and clear message to the Burmese that if we haveanother 1988 type National Uprising, we can expect immediate and substantialmilitary assistance from the United States.
Another 1988 type National Uprising is expected, although the role of NLD isunclear. They can lead, follow or get out of the way.
Thursday, January 27, 2005

Researchers Who Rushed Into Print a Study of Iraqi Civilian Deaths Now WonderWhy It Was Ignored
By LILA GUTERMAN, The Chronicle of Higher Education

Researchers who rushed into print a study of Iraqi civilian deaths now wonderwhy it was ignored
When more than 200,000 people died in a tsunami caused by an Asian earthquakein December, the immediate reaction in the United States was an outpouring ofgrief and philanthropy, prompted by extensive coverage in the news media.
Two months earlier, the reaction in the United States to news of anotherlarge-scale human tragedy was much quieter. In late October, a study waspublished in The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal, concluding thatabout 100,000 civilians had been killed in Iraq since it was invaded by aUnited States-led coalition in March 2003. On the eve of a contentiouspresidential election -- fought in part over U.S. policy on Iraq -- manyAmerican newspapers and television news programs ignored the study or buriedreports about it far from the top headlines.
The paper, written by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University, ColumbiaUniversity, and Baghdad's Al-Mustansiriya University, was based on adoor-to-door survey in September of nearly 8,000 people in 33 randomly selectedlocations in Iraq. It was dangerous work, and the team of researchers was luckyto emerge from the survey unharmed.
The paper that they published carried some caveats. For instance, theresearchers admitted that many of the dead might have been combatants. Theyalso acknowledged that the true number of deaths could fall anywhere within arange of 8,000 to 194,000, a function of the researchers' having extrapolatedtheir survey to a country of 25 million.
But the statistics do point to a number in the middle of that range. And theraw numbers upon which the researchers' extrapolation was based are undeniable:Since the invasion, the No. 1 cause of death among households surveyed wasviolence. The risk of death due to violence had increased 58-fold since beforethe war. And more than half of the people who had died from violence and itsaftermath since the invasion began were women and children.
Neither the Defense Department nor the State Department responded to the paper,nor would they comment when contacted by The Chronicle. American news-mediaoutlets largely published only short articles, noting how much higher theLancet estimate was than previous estimates. Some pundits called the resultspoliticized and worthless.
Les F. Roberts, a research associate at Hopkins and the lead author of thepaper, was shocked by the muted or dismissive reception. He had expected thepublic response to his paper to be "moral outrage."
On its merits, the study should have received more prominent play.Public-health professionals have uniformly praised the paper for its correctmethods and notable results.
"Les has used, and consistently uses, the best possible methodology," saysBradley A. Woodruff, a medical epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for DiseaseControl and Prevention.
Indeed, the United Nations and the State Department have cited mortalitynumbers compiled by Mr. Roberts on previous conflicts as fact -- and have actedon those results.
What went wrong this time? Perhaps the rush by researchers and The Lancet toput the study in front of American voters before the election accomplishedprecisely the opposite result, drowning out a valuable study in the clamor ofthe presidential campaign.
A Risky Proposition
Mr. Roberts has studied mortality caused by war since 1992, having done surveysin locations including Bosnia, Congo, and Rwanda. His three surveys in Congofor the International Rescue Committee, a nongovernmental humanitarianorganization, in which he used methods akin to those of his Iraq study,received a great deal of attention. "Tony Blair and Colin Powell have quotedthose results time and time again without any question as to the precision orvalidity," he says.
Mr. Roberts's first survey in Congo, in 2000, estimated that 1.7 million peoplehad died over 22 months of armed conflict. The response was dramatic. Within amonth, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution that all foreign armiesmust leave Congo, and later that year, the United Nations called for$140-million in aid to that country, more than doubling its previous annualrequest. Later, citing the study, the State Department announced a pledge of anadditional $10-million for emergency programs in Congo.
About a year ago, Mr. Roberts decided to study mortality in Iraq. He connectedwith a colleague at Columbia, Richard Garfield, a professor of nursing who haddone research in Iraq since the mid-1990s. Mr. Garfield knew Riyadh Lafta, amortality researcher at Al-Mustansiriya University, who recruited interviewersto do the door-to-door survey.
"He had to ask many people before he could find five interviewers willing towork in a study that involved an American," Mr. Roberts says.
Mr. Roberts planned to travel to Iraq last spring. After an American hostagewas beheaded on video, however, Dr. Lafta told him that the danger was toogreat. "I was going to go in June, but in June it was even worse," Mr. Robertssays. Finally, in late August, with a fall teaching commitment looming, hedecided to go.
On September 1, Mr. Roberts sneaked into Iraq from Jordan, lying on the backseat of a sport-utility vehicle. He trained the interviewers, who tried outtheir questions in a relatively safe neighborhood of Baghdad before embarkingon the study.
The researchers visited 30 homes in each of 33 neighborhoods in Iraq. Theyselected the communities to be surveyed using a random process adjusted so thatmore-populous areas were more likely to be picked, giving each person in Iraqan equal chance of being interviewed. Within each community, a spot was chosenat random, and the interviewers visited the 30 households nearest to thatpoint.
At each house, the interviewers asked for the age and sex of everyone livingthere currently and on January 1, 2002. The interviewers asked about deathssince the first day of 2002 and recorded the day, cause, and circumstances, sothat they could compare the time just before the 2003 invasion with the periodsince then.
In each neighborhood, in at least the first two households where an adult'sdeath had occurred, the interviewers ended by asking for death certificates.They received confirmation of deaths in 63 of the 78 houses where they asked.
Mr. Garfield says the high proportion of death certificates assuaged hisconcern that lying might be widespread. In unstable countries, where records ofdeaths aren't always thorough, ascertaining lies or simply faulty memoriesbecomes difficult.
At first Mr. Roberts accompanied the Iraqi researchers. To mask his identity,he dyed his graying brown hair black, wore Iraqi clothing, and never spoke inpublic. But he was acutely aware of the danger his presence created for hiscolleagues; one interviewer refused to ride in a car with him.
On the eighth day, the interviewers ended up in Balad, a town north of Baghdadwhose main street was dominated by a huge portrait of the radical Islamiccleric Moktada al-Sadr. "As fate would have it," Mr. Roberts says, "one of thefirst doors we knocked on was the governor's. There I am, I'm sitting in thecar, and a police car rolls up, and my two interviewers get hauled away."
Mr. Roberts and his driver decided to wait. "I laid on my side and pretended tobe asleep so no one would see my blue eyes," he says. After the interviewershad been gone for about 40 minutes, he says, "two little kids walked up to thecar and in English said, 'Hello, Mister!'"
"It's just impossible for a Westerner to stay invisible in Iraq," he says.
After more than an hour, the two interviewers, who were physicians for theIraqi Ministry of Health, managed to talk their way out of the situation. Mr.Roberts retreated to a hotel in Baghdad for the duration of his stay, gettingdaily reports from Dr. Lafta.
Canvassing Fallujah
The researchers saved the most dangerous location for last. On September 20,Dr. Lafta went to violence-racked Fallujah with the only interviewer willing totravel there. The researchers had done a haunting bit of calculus before thejourney. Given that the chance was high of an interviewer's or researcher'sgetting killed there, the study would be better served by getting the otherdata first.
The Fallujah data were chilling: 53 deaths had taken place in the study's 30households there since the invasion commenced, on March 19, 2003. In the other32 neighborhoods combined, the researchers had counted 89 deaths. While 21 ofthe deaths elsewhere were attributable to violence, in Fallujah 52 of the 53deaths were due to violence.
The number of deaths in Fallujah was so much higher than in other locationsthat the researchers excluded the data from their overall estimate as astatistical outlier. Because of that, Mr. Roberts says, chances are good thatthe actual number of deaths caused by the invasion and occupation is higherthan 100,000.
Mr. Roberts took a few days in Baghdad in late September to compile and analyzethe data. He discovered that the risk of death was 2.5 times as high in the 18months after the invasion as it was in the 15 months before it; the risk wasstill 1.5 times as high if he ignored the Fallujah data. Because he had foundin many other wars that malnutrition and disease were the most frequent causesof civilian deaths, he was "shocked," he says, that violence had been theprimary cause of death since the invasion.
"On the 25th of September my focus was about how to get out of the country," herecalls. "My second focus was to get this information out before the U.S.election." In little more than 30 days, the paper was published in The Lancet.
Mr. Roberts and his colleagues now believe that the speedy publication of thatdata created much of the public skepticism toward the study. He sent themanuscript to the medical journal on October 1, requesting that it be publishedthat month. Mr. Roberts says the editors agreed to do so without asking himwhy.
Despite the sprint to publication, the paper did go through editing and peerreview. In an accompanying editorial, Richard Horton, editor of the The Lancet,wrote that the paper "has been extensively peer-reviewed, revised, edited, andfast-tracked to publication because of its importance to the evolving securitysituation in Iraq."
Dr. Horton declined repeated requests by The Chronicle for comment on the studyand the decision to publish it before the U.S. presidential election. But threeother major medical journals told The Chronicle that they, too, occasionallyput papers of immediate importance on a fast track, and that the time fromreceipt to publication can be days or a few weeks.
Mr. Roberts calls the peer-review process that his paper underwent "rigorous."One of the peer reviewers told The Chronicle that he had had about a week tocomment on the paper.
A Question of Timing
The timing of the paper's publication opened the study to charges of politicalpropaganda. So did Mr. Roberts's admission to an Associated Press reporter onthe day that the paper came out that he opposed the war. "That was the wronganswer," Mr. Roberts says now, "because some of the other study members hatedSaddam and were in favor of the initial invasion."
Mr. Garfield, one of the co-authors, says he did not feel the same urgencyabout publishing before the U.S. election. "I was afraid that the importance ofthe topic would get lost among many other electoral issues," he says.
Mr. Garfield appears to have been correct.
The Lancet released the paper on October 29, the Friday before the election,when many reporters were busy with political coverage. That day, the LosAngeles Times and the Chicago Tribune each dedicated only about 400 words tothe study and placed the articles inside their front sections, on Pages A4 andA11, respectively. (The news media in Europe gave the study much more play;many newspapers put articles about it on their front pages.)
In a short article about the study on Page A8, The New York Times noted thatthe Iraq Body Count, a project to tally civilian deaths reported in the newsmedia, had put the maximum death toll at around 17,000. The new study, thearticle said, "is certain to generate intense controversy." But the Times hasnot published any further news articles about the paper.
The Washington Post, perhaps most damagingly to the study's reputation, quotedMarc E. Garlasco, a senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch, as saying,"These numbers seem to be inflated."
Mr. Garlasco says now that he had not read the paper at the time and calls hisquote in the Post "really unfortunate." He says he told the reporter, "Ihaven't read it. I haven't seen it. I don't know anything about it, so Ishouldn't comment on it." But, Mr. Garlasco continues, "like any goodjournalist, he got me to."
Mr. Garlasco says he misunderstood the reporter's description of the paper'sresults. He did not understand that the paper's estimate includes deaths causednot only directly by violence but also by its offshoots: chaos leading to lackof sanitation and medical care.
Online, the words flew. Some bloggers denounced the study. The online magazineSlate published an essay by its military columnist, Fred Kaplan, saying thatthe wide range of possible deaths, 8,000 to 194,000, is not an estimate. "It'sa dartboard," he wrote.
The U.S. government had no comment at the time and remains silent about Iraqicivilian deaths. "The only thing we keep track of is casualties for U.S. troopsand civilians," a Defense Department spokesman told The Chronicle.
Mr. Garfield now regrets the timing of the paper's release because he believesthat it allowed people to dismiss the research. "The argument is an idiotic oneof, 'You're playing politics, so then the data's not true,'" he says.
Such logic angers him. "Hey," he says. "This is valuable information. The factthat somebody wants to convince you of it -- how is that suddenly illegitimate?Why is that a reason to ignore it? If it's wrong, then ignore it. If it'sdealing with deaths of people that don't count in the world, then ignore it. Idon't think it's wrong, and I don't think Iraqi deaths don't count."
Mr. Roberts insists that his primary motive for rushing the paper to press wasnot political. He says he is glad the paper appeared before the electionbecause he was concerned for his Iraqi colleagues' safety. Had the paper comeout after the election, he argues, it would have looked like a cover-up. Dr.Lafta, he says, "would have been killed -- there is just no doubt."
Dr. Lafta, in an e-mail message to The Chronicle, disagrees: "My personalopinion is that this was an unjustified fear."
Mr. Roberts acknowledges that he also hoped to ignite a policy change or publicresponse. "This was going to do more good in terms of changing policy if itcame out in October than if it came out in November," he says. "But we neverhad any delusions that this might affect the U.S. election."
Reassessing the Evidence
The reception of the Iraqi mortality study by scientists has been farfriendlier than by the news media.
Scientists say the size of the survey was adequate for extrapolation to theentire country. "That's a classical sample size," says Michael J. Toole, headof the Center for International Health at the Burnet Institute, an Australianresearch organization. Researchers typically conduct surveys in 30neighborhoods, so the Iraq study's total of 33 strengthens its conclusions. "Ijust don't see any evidence of significant exaggeration," he says.
David R. Meddings, a medical officer with the Department of Injuries andViolence Prevention at the World Health Organization, says any such survey willhave uncertainty because of extrapolation based on small numbers, and becauseof the possibility that people gave incorrect information about deaths in theirhouseholds.
"I don't think the authors ignored that or understated" those factors, he says."Those cautions I don't believe should be applied any more or any lessstringently to a study that looks at a politically sensitive conflict than to astudy that looks at a pill for heart disease."
The uncertainty leads to the breadth of the so-called 95-percent confidenceinterval -- in other words, the 95-percent chance that the number of deaths inIraq resulting from military activities is between 8,000 and 194,000.
Critics like the Slate writer seized on that range, says Dr. Woodruff, thegovernment epidemiologist. "They thought, 'Well, it's just as likely to be18,000 as 100,000.' That's not true at all," he says. "The further you get awayfrom 100,000, the probability that the number is true gets much smaller."
The gap between the Lancet estimate and that of Iraq Body Count does nottrouble scientists contacted by The Chronicle. John Sloboda, a professor ofpsychology at the University of Keele, in England, and a co-founder of IraqBody Count, says his team's efforts will lead to a count smaller than the truenumber because not every death is reported in the news media.
Dr. Woodruff says, "Les [Roberts] has the most valid estimate."
Dr. Toole agrees: "If anything, the deaths may have been higher [than thestudy's estimate] because what they are unable to do is survey families whereeveryone has died."
Robin M. Coupland, a medical adviser on weapons and armed violence in the legaldivision of the International Committee of the Red Cross, has only one concern:Mr. Roberts's team did not document how many people were wounded.
"In every recorded context where conventional explosive weapons have been usedin armed contact," Dr. Coupland says, "there's usually two or more peoplewounded per person killed. The question that glares out from that article is,Where are all the 200,000 wounded?"
Mr. Roberts says his team did not ask about injuries because of the difficultyof defining both what constitutes an injury and whether the injury stemmeddirectly or indirectly from violence. "If someone is running from fighting andthey cut their foot, is that a war wound?" he asks.
Burden of Proof
Despite the muted public response, public-health professionals are glad thatthe study brought to light the human toll of the Iraq war and continuingoccupation. Both the study and the Iraq Body Count, says Mr. Sloboda, are"shoestring attempts by private citizens" to do work he says the governmentought to be doing.
Mr. Garlasco, of Human Rights Watch, is mystified that the Defense Departmentis not publicly interested in such studies. "Civilian casualties can be abellwether for the actual conduct of the war-fighting," says Mr. Garlasco, whowas an intelligence officer at the Pentagon until 2003. "They're using allthese precision weapons, so one would expect that if you're striving tominimize casualties, you'd have very low casualties. In Iraq we've seen theexact opposite, so one has to wonder why."
Besides, he says, counting civilian deaths could actually be useful for thePentagon's public image. "I truly believe when the U.S. military says we're notthere to kill civilians, it's absolutely true," he says. "The problem is,though, there are many people who don't accept their reasoning. The only waythey'll change their minds is if the U.S. military shows they take civiliancasualties seriously enough that they quantify them and attempt to minimizecasualties in the future."
In the Lancet article, Mr. Roberts and his colleagues write, "It seemsdifficult to understand how a military force could monitor the extent to whichcivilians are protected without systematically doing body counts or at leastlooking at the kinds of casualties they induce."
Dr. Coupland says, "The number of noncombatant deaths and injuries would speakto the legality of the nature of the hostilities."
That's why surveys like the Lancet one are important, says the World HealthOrganization's Dr. Meddings, even if the immediate response is hesitant: "Ifyou can put accurate information out, it shifts the burden of proof ontomilitaries to substantiate why what they're doing is worth this humanitariancost."
At the end of the day, Mr. Roberts worries that his study may play little partin that crucial debate. Although he blames the American news media for beingembedded not only with the military but also with the military point of view,he also partly blames himself for the lack of public response.
"Maybe we the scientists have mismanaged this information," he says. "We had amessage that was of interest to most Americans. We had a message that wasextremely robust scientifically. And we failed to get it out into society wherethey could use it."