Thursday, January 06, 2011

Lying about tear gas deaths: Lisa Goldman and Joseph Dana (updated)

I stumbled across a tweet from self-described journalist Lisa Goldman, where she says "Amnesty Int'l documented 40 deaths in one year from the tear gas that killed Jawaher Abu Rahmah."

Her source? The rabidly anti-Israel lobby group, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. In 1992 they wrote:
Amnesty International has reported 40 deaths from CS tear gas inhalation alone from December 1987 to June 1988.
Notice this: Lisa did not try to look for the original Amnesty International report that supposedly says this. She linked to WRMEA; uncritically believing that they were quoting Amnesty. This is not how a journalist is supposed to act.

This piece of information of the supposed 40 deaths in seven months has now been rocketing around the Twittersphere and blogosphere and even some left wing websites. But no one has tried to find the actual report. Except for one person: Joseph Dana, of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee - who may have started this rumor - says that Amnesty wrote it in their report "Israel and the Occupied Territories: Amnesty International’s concerns in 1988."

Amnesty's 1988 report is not online. But their response to Israel's criticisms regarding that report is. And here is how they defend their methodology:
The manufacturers of CS tear-gas used by Israeli forces stress that such agent can be lethal if misused -- for example, by using it in confined spaces from which vulnerable individuals cannot readily exit. It is particularly dangerous when used in massive quantities in heavily built-up and populated areas, as has been the case with the refugee camps in the Occupied Territories, or when launched directly into homes or other buildings. Infants and elderly people or others who cannot rapidly move away, as well as people with respiratory problems, are particularly vulnerable.

Amnesty International finds such background sufficient to warrant the reporting of deaths following alleged misuse of tear-gas, and to call for adequate investigation of this issue, even in the absence of conclusive medical evidence to prove or disprove the extent to which these deaths were caused by tear-gas inhalation. In June 1988 it issued a report outlining its concerns on the matter.
These paragraphs prove that Amnesty either didn't explicitly charge that the deaths came from tear gas in the 1988 report, or they backtracked from that assertion. It also proves that Amnesty was only talking about misuse of tear gas in confined areas - which the IDF admits had happened on occasion during the first intifada. And Amnesty notes that Israel has changed its guidelines for tear gas use in 1988 to stop using it in confined spaces.

In other words,  the Amnesty report repeating assertions from Arabs in 1988  - admittedly without proof - that 40 of them were killed by misuse of tear gas has absolutely no relevance to the death of a single supposedly healthy person in 2010 who died, outdoors, quite a distance from any tear gas.

To compare the two is similar to saying that Jawaher Abu Rahma had died of an overdose of saccharine because she had two packets of artificial sweetener earlier that day. After all, there are scientific studies that a huge quantity of saccharine can kill humans if ingested very quickly!

The facts are clear. No one can find a single documented case in scientific literature of anyone dying from CS tear gas outdoors, ever. (I've been looking.)There are very, very few documented cases of CS tear gas killing people  even indoors, at concentrations and over time periods that are hundreds of times more potent than any possible outdoor scenario.

Anyone bringing studies of isolated tear gas-related deaths of people were stuck indoors with high concentrations for long time periods as some type of proof that Abu Rahma was killed by tear gas in fresh air is, knowingly, lying.

UPDATE: Balfour St. finds that Goldman makes mistakes in her article on the subject, misreading a BMJ article on tear gas to falsely claim that CS is more dangerous than CN (it is less dangerous) and mistakenly claiming that CS is banned in the UK (it isn't.) The BMJ article also does not mention any cases of CS killing anyone outdoors. Even its mentioning that CS might have killed some of the Branch Davidians in Waco in 1993 is far from definitive: this report on the matter says that the only way they could have died is if they were unable to leave the rooms with the CS.