Saturday, October 15, 2005

The United Nations accuses the United States of war crimes: Fisking Jean Ziegler 

Jean Ziegler, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has accused the United States of intentionally starving Iraqi civilians:
"A drama is taking place in total silence in Iraq, where the coalition's occupying forces are using hunger and deprivation of water as a weapon of war against the civilian population," Mr Ziegler told a press conference.

He said coalition forces were using "starvation of civilians as a method of warfare."

"This is a flagrant violation of international law," he added.

Needless to say, we denied the charge.

Ziegler, who is an outspoken opponent of the Coalition's invasion of Iraq, is going to seek condemnation of American tactics by the General Assembly at the end of October when he issues his report.

This is the same Jean Ziegler, by the way, who claimed back in March that twice as many children were "starving" in the new Iraq as under Saddam. According to the BBC, Ziegler alleged that "[w]hen Saddam Hussein was overthrown, about 4% of Iraqi children under five were going hungry; now that figure has almost doubled to 8%."

Since pre-invasion Iraq was not known for its outstanding public health data, I wondered what the source was for Ziegler's allegation. After some tiresome hunting through the United Nations web site, I found this report (pdf), which claims an increase in acute malnutrition in Iraqi children from 4% just before the war to 7.7% in 2004 (see paragraph 19). Expecting to see some original United Nations data, imagine my disappointment to follow the footnote for the pre-war data to an obscure link to this press release. Yes, Ziegler's cited evidence for his claim of surging acute malnutrition among Iraq's children is the "October surprise" Lancet article on civilian deaths, which study Slate's Fred Kaplan discredited here and the Chicago Boyz here (in the spirit of fairness, Crooked Timber's strong defense of the study is here). So, Ziegler's eruption to the press in March did not cite to any original finding of the United Nations for the pre-war data, only the recitation of the Lancet claims as if they were new in his report to the United Nations.

Presumably, Ziegler relied on the Lancet paper because the United Nations reported in 2000 -- back when international human rights organizations were for repealing the sanctions that were containing Saddam -- that a quarter of all Iraqi children suffered from "chronic malnutrition." (pdf, paragraph 65) It is not clear how the United Nations term "chronic malnutrition" differs from Ziegler's "chronic undernourishment" and "acute malnutrition." If "chronic malnutrition" and "chronic undernourishment" mean the same thing, then even if one accepts Ziegler's rehashing of the Lancet data conditions do not seem to have gotten worse since before the war.

Interestingly, Ziegler's March 2005 claim that 7.7% of Iraqi children suffer from "acute malnutrition" is also at odds with other contemporaneous United Nations data. In April 2005, the United Nations published a huge survey of living conditions in Iraq in 2004, one year after the invasion. The United Nations "living conditions" report contains a lot of data about childhood nutrition, including a 7.7% number which I assume is the basis for Ziegler's factoid. Apparently, in 2004, 7.7% of Iraqi children under 5 suffered from "severe undernutrition" (not Ziegler's "accute malnutrition") measured by comparing the actual height of the children to the expected height for their age (p. 57). However, the same report shows that only 2.6% of children were severely undernourished by comparing their actual weight with the expected weight for their age (p. 56), and only 1% suffered from "acute malnutrition" measured by weight compared to the expected weight for the height of the child (p. 58). Ziegler, therefore, took the worst measure of "severe undernutrition" (height to expected height for age), called it "acute malnutrition" and compared it to the pre-war data estimated by the Lancet paper. On this basis he claimed that "acute malnutrition" had "doubled" since the invasion.

Interestingly, if one compares the April 2005 "living conditions" survey with data offered before the war by UN agencies opposed to the sanctions, childhood nutrition has improved considerably. This is probably no more valid a comparison than Ziegler's cherry-picking comparison of the "living conditions" data to the Lancet's retrospective survey, but I have not found anybody who has made this point.

In any case, even if, arguendo, the data in the Lancet paper is as valid as Crooked Timber argues, in March 2005 Ziegler appears to have deliberately misrepresented the data that the United Nations published just a few weeks later. Presumably, he did this in the service of his political beliefs about Operations Iraqi Freedom.

It will be interesting, therefore, to see Ziegler's ultimate report on American tactics, which is not expected for a couple of weeks. Will it involve original research, or will it be yet another derivative restatement of somebody else's study?

UPDATE (7:15 am Monday): A commenter says that I have misread the tables. I'm busy today, but will try to dig through his links this evening and see if I agree with him.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Oct 15, 11:03:00 AM:

They will do whatever they have to do, at any cost of dignity or respect, to get something to stick to the Teflon Prez. And you think Clinton was slick? Clinton was a Cabal puppy... Bush is the Bull Mastiff.

Ziegler who? Oh yes, Ziegler who's only weapon is the "beam of malnutrition," which he arbitrarily points and pulls the trigger.

More recently, the Palis where in the same ditch. The "Malnutrition bomb" went off... did anyone hear it?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Oct 15, 12:49:00 PM:

I've seen the 4% and 7.7% numbers before, and it wasn't from 2004. It was from 2003, only a few weeks after the fall of Baghdad, and only applied to Baghdad. The report is available here, from UNICEF:
The 7.7% number can be found on the second to last page, and the 4% number (for 2002) on the last page.

I find it peculiar, to say the least, that this EXACT same number has reappeared, supposedly describing the situation one year later for all of Iraq. Is this really a coincidence? I doubt it, and nobody has ever convinced me that these are truly separate statistics from the UNICEF study.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Oct 15, 02:27:00 PM:

Please pass this data to John Bolton. This Ziegler guy needs to be exposed and ridiculed for what he is: a zealous bigotted anti-american.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Oct 15, 04:26:00 PM:

Dream on, believing your perception of reality is reality itself...
Being anti-american is no longer the privilege of Muslims, in case you neo-cons hadn't understood it yet.
We are many, not only here in Europe, who will do everything we can to thwart the US from becoming our master.
To hit you, we are going to hit the only thing that matters to you: your wallet.
I for one am not going to buy a single US-made product, as long as you have that bigot chimp in the White House.
Think about it...  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sat Oct 15, 06:15:00 PM:

Actually Last Anonymous Guy, the United States does not have any interest at all in becoming Europe's master. I, for one, would much appreciate it if the continental Europeans developed a blue water navy and some manly airlift capacity. Then we would actually want to care what you think.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Oct 15, 07:56:00 PM:

Thanks TigerHawk, thought I was going to have to be the next person to comment to that Anonymous Coward's post.

To tell the truth, it's not even about capacity. It's about Values. Europe has none, so the notion of "Exporting Values" is just completely foreign (no pun intended.)

In your example, TigerHawk, Europe fails in Accountability... Being Accountable to it's own security. I say we pull our Navy back and allow the rest of the world to patrol the oceans.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Oct 15, 09:34:00 PM:

Has this man ever opened his mouth regarding North Korea's or Zimbabwe's starvation of their citizens on scales that would normally cause a never-again-European to flinch? But preventing the resupply of foreign terrorist strongholds is starvation of innocents... huh...  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Oct 16, 02:16:00 AM:

Anonymous, you are a clown. "Has this man ever opened his mouth regarding NK's starvation of their citizens..."? Anon, does the phrase "Axis Of Evil" your Euroelites were so contemptuous of ring any bells? Good. Grief.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Oct 16, 04:16:00 PM:

"To hit you, we are going to hit the only thing that matters to you: your wallet. I for one am not going to buy a single US-made product..."

Imagine our concern. But, just to be fair, lets play that game. You don't buy US products, I won't buy Eurocrepe. Lets see that means I won't buy... um... hm. It appears I don't buy ANYTHING of European origin anyway. Funny thing, that.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Oct 17, 07:14:00 AM:

Thanks, Tim. I'll take a look at it.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Oct 17, 10:24:00 AM:

UN Watch has some interesting reading regarding Ziegler:

"Mr. Ziegler, a former Swiss parliamentarian, was first appointed to his U.N. post in 2000, after being nominated by Cuba and Libya. Ziegler has boasted of his friendly relations with both Fidel Castro and Colonel Muammar Khadaffi. In 2002, together with French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy, Ziegler won the Muammar Khaddafi Human Rights Prize, an award he helped establish in 1989."

And there's more here.  

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