Census Bureau Puts Lid on Iraqi Casualties

The actual number of Iraqi casualties as a result of the Gulf war remains a sensitive point of contention for U.S. officials, as a disturbing incident at the U.S. Census Bureau's international division recently demonstrated.

As part of a Greenpeace research project into the human cost of the Gulf war, William Arkin called the bureau's Center for International Research and spoke with analyst Beth Osborne Daponte, who happened to be conducting research at the time on the post-war Iraqi population.

Daponte shared with Arkin her estimates - that 86,194 men, 39,612 women, and 32,195 children died at the hands of American-led forces and in the aftermath of the war. "He asked the right question, and I gave him the right answer," she said.

Soon after, reporters began calling Daponte and asking "the right question," and she complied. While the information was in the public domain, Census Bureau officials apparently became increasingly uncomfortable with the wide distribution of the figures. Daponte was removed from the Iraqi research project, and her files were confiscated.

In early March, Daponte was told she would be dismissed from the bureau pending an internal review process (which was still taking place at press time). The official reason given for the intended dismissal was that Daponte violated bureau procedures - specifically, making information public without subjecting it to "peer review."

But Daponte says she sought and received the approval needed to make her research public. "The projections had the same scrutiny as any other figures that are prepared by the Census Bureau," she told the New York Times. In a phone interview with Sojourners, Daponte stated that any suggestion by the bureau to the contrary is simply untrue.

Daponte expressed her desire that the larger issues raised by her case be investigated.

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Sojourners Magazine May 1992
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