Magazine article The Spectator

The Greater the Number of New York Victims, the Easier It Is to Justify Bombing Afghanistan

Magazine article The Spectator

The Greater the Number of New York Victims, the Easier It Is to Justify Bombing Afghanistan

Article excerpt

The attack on the World Trade Center on 11 September was without doubt the worst single act of terrorism ever committed. Those dreadful images will live with us for ever. There are grounds for believing, however, that the final death toll may be significantly lower than the 6,000 to 7,000 still being quoted almost universally by politicians and journalists. It is certain that the number of British dead is considerably less than the figure of several hundred first mentioned by Tony Blair.

On 11 September it was known that 266 people had died in the four aircraft hijacked by terrorists. The number of people murdered in the attack on the Pentagon settled quite soon at about 120. But for understandable reasons the figure for fatalities in the World Trade Center remained lost in confusion for many days. As people reported that relatives and friends were missing, the toll began to climb. By 23 September it was put at 6,453. Since then it has declined virtually day by day. The principal reason is thought to be double counting. It is also believed that foreign consulates inadvertently overestimated the number of their nationals who were missing.

By last week the official toll had fallen to a little over 4,700. When I spoke to an official in the mayor's office in New York on Tuesday of this week, the latest figure was 4,655. This comprised 465 described as identified dead, 54 unidentified dead and 4,136 still reported missing. It is likely that the overall toll will go on falling as the number of missing people continues to drop, though it is impossible to say what the final figure will be. According to Police Chief Charles Campisi, `The list is in a state of flux and it will continue to be.' Some news organisations in New York are suggesting much lower numbers than the mayor's office. For example, the tally of victims kept by Associated Press stands at around 2,600, though the news agency expects this to grow as the authorities use DNA to identify remains, a process that will cause the number of identified bodies to rise considerably. One might hazard a guess that the final grisly toll may lie somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000, possibly tending towards the latter figure.

We can be more categorical about British fatalities. On 13 September the Times reported, `British figures could run into hundreds, Downing Street said last night.' On 16 September Tony Blair told CNN: `Probably 200 to 300 people from Britain will have died in these attacks. That makes it the worse terrorist attack there has been on British citizens since the second world war.' Other government sources suggested the figure of British dead might be as high as 500. In fact, the number is now put at 80, as Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, revealed during a visit to New York on 28 October. This tally probably includes dual nationals and some with family ties to Britain. The number of British citizens who died may be 58.

These figures are still appallingly high. But if it turns out that between 3,000 and 4,000 people died in the attack on the World Trade Center, rather than the 6,000 to 7,000 originally feared, this is in a peculiar way wonderful news. We should feel joy that so many fewer British people died than was originally thought. Yet these adjusted figures are barely mentioned by the British press. The only reference I have come across was in an article by Philip Delves Broughton in the Daily Telegraph on 27 October. …

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