To the Editor:
Writing in the “Letters” section of the April Commentary, in response to Algis Valiunas’s “Sartre vs. Camus” [January], Neil Ford cites a figure of 100,000 civilian casualties in the war in Iraq. With this horrific number in mind, he suggests that Albert Camus’s admonition against “mass murder on behalf of noble ideas” should be applied to the American “adventure” in that country. In his reply, Mr. Valiunas rightly notes that many more civilians—perhaps a half-million in all—perished under the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Valiunas might have added that the figure of 100,000 adduced by Mr. Ford has itself been thoroughly debunked. It originated in a 2004 study published in the British medical journal Lancet, which employed statistical sampling techniques to generate an “estimate” of 98,000 civilian deaths. Buried in the study, however, is a startling caveat about the “confidence interval” assigned to this estimate. Translated into plain English, the Lancet study asserts a 95-percent probability that the casualty range falls somewhere between a low of 8,000 and a high of 194,000 deaths. The oft-cited 100,000 is merely a random midpoint between these two wildly separated extremes. Most observers, including even officials of the left-wing Human Rights Watch, believe that figure to be seriously inflated. Before the Lancet study was released, no reputable estimate of civilian deaths from the Iraq war exceeded 16,000.
Brooklyn, New York