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Iraq Casualty Reporting

  1. Nov 18, 2005 #1
    We all know that the media likes to portray itself as "unbiased," but do the media organizations live up to their claim? As of this writing, the number of US military dead in Iraq is 2,081-2,085 (depending on the source). Yet there is a critical piece of information missing here.

    What about the insurgent casualties?

    I have done some research and I have found that the lack of reporting about insurgent casualties is as much the US military's fault as it is the media's. Early in the war, General Tommy Franks famously said, "We don't do body counts." This decision permanently confined the media to mere speculation about insurgent (and civilian) casualties. General Franks's stance was based off of experience gained by the US military during the Vietnam War. Daily tallies were shown on the evening news then, displaying the number of "ours" who were killed alongside the number of "theirs." This practice, the military believes, created a false sense of "scoring" by weighing "our" losses against "their" losses. The military also believes that this placed pressure on commanders to provide good numbers, causing some officers to issue inflated reports. The very nature of the conflict also created difficulties in reporting enemy losses. In Vietnam (as in Iraq) aerial forces frequently struck at enemy positions. The destruction caused by a string of 500-pound bombs made the process of estimating the enemy's losses all but impossible. In many cases, teeth or bone fragments were all that remained of the enemy soldiers and an estimate was inaccurate at best. Though the process of estimating enemy dead may be difficult, the military's refusal to release the information it does have results in incomprehensive reporting. We know that at least 2,081 US soldiers have died in Iraq, but we have little way of knowing how many enemy combatants have perished. Imagine, for example, that your favorite sports team won a game yesterday. The sports section of the newspaper reports the score by saying that the winning team scored 5 goals. This report fails to focus on several important aspects of the game. How close was the game? Was it a shutout? Did the winning team score its goal in the final seconds of play? These critical pieces of information are lost due to the incomplete nature of this kind of reporting, just as important information is left out of Iraq War coverage due to the US military's policy. It is true that 2,081 US soldiers have perished in Iraq, but how many insurgents/terrorists/fanatics were killed or captured during the same time period that the US sustained those losses? Fortunately, the US military seems to be revising its policy. As reported by the Washington Post, the US recently announced that it is abandoning "its previous refusal to publicize enemy body counts and now cites such numbers periodically to show the impact of some counterinsurgency operations." How extensively the media reports these numbers has yet to be seen, due to the recent nature of the change, but it will be interesting to see how the media picks these numbers up.

    We now arrive at my question:

    In spite of the difficulties in reporting the Iraqi insurgent casualties, do you think that the media, as a whole, has irresponsibly omitted information about insurgent setbacks and/or casualties? Does the media have a contract of responsibility, made with the public, to find the numbers even if the US military will not release them?

    Your votes and discussions are welcome.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 18, 2005 #2
    They have of course done this. You are correct. Who cares for truth?
  4. Nov 18, 2005 #3
    I don't know that it is the media's fault.

    I think it is the public's fault. The media relies on some governmental funding, some media survives because of tax breaks, etc.

    So, there is pressure (small, but present) to not report things (like coffins coming home) that might jeopardize that funding in any way.

    Who is responsible? Maybe the media, or more broadly the government -- and therefore more broadly the voters.

    Look to (reputable sources on) the internet. Look to reports in other countries that are not subject to *any* US funding.

    This is rather oversimplified, but an interesting discussion (interview with Bill Moyers) on this topic was on our local NPR station yesterday. The station doesn't have a transcript available, but NPR will be re-airing segments on Morning Edition on Dec 7 or 8.
  5. Nov 18, 2005 #4
    Just as this has been the most secret administration in the History of the USA, this has also been the most secretive war. All reports and video submitted by embedded reporters, are heavily censored by the military.

    I don't blame the media for that. I blame the American people for not demanding more accountability from both the military and the Bush administration. Civialian body counts aren't even taken.
  6. Nov 19, 2005 #5
    The US military's tight lips have not prevented independent groups from making civilian death counts:

    Iraq Body Count

    Visual Aid

    It is interesting to note that sources such as the Iraq Body Count have been quoted in the mass media.

    If independent groups are capable of collecting sufficient information to create estimates on the civilian death toll, it is not too far-fetched to believe an insugent death toll could be compiled as well.

    I have, however, not seen such an estimate - from the military, mass-media or independent groups.
  7. Nov 19, 2005 #6
    I don't see insurgent deaths as really being a vital number to quantify. The media should definately report the amount of civilian deaths, but I don't see the real importance with accurately numerating the amount of insurgents dying.

    If we were fighting an army, it'd be one thing, but it's not like there's a set number of insurgents, and with x amount killed we have x less insurgents to deal with as a whole. Insurgents are being created and snuck in all the time, so while you may kill 5 million insurgents, it doesn't mean that there's no one out there who might be convinced to become an insurgent.

    Civilian casualties is what I'm apalled about. I've heard numbers indicating that tens, if not hundreds of thousands of non-combatant civilians have been killed. How many totally innocent people have died is one of the most tragic things about this war; that, and the fact that the media doesn't give a damn.
  8. Nov 19, 2005 #7
    Some media organizations like to quote the 2,081 US deaths to show that the mission is not "accomplished." Unfortunately, knowing the US deaths alone is not enough to make that kind of judgment. Imagine if the US media had reported the D-Day landings this way: "Allies sustain 10,000 casualties during landings." A person who read that article would not have learned about the critical Allied beachhead in Normandy, or the number of Axis casualties. He would not realize that this operation was actually a great success. Now I am not comparing the Iraq War to the Normandy landings, nor am I comparing a war against insurgents to one against a formal army, but I am comparing what I see as two similar media situations to illustrate how it is a mistake to omit information about the enemy's setbacks.

    So if the media uses US casualties to gauge the progress being made in Iraq, it should do likewise with the insurgent casualties. I recognize that quantitative measures, such as numbers of deaths, do not fully depict the situation on the ground in Iraq, but if the media decides to quote numerical statistics for one side it must do so for the other. Otherwise, the coverage is not comprehensive.
  9. Nov 19, 2005 #8


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    I don't even see how a count of "insurgents" would be practical or even possible. The "insurgents" are not uniformed, they don't carry ID cards saying "I'm an insurgent".

    Futobingoro, how would someone go about looking at 20 plain clothed men and tell which were insurgents? If you are going to accuse someone of not reporting the numbers accurately, then you need to explain how it's possible.

    I agree with Wasteof2, what matters is the number of civilian casualties.
  10. Nov 19, 2005 #9
    Early in the war, many reporters were embedded in US military units. The embedded reporters' information was just about as good as the military's information. If the unit knew about it, the chances were, the embedded reporter knew about it as well. Unfortunately, embedded reporting became less common as the invasion campaign came to an end. Due to the growing insurgency, reporters tended to remain inside the "Green Zone" in Baghdad. The consequence of this trend was a loss of the view "in the field." Tim Ryan, an officer who has served in Iraq, wrote about this phenomenon:

    "I believe one of the reasons for this shallow and subjective reporting is that many reporters never actually cover the events they report on. This is a point of growing concern within the Coalition. It appears many members of the media are hesitant to venture beyond the relative safety of the so-called "International Zone" in downtown Baghdad, or similar "safe havens" in other large cities. Because terrorists and other thugs wisely target western media members and others for kidnappings or attacks, the westerners stay close to their quarters. This has the effect of holding the media captive in cities and keeps them away from the broader truth that lies outside their view. With the press thus cornered, the terrorists easily feed their unwitting captives a thin gruel of anarchy, one spoonful each day. A car bomb at the entry point to the International Zone one day, a few mortars the next, maybe a kidnapping or two thrown in. All delivered to the doorsteps of those who will gladly accept it without having to leave their hotel rooms — how convenient.

    The scene is repeated all too often: an attack takes place in Baghdad and the morning sounds are punctuated by a large explosion and a rising cloud of smoke. Sirens wail in the distance and photographers dash to the scene a few miles away. Within the hour, stern-faced reporters confidently stare into the camera while standing on the balcony of their tenth-floor Baghdad hotel room, their back to the city and a distant smoke plume rising behind them. More mayhem in Gotham City they intone, and just in time for the morning news. There is a transparent reason why the majority of car bombings and other major events take place before noon Baghdad-time; any later and the event would miss the start of the morning news cycle on the U.S. east coast. These terrorists aren't stupid; they know just what to do to scare the masses and when to do it. An important key to their plan is manipulation of the news media. But, at least the reporters in Iraq are gathering information and filing their stories, regardless of whether or the stories are in perspective. Much worse are the "talking heads" who sit in studios or offices back home and pontificate about how badly things are going when they never have been to Iraq and only occasionally leave Manhattan."

    -from this site

    If what Tim Ryan says is true, the terrorists in Iraq have the media wrapped around their finger. Reporters are too frightened to leave the safety of the "Green Zone," and therefore miss the important events which frequently unfold outside their "bubble." The media needs to be more courageous about its reporting, perhaps brokering a deal with the US military to accompany some patrols and raids.

    Because the media has remained inside the Green Zone, reporters have not been able to report at the scene of a battle, where the number of enemy dead is tallied up - missing the only opportunity to obtain these numbers. The recent change in policy, however, gives reporters access to these numbers even if they do not accompany US forces.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2005
  11. Nov 19, 2005 #10


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    If you are just wanting to try to tally up the number of insurgents dead to gloat over the numbers, I don't see the point. I don't care how many we're killing, I don't care how many blow themselves up, it's all a tragedy. People aren't asking for these numbers because there is no point.

    Are you saying that if the news posted "2,000 US troops killed and 10,000 insurgents killed since the war began" that we can feel successful? Or if it was less it would matter? The point isn't how many insurgents we kill, it would be a success if we could help restore peace without any deaths, don't ya think?

    Your quote
    I really don't get this. I don't remember that we had to reach some number of US dead before we could say we had accomplished anything and I don't see how the number of insurgents dead matter in relation to the number of US dead. This isn't a numbers game.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2005
  12. Nov 19, 2005 #11
    How true for the current war, yet in Vietnam , numbers were the whole game. Daily body counts, both ours and the Viet Cong, were on the evening news along with still pictures and video.

    I really think if people are in favor of a war, they should at least see the results of that war.
  13. Nov 19, 2005 #12


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    You do realize that the "numbers" reported were for, as Futobingoro's sports analogy put it, "keeping score", to bolster support of the war?

    I would think you would be against this type of thing.

    Also, we're not talking about two armies being engaged. These are disparate groups with different goals and agendas that are pretty much making random attacks. What would be the point of trying to come up with numbers, not to mention that it's pretty much impossible. I'd say the fewer "insurgents" that we kill, the better, since we're not there to track down and kill them, are we? Or are you suggesting that we start a huge offensive to start doing this and bump the numbers up?
  14. Nov 19, 2005 #13
    MY greatest wish is that there would be no bodies to count, especially young Americans. But I reiterate that when people are in favor of a war they really should be moraly bound to observe it's consequences. Sweeping deaths under the carpet and sanitizing them with the chlorox of avoidance will only prolong the war.

    Whew , major Vietnam dejavu on that one.

    We are doing that anyway in a start and stop fashion, city by city. And it is not working.
    The assault on Fallujah was supposed to break the back of the insergency. It did not, even though it was the biggest military operation against a city since HUE in Vienam.

    If we can't train enough Iraqi troops to do the job in the north effectively by themselves, it is time to look at other options. Iraqis should die for Iraqi freedom, not Americans.
  15. Nov 19, 2005 #14
    I think there has been a misunderstanding. I do not think that numbers alone show whether progress is being made; I even said, "I recognize that quantitative measures, such as numbers of deaths, do not fully depict the situation on the ground in Iraq." I take issue with the media because the media thinks that the Iraq War is a numbers game. CNN reports George Bush's approval rating almost daily. News organizations frequently tabulate the total monetary cost of the war. The most prominent of these numbers, however, is the US death toll. We should not forget the flurry of coverage that was unleashed when that statistic passed the 2,000 mark. Several leading newspapers, including the New York Times, reserved their front pages for the story. In the case of the Times, 4 additional pages were filled with the photographs and names of some 1,000 servicemen, bridging the gap between that issue and their previous 1,000th-death issue.

    It would seem, therefore, that the media has decided to stake its analysis of the Iraq War's progress on the number of US casualties. When media organizations choose to play this "numbers game," however, they must adhere to the rules of number games. A point is a point, regardless of whether it is in "our" favor or in "their" favor. And the media organizations have shown that they count only the points in "their" favor.
    It is neither my place, nor yours or the media's place, to decide what the public shouldn't know. If a story is genuinely important and not indecent, it should be reported. The decision to report all of the facts is made on behalf of the media organizations when they promise to report all of the facts.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2005
  16. Nov 20, 2005 #15
    Where did you hear/read/see that information?

    I ask because, in a case where the media is the subject of a kind of trial, evidence taken from the media proves very little. Any evidence which is used to defend the media does not possess much authority because that evidence probably came from the media. This is a situation similar to that of a real trial, where a suspect's claim of innocence is not sufficient evidence of his innocence.

    Because of the nature of this kind of "trial," evidence which can be used to incriminate the media is also very hard to come by. One becomes stuck in a kind of Catch-22. Imagine that I attempt to show that the media's coverage is imcomprehensive by claiming that the media failed to report 50 insurgent deaths in a certain battle. Doubt is cast upon my claim because no evidence can be found in any publication that 50 insurgents were actually killed in that battle.

    Information from a truly independent source is required before a judgment can be made.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2005
  17. Nov 20, 2005 #16
    Minus a rambling reply:
    Why would you even question that information? It is common knowledge. Both Bush and Cheney mentioned in speeches that the assault on Fallujah was going to break the back of the insurgency.

    As for links,



    And Here:

    Last edited: Nov 20, 2005
  18. Nov 20, 2005 #17
    It would be wise to avoid those kind of statements in a thread where "common knowledge" is being investigated.

    The failings of the Iraq Coaltion may be common knowledge, but the successes are not. One reason for this is that the positive news is just not as sensational as the negative news is. Does the media report all the terrorist threats which fail to materialize? Of course it does not. On November 12, a US patrol captured a 7-man mortar team near Baqubah. The patrol captured 6 terrorists; the seventh man was killed in a firefight. Which outcome would have generated more news coverage: the terrorists' capture or a terrorist attack on a checkpoint which killed 3 US soldiers? I think we can all agree that if the terrorists had been allowed to set up their equipment and attack, the event would have garnered much more attention than it actually did. Instead, this story was buried in the Iraq War coverage and I had to dig to find it.

    I am not disputing that Bush and Cheney made those comments, I am disputing the information that individuals are using as "evidence" that the Fallujah raid failed to "break the back of the insurgency."

    The Galloway article that you link to makes many of the mistakes I warn against:
    Galloway makes the assumption that the insurgent activities are far more costly to the US than they are for the insurgents.
    Galloway again makes the assumption that our involvement in Iraq is far more costly to the US than it is for the insurgents.
    Galloway makes yet another assumption. His claim can be rebutted by a story from, of all sources, CNN:
    It is interesting to note that, though this article mentions a success of the Iraq War, it fails to mention the mortar team's capture even though it occurred on the same day and in the same city the article covers.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2005
  19. Nov 20, 2005 #18

    All three links are valid and directly answered your question.

    You can ramble on about Galloway all you want.:rolleyes:
  20. Nov 20, 2005 #19


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    Futobingoro, Having read the posts in this thread IMO you really need to clarify exactly what your point is. Like Evo I thought you were looking to keep score as if this in someway will mitigate against the loss of american lives. Her repy to you explained very clearly why aside from being impossible (e.g. 500 lb bombs make it a tad difficult to count bodies) this is a shallow and irrelevent argument to which you replied that she had misunderstood and that wasn't your contention. You then proceed to continue to make that very argument so perhaps as some of us are obviously not understanding in the least what you are saying you could spell it out for us.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2005
  21. Nov 20, 2005 #20
    Again, I do not think that numbers should be the unit of measure for progress in Iraq. The media thinks that numbers should be the unit of measure, however. A look at the evening news confirms that. Though I do not support the media's numbers game, I believe they should provide the number of enemy dead. The entire point of having a standardized measure is to be able to apply it to both sides, and the media is not doing so. So it is not that I think that casualty counts should be the standard of progress in Iraq; I am saying that the media should stick to its own standard.

    While the military's tight lips and the realities of the conflict make it very difficult to create an insurgent death count, Iraq Body Count has demonstrated that it is still quite possible to tabulate the total plain-clothes death count for the Iraq War. Logic dictates that if a plain-clothes death count is possible, and the insurgents wear plain clothing, an insurgent death count is also possible.
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