Iraq War Logs Press Conference, Saturday 23 October 2010
Opening remarks by John Sloboda, Co-Director of 'Iraq Body Count' (IBC) and Director of Oxford Research Group's 'Recording Casualties of Armed Conflict Programme' (RCAC)
In any human disaster, finding out who died and how they died is the over-riding public concern.
But, seven years on, we have nothing like a full account of the terrible human cost of this ongoing Iraq war to the Iraqi people.
What we have instead is an incomplete patchwork of stories, pictures, and data gathered by different organisations for different purposes, often published one day and forgotten the next.
The victims of this war, their families, and the publics whose taxes funded this war, deserve better than this. There is a public right to know.
Iraq Body Count has been working on a daily basis since March 2003 to ensure that no fact about a civilian death that is uncovered is lost from view.
We carefully monitor, compare, and analyse published reports, mostly provided by press and media organisations such as are represented in this room.
In this way we have been able to build and keep in the public eye the most detailed and comprehensive list of civilian deaths to date that exists.
In fact the world’s press and media have been, by default, the frontline data-gatherers of this war. Without journalists and the organisations for which they work, the world would know little of substance about the Iraq Death Toll.
But today’s release reveals that there has been another frontline data gatherer, the US Army.
Day by day, secretly, soldiers all over Iraq have been writing detailed reports of every violent death they cause, witness, or are informed about. Dates, times, precise locations, names, ages, and occupations of victims, have all been stored away in these logs.
It is very good that the data was collected. But it is wrong and unjustifiable that it has been kept secret for so long.
Iraq Body Count has started the huge task of integrating the new information into the existing patchwork, just as we would for any other source brought to our attention.
In the few weeks since we had access to the logs we have only scratched the surface.
But by careful sampling and matching of these logs against what is already in our database, we have a clear emerging picture of what these logs contain as a whole.
The reports on our website www.iraqbodycount.org give the full details, but let me take you through our headline findings made by the IBC team, Hamit Dardagan, Josh Dougherty and Peter Bagnall – who will be available to answer further detailed questions.
Based on our careful sampling, we estimate that when fully analysed, these logs will bring to public knowledge more than 15,000 previously unreported civilian deaths, to add to the 107,000 which area already in the IBC data base.
15,000 is a huge number, equivalent to five 9/11s or nearly 300 7/7s.
However the newly revealed deaths do not primarily come from large bombings like this. Most of these larger incidents were already well reported by the world’s press and media.
The new deaths are concentrated in small incidents killing one or two people at a time, scattered all over Iraq, and occurring almost every day for the whole period.
Targeted assassinations, drive-by-shootings, executions, check-point killings - these are the small but relentless tragedies of this war that these logs reveal in unprecedented detail.
Even where deaths were previously known about as numbers, these logs often turn numbers into human beings. For instance the IBC data base records that on November 1st 2006, 35 bodies were brought to the Baghdad morgue, as reported by Reuters, New York Times, and CNN, among others. However, media reports did not identify any of the victims, nor give details of how each one died, and so our IBC database entry just has this spare information in it.
The Iraq War Logs also contain the same 35 deaths, but spread across 27 logs specifying a wide range of details, including the precise neighbourhood and time of day where particular bodies were found and, in many cases, the demographics and identities of those killed. When fully processed, the information in these logs will allow our single entry to be replaced by these 27 detailed incidents.
Most surprisingly of all, we have found a huge number of names of victims meticulously recorded in these logs. It is unclear why the US Army wanted to go to such lengths in its recording, but it is of huge public importance and interest that it did.
Names are the gold-dust of the casualty recording enterprise, and the only certain route to a full and final death toll that will satisfy all parties, including bereaved families.
We’ve already found over 100 previously unreported civilian victim names in the logs we have examined, and we estimate that many thousands more will be discovered as analysis proceeds.
For instance, on 29th November 2006, 28 bodies were discovered in a mass grave soth of Baquba. This was comprehensively reported by press and media at the time. But not a single one of these reports gave the names of a single victim. The Iraq War Logs list all these names, one by one, and so today, for the first time, they have been put into the public record, nearly four years later.
We believe that, having received these logs, Wikileaks was right to publish them in this heavily redacted form.
But the real story is not about the release itself, but the grave content of the logs themselves. Almost every log tells a story, and far too often that is a previously unknown story of human suffering and death.
It will take many months, even years, to extract every important fact from these logs.
Iraq Body Count is committed to playing its part in this fact-finding work, no matter how long it takes. We will be seeking further support from our donors and supporters. We will be publishing our findings.
There can be no closure or moving on from this or any war, until every last victim has been properly recognised, and the full details of the circumstances of their death acknowledged.
These logs are potentially the largest single contribution to that achieving that goal that has ever been published.
We ask everyone, including the US Government, to support this work, which is in the public interest, and brings closer the proper recognition that all the victims of this tragic war deserve.
Iraq Body Count is a partner in the network of 20 organisations recording casualties worldwide established by the Recording Casualties of Armed Conflict Programme (RCAC) of the Oxford Research Group. Prof John Sloboda, the co-founder of IBC, is also Director of the RCAC Programme.