`We don't do body counts'

"I don't do body counts," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told CBS News in March, 2002, in the early days of the war in Afghanistan. "This country tried that in Vietnam, and it didn't work. And you've not heard me speculate on that at all, and you won't." A few days later, General Tommy Franks, holding a news conference to announce an "unqualified and absolute success" in the latest ground battle in Afghanistan, more famously told reporters who wanted to know about enemy casualties, "You know we don't do body counts."Except that we do.The organization Iraq Body Count, which has tried to keep record of civilian casualties in Iraq, said the Pentagon documents released by WikiLeaks last week reveal an estimated 15,000 previously unknown civilian deaths. This is a preliminary estimate based on a sample; Iraq Body Count said it will take months to do a specific count. Based on the new information, Iraq Body Count estimates 150,726 Iraqi civilian and enemy deaths through violence since March 2003 - with more than 80 percent of the victims civilians."WikiLeaks has made it possible for Iraq Body Count to prove that the Pentagon has, indeed, secretly always known the names and details of how many died," columnist Pratap Chatterjee writes in The Guardian, one of the papers that received the documents from WikiLeaks.The Pentagon has been trying to claim the moral high ground in its battle with WikiLeaks by maintaining that the release of the records could lead to more bloodshed. But it needs to come clean on why it claimed not to keep records of civilian and enemy deaths when it in fact did. And what more can be said about Donald Rumsfeld & Co.?

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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