Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Last year, a study in the Lancet suggested that the death toll of the Iraq war was a staggering 655,000 - around 2.5% of Iraq's population. The reaction from the British and US governments was immediate: both Bush and Blair flatly denied the estimate, while a parade of officials and spinners cast doubt on its methodology, accusing it of being biased and inaccurate. Meanwhile, while they were doing this, the Ministry of Defence's chief scientific advisor was telling them that the study was robust, while Foreign Office officials were telling their department that the survey methodology "cannot be rubbished" and was "a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones". Naturally, they were ignored. The political requirement to downplay the disastrous effects of Bush and Blair's war rode roughshod over any commitment to truth.

There's two lessons in here. The first is that governments lie. The second is how valuable freedom of information legislation is in uncovering those lies. The views of those officials were only revealed thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request lodged by the BBC. No wonder Blair wants to get rid of it...