Christopher Hitchens, my favorite lefty, has a nice response to this news story.
Only 55 out of 270 mass-grave sites, as he says, have yet been fully examined. And while some of these contain "hundreds", others have yielded no more than a dozen corpses! So what's the great sanctimonious fuss?
Well, I am no friend of sanctimony. But when I stood on the mass grave at Hilla, near Babylon, about a year ago, I was upset not just by the huge number of cadavers, which by the way ran into the thousands. I was upset by the relatives who'd had to wait a decade to inspect the place, and who had found that the water table had washed a lot of the bodies away. A possible shred of clothing, or fragment of an identity card, is not much consolation in these circumstances. Indeed, many of the relatives had acted against their own interests, here as elsewhere, by rushing to the site as soon as the murderer had fallen, and by digging with their bare hands.
As we have learned from grim experience -- everywhere from Argentina to Ethiopia to Bosnia -- the cold and determined forensic search for "the disappeared" is at odds with the urgent need of the survivors for information. Often, they also want to learn the most heart-shrivelling thing: not whether he or she is dead but how long it took them to die. Mercifully, this evidence is not always available either. I would have expected Adams to know that.
But I would not have expected him to make light of the matter. You can go anywhere in Iraq, perhaps especially in Iraqi Kurdistan, and you can interview any Iraqi exile family, and you will have a hard time finding anyone who is not related to one of "the missing".
It is quite conceivable that this horrific fact has in itself led to some over-counting. Tony Blair, scorned by Adams, has mentioned a figure of 400,000. The late UN special representative for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, specified a figure of 290,000 Iraqis over three decades. (That was before the Saddamist-jihadist alliance put an end to de Mello's life by blowing up the UN headquarters in Baghdad last year, thus adding to a toll that is by the way still rising.) Bear in mind that those are only statistics of Iraqis. But perhaps Adams doesn't wish to take the word of the man who assisted East Timor to liberation, and who was sceptical of the intervention in the first place.
Very well, he can consult the still-extant UN resolution that demanded in vain that Iraq provide an accounting of what happened to the many hundreds of Kuwaiti prisoners who vanished during the illegal obliteration of Kuwaiti statehood in 1990. Or he can inquire after the hundreds of thousands of young Iranians and Iraqis who perished as a consequence of Saddam's lunatic invasion of Iran. If he wants to do Baathist body counts, I can keep him busy for the rest of his journalistic career.