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[casi] Fw: John Sweeney of the BBC and Observer on Child Deaths in Iraq

Media Lens's dissection of Sweeney's appalling article (and TV documentary).
Suggestions for action at the end.



> MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media
> June 24, 2002
> The fate of Iraq lies in the balance. US Republican Hawks are seeking to
> launch a further massive attack against the people of Iraq. It won't
> if politicians sense sufficient public opposition - journalists play a key
> role in influencing that public opinion.
> In an Observer article, John Sweeney describes "Saddam's efforts to
> portray... children as victims of Western sanctions, which he claims have
> cost hundreds of thousands of young lives." (Sweeney, 'How Saddam 'staged'
> fake baby funerals', The Observer, June 23, 2002)
> Media Lens will recognise this classic mainstream tendency to misattribute
> arguments from earlier Media Alerts. Nick Cohen, also of The Observer,
> wrote:
> "I look forward to seeing how Noam Chomsky and John Pilger manage to
> a war which would end the sanctions they claim have slaughtered hundreds
> thousands of children who otherwise would have had happy, healthy lives in
> prison state (don't fret, they'll get there)." ('Blair's just a Bush
> The Observer, March 10, 2002)
> These, as we pointed out, were not Chomsky and Pilger's "claims" at all.
> The BBC's Ben Brown said:
> "He [Saddam] claims UN sanctions have reduced many of his citizens to near
> starvation - pictures like these [of a malnourished baby and despairing
> mother] have been a powerful propaganda weapon for Saddam, which he'll now
> have to give up." (Ben Brown, BBC News, June 20, 1996)
> ITN's John Draper said:
> "The idea now is targeted or 'smart' sanctions to help ordinary people
> at the same time preventing the Iraqi leader from blaming the West for the
> hardships they're suffering." (John Draper, ITN, 10:30 News, February 20,
> 2001)
> One way of dismissing damning evidence of Western responsibility for mass
> death is to trace the origins of that evidence to an utterly incredible
> source, such as Saddam Hussein.
> Sweeney employs this same smear tactic repeatedly, for example in his
> sub-title:
> "The Iraqi dictator says his country's children are dying in their
> because of the West's embargoes. John Sweeney, in a TV documentary to be
> shown tonight, says the figures are bogus".
> Further into the article, Sweeney repeats the claim, while managing to
> at the truth:
> "It is an absolute of the government of Iraq - and others - that thousands
> of Iraqi children are dying every month because of sanctions".
> The mysterious phrase "and others" in fact refers to the individuals and
> organisations that are the reason Sweeney and other mainstream journalists
> are addressing the issue at all - it is quite obvious that no one would
> any need to refute claims made by the Iraqi dictator. Since he became an
> official enemy of the West, no Western media entity has ever reported
> Saddam's claims with anything other than derision, and no rational person
> would dream of taking seriously claims made by him on these issues.
> Sweeney manages to cite just one of the missing sources of credible
> and evidence when he refers to Unicef:
> "In 1999 Unicef, in co-operation with the Iraqi government, made a
> retrospective projection of 500,000 excess child deaths in the 1990s. The
> projection is open to question. It was based on data from within a regime
> that tortures children with impunity. All but one of the researchers used
> Unicef were employees of the Ministry of Health, according to the Lancet."
> Hans von Sponeck, who ran the UN's oil for food programme in Iraq, has
> to say of Sweeney's piece:
> "Sweeney's article is exactly the kind of journalism that is Orwellian,
> double-speak. No doubt, the Iraq Government has manipulated data to suit
> own purposes, everyone of the protagonists unfortunately does this. A
> journalist should not. UNICEF has used large numbers of international
> researchers and applied sophisticated methods to get these important
> figures. Yes, the Ministry of Health personnel cooperated with UNICEF but
> ultimately it was UNICEF and UNICEF alone which carried out the data
> analysis exactly because they did not want to politicize their work...
> article is a very serious misrepresentation." (Email to Media Lens
> June 24, 2002)
> Reverting back to the deceptive idea that Saddam is at the heart of
> accusations of mass death in Iraq, Sweeney continues with one truly
> misinterpretation of what is being argued by, in fact, the UN and human
> rights organisations:
> "The dead babies are blamed by Saddam's regime on cancer and birth defects
> which first appeared in 1991 and were, it says, caused by depleted
> Remarkably, Sweeney - having returned to ignoring serious sources and
> focusing on Saddam - is here claiming that the 500,000 excess child deaths
> are attributed to "cancer and birth defects". Anyone who knows anything
> about the tragedy in Iraq knows that this is absurd.
> The argument, in fact, is that sanctions have prevented the free flow of
> food and medicines, and that they have prevented the reconstruction of the
> huge quantities of Iraqi infrastructure destroyed by US bombing during the
> Gulf War - the water, sewerage, power-generation, transport, health care,
> agriculture and communication systems that are vital for the prevention of
> disease, the preservation of life, and for the basic functioning of
> Curiously, in his BBC2 Correspondent programme on the same day, 'The
> of all Ironies', Sweeney contradicted his Observer article, coming closer
> the truth by questioning how lack of resources (not cancer) could be
> responsible for ongoing mass deaths. Sweeney said of the UN's oil for food
> programme:
> "The strong man's [Saddam's] sums don't add up. Billions from oil are
> into the economy, but the child mortality figures haven't changed... So
> can 7,000 children be dying every month in the midst of all this milk and
> honey?" (Sweeney, 'The Mother of all Ironies', Correspondent, BBC2, June
> 2002)
> Again, these are, conveniently, "the strong man's sums", not those of
> credible Western human rights organisations. Remarkably, Sweeney sought
> answers to his question from someone called Barham Salah, described as
> Minister, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, who said:
> "The oil for food programme is a good programme, it must continue. It is
> best thing that has happened to Iraq since the foundation of the Iraqi
> state. By the way, not only for the Kurdish areas but also for the rest of
> Iraq, because we never had it so good - all Iraqis, not just Kurds."
> Sweeney also sought answers from someone called 'Ali', citing a funeral
> driver!
> Why, in his search for answers, did Sweeney not consult Denis Halliday,
> actually ran the UN's oil for food programme, or his successor, Hans von
> Sponeck, who both resigned from the UN describing Western policy as
> "genocidal"? Halliday explained the problems with oil for food two years
> ago:
> "Of the $20 billion that has been provided through the 'oil-for-food'
> programme, about a third, or $7 billion, has been spent on UN 'expenses',
> reparations to Kuwait and assorted compensation claims. That leaves $13
> billion available to the Iraqi government. If you divide that figure by
> population of Iraq, which is 22 million, it leaves some $190 per head of
> population per year over 3 years - that is pitifully inadequate."
> with David Edwards, March 2000,
> Further clarification is provided by other sources ignored by Sweeney.
> Hoskins - a Canadian doctor and coordinator of a Harvard study team on
> Iraq - reported that the allied Gulf War bombardment "effectively
> everything vital to human survival in Iraq - electricity, water, sewage
> systems, agriculture, industry and health care". (Quoted, Mark Curtis,
> Ambiguities of Power - British Foreign Policy since 1945', Zed Books,
> pp.189-190)
> The restriction of resources as a result of sanctions has made the
> large-scale reconstruction of this infrastructure impossible. In March
> an expert 'Humanitarian Panel' convened by the Security Council concluded
> the UN's 'oil-for-food' programme could +not+ meet the needs of the Iraqi
> people, "regardless of the improvements that might be brought about in the
> implementation of" the relief programme. (Quoted, Voices in the Wilderness
> website, March 2002:
> The Panel continued:
> "Regardless of the improvements that might be brought about - in terms of
> approval procedures, better performance by the Iraqi Government, or
> levels - the magnitude of the humanitarian needs is such that they cannot
> met within the context of [the oil-for-food programme]... Nor was the
> programme intended to meet all the needs of the Iraqi people... Given the
> present state of the infrastructure, the revenue required for its
> rehabilitation is far above the level available under the programme."
> Their conclusion being that:
> "The humanitarian situation in Iraq will continue to be a dire one in the
> absence of a sustained revival of the Iraqi economy which in turn cannot
> achieved solely through remedial humanitarian efforts".
> This clearly sheds real light on the issue, and yet was ignored by
> Instead, Mr. Salah continued:
> "Never in our history we had [sic] our government obliged by international
> law to spend the revenues of oil on the well-being of Iraqi people,
> needs of the Iraqi people. In the past oil revenues were being squandered
> weapons of mass destruction, on repression and on war."
> No sane person would deny that Saddam Hussein is a murderous dictator, but
> Mr Salah's account of Iraqi history is simply false. According to the
> Economist Intelligence Unit's Country Report for Iraq, prior to the
> imposition of sanctions the Iraqi welfare state was "among the most
> comprehensive and generous in the Arab world". (Iraq: Country Report
> 1995-96)
> In a December 1999 report the International Committee of the Red Cross
> that "Just a decade ago, Iraq boasted one of the most modern
> and highest standards of living in the Middle East", with a "modern,
> health care system" and "sophisticated water-treatment and pumping
> facilities." (ICRC, 'Iraq: A Decade of Sanctions', December 1999)
> According to the Centre for Economic and Social Rights:
> "Over 90% of the population had access to primary health-care, including
> laboratory diagnosis and immunisations for childhood diseases such as
> and diphtheria. During the 1970s and 80s, British and Japanese companies
> built scores of large, modern hospitals throughout Iraq, with advanced
> technologies for diagnosis, operations and treatment. Secondary and
> services, including surgical care and laboratory investigative support,
> available to most of the Iraqi population at nominal charges. Iraqi
> and nursing schools emphasised education of women and attracted students
> from throughout the Middle East. A majority of Iraqi physicians were
> in Europe or the United States, and one-quarter were board-certified
> specialists." (UN Sanctioned Suffering, May 1996
> Why did Sweeney ignore all of these credible and expert sources and
> authorities in seeking answers for the causes of continuing mass death in
> Iraq? Does he seriously believe that Kurdish opposition groups and
> individuals based in Northern Iraq - with obvious and understandable
> for wanting to paint as grim a picture of the Iraqi regime as possible -
> more credible than these independent and objective authorities? If not,
> did he seek answers just from them?
> Questions can be submitted to John Sweeney:
> Sweeney will be online at 15:00 today, June 24.
> Write to Sweeney at the BBC:
> Email:
> And at the Observer:
> Email:
> Ask John Sweeney why, in seeking answers to the question of mass child
> deaths in Iraq, he failed to interview recognised and credible sources
> as Denis Halliday, Hans von Sponeck, Unicef, and a range of human rights
> groups. Why not seek out these more objective and impartial individuals
> organisations, rather than opposition groups involved in an armed struggle
> with the Iraqi regime? Why did he continuously refer to the mass deaths of
> children in Iraq as the claims of Saddam, rather than of these credible
> individuals and agencies?
> Copy your letters to the Observer's editor, Roger Alton.
> Email:
> The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect
> others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to
> maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
> Copy your letters to
> Feel free to respond to Media Lens alerts (
> Visit the Media Lens website:

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