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[casi] Fw: Sweeney Responds on Mass Death in Iraq

Sweeney's responses, below, would be hilarious if the issue were not so

A suggestion: It would be good if Roger Alton (Observer Editor) received
many letters asking him to offer a right of reply to Hans Von Sponeck or
Denis Halliday, considering the flaws in Sweeney's piece.


> MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media
> June 28, 2002
> MEDIA ALERT UPDATE: John Sweeney Responds on Mass Death in Iraq
> On June 24, 2002, Media Lens published a Media Alert: 'John Sweeney Of The
> Observer And The BBC on Mass Death In Iraq'. Also on June 24, we received
> this reply from John Sweeney:
> "I don't agree with torturing children. Get stuffed." (Email to Media Lens
> Editors, June 24, 2002)
> Having dealt with the mainstream 'liberal' media frequently over the last
> few years, this is pretty much what we have come to expect. Arrogant and
> cynical though they are, mainstream politicians have a vestigial sense
> they should at least +appear+ to be accountable to the public. Not so
> journalists. They work for large businesses - media companies - and their
> job, as far as they are concerned, is their business and no one else's.
> is understandable enough - executives in other industries would not dream
> tolerating public interference in the production of their business plans
> marketing reports, why should corporate journalists accept our
> in the production of their reports? Likewise, editors flatly refuse to
> publish material that seriously challenges the performance of their
> newspapers or industry. It might be vital for press freedom and democracy
> publish such criticism, but business is business - would cornflake
> manufacturers put damaging comments on the side of their boxes?
> Many ramifications flow from the fact that our media is corporate in
> nature - corporations are totalitarian structures, with rigid hierarchies
> based on strict top-down control. These totalitarian structures are
> responsible to no one and nothing beyond shareholders and the bottom line.
> This is a silent catastrophe for democracy - silent because the messengers
> are themselves the catastrophe.
> On June 25, Sweeney replied with a second letter sent to a large number of
> Media Lens correspondents. He was responding to the question of why, in
> seeking answers to the causes of mass death in Iraq, he had ignored so
> credible individuals and organisations:
> Thank you for your email.
> I report by getting on the road and listening to people. All of the Iraqis
> in our film spoke their own words. We did not script them.  Northern Iraq
> the only part of Iraq where people can speak freely. They spoke about
> and what his regime did. Child killing. Child torture. The absence of
> in the hospitals. Chemical weapons. The faking of mass baby funerals.
> Galloway and his tribute to Saddam: 'Sir, I salute you.' The tyrant's
> sanctions against his own people.
> That their testimony conflicts with theoretical constructs from non-Iraqi
> organisations about Iraq is no help to ordinary Iraqis.
> Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck are not Iraqi.
> On the UNICEF figures, if a government tortures children - and Saddam's
> does - then is it impossible to imagine that it doesn't torture figures?
> raw data came from the Iraqi Ministry of Health.
> George Galloway made the point on the Today programme that sanctions have
> blocked pipework for public health programmes. According to OPEC  Iraq
> $12 billion of oil last year. That flow of oil needs a lot of pipework.
> enough money for drains, eh?
> But best of all, why don't you go to Iraq and see for yourself - but go to
> both Baghdad and Halabja. Don't forget to count the palaces in Baghdad.
> Best
> John Sweeney (June 25, 2002)
> We are grateful for John Sweeney's second, more measured, reply. We are
> pleased that he has abandoned the slur suggesting that our critique of
> mainstream reporting on Iraq indicates support for a murderous dictator.
> Sweeney writes:
> "I report by getting on the road and listening to people. All of the
> in our film spoke their own words. We did not script them. Northern Iraq
> the only part of Iraq where people can speak freely. They spoke about
> and what his regime did."
> This is a remarkable version of what journalism is about. Are we to
> that the communication of important and complex issues to the public
> be based solely on anecdotal evidence gleaned from "getting on the road"
> speaking to people? It's difficult to know what to say in response to such
> an idea. Of course anecdotal evidence and reports 'from the ground' are
> important, but if we relied on these alone it would be impossible to make
> sense of anything that happens in the world. Understanding the world, no
> matter what the discipline, means turning to sources that are recognised
> credible, well-informed and honest. However well-intentioned individuals
> the field' might be, journalists must offer such testimony in the context
> a body of understanding built up by human rights groups, aid agencies, the
> UN, and so on. The assertion is too absurd to merit even this much
> discussion.
> Sweeney writes:
> "Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck are not Iraqi."
> John Sweeney is also not Iraqi, so why should we turn to him for
> on Iraq? In his Observer article he was writing for a British paper,
> moreover one that has never so much as mentioned the names of Denis
> and Hans von Sponeck, who ran the UN's oil-for-food programme in Iraq
> resigning in protest. And what right, by his own reasoning, does Sweeney
> have to comment on the work of Unicef? He does not work for Unicef, the
> people interviewed in his programme do not work for Unicef - by his logic,
> we should only listen to someone from Unicef telling us about the views of
> other Unicef workers. Should environment correspondents assess the
> seriousness of climate change based on their interviews with carbon
> molecules? Again, it's difficult to know how to respond to such an absurd
> idea. In his letter to Sweeney, one of our Canadian correspondents
> our own feelings well:
> "The sanctions against Iraq are devastating. Incredibly, the 'others' whom
> you casually dismiss, and even place, grammatically and thus rhetorically
> with Saddam himself, are the very people who know the situation most
> accurately. Why their opinions were not deemed relevant is baffling."
> (Michael Belyea Fredericton, Email to Media Lens Editors, 26 June, 2002)
> Beyond Sweeney's illogic, to describe credible and rational evidence that
> our government is responsible for genocide in Iraq as "theoretical
> constructs" is extraordinary. How would we respond to the idea that the
> figure of 6 million Jewish dead during the Holocaust is a "theoretical
> construct"? How would we respond to someone dismissing that figure as
>  "bogus" on the basis that it was compiled by Allied war crimes
> investigators, rather than by German or Jewish investigators? We recall
> the Guardian's David Leigh and James Wilson similarly described the
> of mass death in Iraq as a "statistical construct" and "atrocity
> (see: 'Counting Iraq's victims - Dead babies always figure heavily in
> atrocity propaganda, and Osama bin Laden is merely the latest to exploit
> them. But what is the truth?' The Guardian, October 10, 2001:
> Sweeney writes:
> "On the UNICEF figures, if a government tortures children - and Saddam's
> does - then is it impossible to imagine that it doesn't torture figures?"
> Recall, again, that we are here debating credible factual evidence that
> government is responsible for nothing less than genocide. Sweeney's
> is to ask "if it is impossible to imagine" that the Iraqi regime "doesn't
> torture figures?" This is grotesque. Any reasoned attempt to refute these
> deadly serious accusations must surely involve careful consideration of
> the facts, not  point-blank dismissal or vague speculation about the Iraqi
> regime torturing figures. It is not enough to +imply+ that the Iraqi
> may have manipulated figures; we need to examine if that +is+ the case and
> see whether Western organisations - who are obviously well aware of this
> danger - have taken account of this potential for manipulation in their
> figures and methodology. Sweeney gives the impression that he has not
> investigated Unicef methodology. Given the subject under discussion - the
> mass death of children - this is irresponsible. Hans von Sponeck has
> responded again to Sweeney's claims of "bogus" Unicef figures:
> "Dear Mr. Sweeney, I have always held the 'Observer' in high regard. I am
> therefore even more taken aback by the article you have written on Iraq in
> which you consider the mortality figures as Iraqi propaganda.
> it is very difficult to get any statistics on Iraq which are as rigorously
> researched as would professionally be desirable. This includes the
> mortality figures. You are, however, very wrong in your assessment of the
> UNICEF analysis. UNICEF, of course, cooperated with the Government but
> methodology of analysis and the findings is UNICEF's. A large team of
> professionals subjected the data to rigorous review to avoid what you have
> not avoided and that is a politicization of statistical material. This is
> not professional and disappoints. Why did you not consult with
> UNICEF/Baghdad and New York before you wrote your article? I am sure you
> not want to play into the hands of those who want to find reason to
> discredit every effort that tries to portray the enormous damage that
> sanctions have done to Iraq in addition to the damage the Iraqi civilian
> population has experienced from within. But this is exactly what you have
> done, making a difficult situation even more difficult.  Regards, Hans von
> Sponeck" (Email to Media Lens Editors, June 25, 2002)
> Why does Sweeney mention only Unicef in his article? Why does he not also
> explicitly dismiss the work of Richard Garfield, a renowned epidemiologist
> at Colombia University in New York, who concluded that "most" excess child
> deaths between August 1990 and March 1998 were "primarily associated with
> sanctions"? (Garfield, 'Morbidity and Mortality Among Iraqi Children from
> 1990 Through 1998: Assessing the Impact of the Gulf War and Economic
> Sanctions', March 1999, available on-line at
> Garfield notes that, in tripling since 1990, the death rate of children in
> Iraq is unique, as "there is almost no documented case of rising mortality
> for children under five years in the modern world". (John Mueller and Karl
> Mueller, 'The Methodology of Mass Destruction: Assessing Threats in the
> World Order', The Journal of Strategic Studies, vol.23, no.1, 2000,
> pp.163-87)
> Why does Sweeney not dismiss Save the Children Fund UK, who have described
> the economic sanctions against Iraq as "a silent war against Iraq's
>  children"? (Quoted, Voices in the Wilderness UK, March 2002:
> Why does he not dismiss The Catholic Relief Agency, CAFOD, who have
> described the economic sanctions against Iraq as "humanly catastrophic
> morally indefensible"? (Ibid)
> Why does he not dismiss Human Rights Watch, who have said: "the continued
> imposition of comprehensive economic sanctions is undermining the basic
> rights of children and the civilian population generally" and "the
> [Security] Council must recognise that the sanctions have contributed in a
> major way to persistent life-threatening conditions in the country"?
> 2000, ibid)
> Why does he not dismiss seventy members of the US Congress, who signed a
> letter to President Clinton, appealing to him to lift the embargo and end
> what they called "infanticide masquerading as policy"? (Quoted,
> Enquirer, April 1, 1999)
> These comments, to our knowledge, are all made by non-Iraqis, who clearly
> have no business commenting on the matter.
> Sweeney writes:
> "George Galloway made the point on the Today programme that sanctions have
> blocked pipework for public health programmes. According to OPEC Iraq sold
> $12 billion of oil last year. That flow of oil needs a lot of pipework.
> enough money for drains, eh?"
> Again, instead of approaching the problem rationally, Sweeney resorts to
> sarcasm and speculation. Consider the extraordinary scale of the damage
> by the 88,500 tons of bombs (the equivalent of seven Hiroshima bombs)
> dropped on Iraq during the Gulf War. All of Iraq's eleven major electrical
> power plants as well as 119 substations were destroyed - 90 percent of
> electricity generation was out of service within hours, within days all
> power generation in the country had ceased. Eight multi-purpose dams were
> repeatedly hit and destroyed - this wrecked flood control, municipal and
> industrial water storage, irrigation and hydroelectric power. Four of
> seven major water pumping stations were destroyed. Fourteen central
> telephone exchanges were irreparably damaged with 400,000 of the 900,000
> telephone lines being destroyed. Twenty-eight civilian hospitals and 52
> community health centres were hit. Allied bombs damaged 676 schools, with
> being totally destroyed. Historic sites were not immune - 25 mosques were
> damaged in Baghdad alone and 321 more around the country. Seven textile
> factories sustained damage, as did five construction facilities, four car
> assembly plants and three chlorine plants. A major hypodermic syringe
> factory was destroyed. All major cement plants were hit along with various
> clothes and cosmetic factories, and so on.
> In 1991, UN Under Secretary-General Martti Ahtisaari reported on the
> of the bombing, describing the "near apocalyptic" state of Iraq's basic
> services. "Iraq has for some time to come been relegated to a
> age", he wrote, "but with all the disabilities of post-industrial
> on an intensive use of energy and technology." (New York Times, June 3,
> 1991)
> Beyond this, the economic effects of subsequent sanctions on public health
> are undeniable. Adnan Jarra, a UN spokesperson in Iraq, recently told the
> Wall Street Journal:
> "The [oil-for-food] distribution network is second to none. They [the
> Iraqis] are very efficient. We have not found anything that went anywhere
> was not supposed to." (Quoted, Anthony Arnove, 'Iraq: Smart Sanctions and
> the US Propaganda War', ZNet Commentary, May 21, 2002)
> Tun Myat, the administrator of the UN oil-for-food programme, said in an
> interview with the New York Times. "I think the Iraqi food-distribution
> system is probably second to none that you'll find anywhere in the world.
> gets to everybody whom it's supposed to get to in the country."
> But Myat stressed, "People have become so poor in some cases that they
> even afford to eat the food that they are given free, because for many of
> them the food ration represents the major part of their income."
> Denis Halliday comments:
> "As most Iraqis have no other source of income, food has become a medium
> exchange; it gets sold for other necessities, further lowering the calorie
> intake. You also have to get clothes and shoes for your kids to go to
> school. You've then got malnourished mothers who cannot breastfeed, and
> pick up bad water. What is needed is investment in water treatment and
> distribution, electric power production for food processing, storage and
> refrigeration, education and agriculture." (Quoted, John Pilger, The New
> Rulers of the World, Verso, 2002, p.59)
> So-called 'smart sanctions' are powerless to revive the badly damaged
> economy. As the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq (CASI) points out:
> "There will still be a prohibition on foreign investment into Iraq,
> necessary to rebuild the shattered infrastructure of the country.... [and]
> Iraq will not be allowed to export any goods other than oil." (Arnove,
> cit)
> Even the Security Council's own humanitarian panel reported in March 1999
> that for Iraq to recover, "the oil for food system alone would not suffice
> and massive investment would be required in a number of key sectors,
> including oil, energy, agriculture and sanitation". (Ibid)
> Finally, Sweeney writes: "go to Iraq and see for yourself - but go to both
> Baghdad and Halabja. Don't forget to count the palaces in Baghdad."
> It is good advice. But in the integrated, globalised world in which we
> it is not nearly enough. If John Sweeney wants to understand what is
> happening in Baghdad and Halabja, we say this: go to London and
> talk to the powers that be. Talk to their backers on Wall Street, and in
> oil industry, and in the arms industry. Don't forget to count the palaces.
> Write to Sweeney at the BBC:
> Email:
> Ask John Sweeney what he means when he writes that "Denis Halliday and
> von Sponeck are not Iraqi". Does he really believe that only Iraqis are
> qualified to comment on what is happening in Iraq? Is he aware of the
> influence of the world's sole remaining superpower, the United States? Ask
> him if he has discussed Unicef's methodology with Unicef personnel? If so,
> why has he not reported their views? If not, why not?
> 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
> Find out more about the impact of sanctions on the Iraqi people and what
> can do to help, by visiting the website of Voices UK:
> Feel free to respond to Media Lens alerts (
> Visit the Media Lens website:

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