Courtesy of David Tell in the latest Standard:
On October 24, the ACLU made public an analysis of several dozen autopsy reports and related documents obtained from the Pentagon by means of a Freedom of Information Act request for records concerning foreigners detained in Afghanistan and Iraq. The deaths-in-custody of 44 such detainees were detailed in those documents, according to the ACLU’s press release and accompanying explanatory chart. According to the original documents themselves–which are posted on the ACLU’s website–the actual number of deaths involved appears to be only 43. But never mind about that. More to the point–the intended point being, in the words of the press release, that “U.S. operatives tortured detainees to death during interrogation”–was the contention that the Pentagon itself had labeled 21 of these 43 deaths “homicide.”
That number wasn’t even close to accurate. The documents show that military medical examiners attributed 19 of the 43 deaths to natural causes, 2 others to factors as yet “undetermined,” called one further death an “accident,” and left the “manner of death” box in 8 case files entirely blank. There were 13 official “homicides,” not 21. And documents associated with at most 5 of those homicides contain even the vaguest hint of possible wrongdoing by American personnel. The other 8 appear to have been “homicides” only in the technical sense that mortuary physicians use the term–to indicate any nonaccidental death resulting from human agency, whether sinister or innocent.
And what would an entirely innocent homicide look like, you ask? Innocence is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but try this on for size: Two of the very same “homicides” the ACLU has for two months now been content to cite as evidence of “widespread” human rights abuses involve wounded Iraqi insurgents captured after armed engagements with American troops. Both men were evacuated to U.S. hospitals where surgeons attempted to save their lives. But neither man survived his injuries.
Not the sort of thing they investigate on Law and Order.
And not the sort of thing that American newspapers and television networks any longer investigate either, apparently. The ACLU’s October 24 press release was extensively covered in the press. And its “21 homicides, many under questionable circumstances” datum has since become a “fact,” inevitably cited in an endless stream of stories about our current government’s peculiar propensity for torture and other such subhuman activities. No one seems to have noticed that the whole thing is bogus.