When I was in Iraq in 2004 it was clear that the official number of deaths being reported to the American media of Iraqis was utter nonsense. In fact, one doctor at Qhadamiyya hospital in Baghdad told me about a directive from the CPA, then still in charge, prohibiting him from divulging the numbers of civilian deaths. He was trying to get the information out anyway, and asked for help to calculate the number of deaths in all the major hospitals around the country. I tried to mobilize some funds and volunteers to go to Iraq and travel to hospitals to inspect and record the death registers, but in 2004 it seemed that few people, even opponents of the occupation, thought getting a true picture of the destruction and death sponsored by the US in Iraq was worth the trouble it would take to accurately catalog their extent.
Then the first study of Iraqi mortality since the invasion, conducted by a team of epidemiologists from Columbia and Johns Hopkins universities came out, asserting that over 100,000 people had died as a direct result of the violence of the invasion and first year of occupation. This data appeared only weeks before the presidential elections, and was either dismissed as "flawed"--despite being the most scientific study of its kind yet undertaken--or largely ignored by the media, and most important, the American people.
The fact that Bush could be reelected (or at least close enough to being reelected to enable his henchmen in Ohio to take care of the rest) despite clear evidence that his Iraq adventure had led to the deaths of 100,000 Iraqis, was a stain on America's conscience that has only grown darker in the years since.
Yesterday, a new study was released, by the same team behind the 2004 study, demonstrating that the number of "excess" Iraqi deaths since the invasion is now likely over 600,000 people (read the study here [pdf]). This is a mind numbing number, almost impossible to comprehend. Yet despite its implications, the Washington Post at least--perhaps to help demonstrate how much the Bush Administration remains in "denial," as Bob Woodward's new book argues--describes the study as the most "scientific" of its kind to date. The story about it is here. The other mainstream newspapers, particularly the NY Times, have been as skeptical as last time, interviewing, among others, a doctor from Houston to cast doubt on the validity of the study (the study went through a number of peer reviews to assess its methodology and conclusions before publication).
I have yet to see if the study has broken down the causes of death, and unless and until such details emerge it will remain impossible to know how many people have died as a direct result of attacks by US forces, by insurgents, by the Iraqi army, police and militia forces, and by the disastrous medical situation in the country since our occupation began. What is clear, however, is that, against the advice of every scholar of the Middle East that has any credibility in the profession, against the advice of his allies, against the will of the vast majority of the people of the world, and with clear knowledge that the evidence used to justify war was suspect and even manufactured, George Bush decided to invade and (it would seem as of now) permanently occupy Iraq.
Because of this, President Bush bears direct, and according to US and international law, the Nuremburg Principles, and military regulations (Army Field Manual 27-10), criminal responsibility for every one of the well over half a million deaths that have occurred as a direct result of the US invasion and occupation of the country (see a roundtable in Tikkun I organized with international lawyers for more evidence of the President's criminal culpability here).
So then, the question must be asked: If George Bush, President of the United States and Commander in Chief of its armed forces, bears direct responsibility for the disaster that is Iraq, is President Bush a mass murderer? How else can we describe someone who illegally invades and occupies another country, and after three years is is closing in on the death count of the Baathist regime that his invastion set out to topple (the UN Special Rapporteur for Torture, Manfred Nowak, argues that more Iraqis, and a wider section of society to boot, are being tortured to death today than under Saddam's rule, so this latest news shouldn't surprise us (see http://www.tagesschau.de for the German original of the interview)).
Yes, a large and increasing share of Iraqi deaths are now being caused by terrorism and the insurgency and militias, but the fact remains that Bush was warned specifically of the sectarian violence that a US invasion would unleash, and after the invasion was warned by the highest levels of the US military that far more troops were needed to police Iraq and maintain security--an obligation of the US as the occupying power under the Geneva Conventions. And in all cases Bush pursued exactly the opposite policy of that which would protect human life and property. Even where al-Qa'eda in Iraq pulled the trigger or slit the throat, the President, and by extension all Americans, bear responsibility for the deaths that resulted because we created, fueled and have sustained the conditions that made these deaths not only possible, but inevitable.
The question I have is, in a democratic system of governance, if the elected leader of a country is guilty of mass murder and war crimes on an almost industrial scale, what does that make the citizens of said country? Accomplices? Co-conspirators? Bush's willing executioners?
One thing is for sure, we are going to be paying for the sins of Iraq for a long time to come. And the price in American power, prestige and blood will be steep indeed.