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State Dept. revises flawed reporton terrorism

The Bush administration on Tuesday will say terrorism killed 625 people in 2003, a U.S. official said, more than double the 307 deaths it cited in a flawed report used to argue it is winning the war on terrorism.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Correcting an inaccurate report, the State Department announced Tuesday that acts of terror worldwide increased slightly last year and the number of people wounded rose dramatically.

The department also reported a decline in the number of people killed — to 625 from 725 during 2002. But in April, the department reported 307 people had been killed last year — a much bigger decline.

“The numbers were off,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said, and “we have identified how we have to do this in the future.” He also said the initial report was not designed “to make our efforts look better or worse.”

The findings had been used by senior Bush administration officials to bolster President Bush’s claim of success in countering terrorism.

Responding to the corrected version, Phil Singer, spokesman for Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign, said it was “just the latest example of an administration playing fast and loose with the truth when it comes to the war on terror.” The administration “has now been caught trying to inflate its success on terrorism,” he said.

Initially, 190 acts of terror were reported in 2003, a slight decrease from the 198 attacks reported for 2002. On Tuesday, the State Department said there were 208 acts of terror last year, a slight increase from 2002.

Thirty-five U.S. citizens died in international terror attacks last year. The deadliest incident was a suicide bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in May in which nine Americans were killed.

The report did not include U.S. troops killed or wounded in Iraq, or the incidents there, in its report “because they were directed at combatants.” Attacks against civilians and unarmed military personnel were included.

A total of 3,646 people were wounded worldwide in terror attacks last year, the report said. This represented a sharp increase from the 2,013 wounded in 2002.

In April, the department had said that 1,593 people were wounded in 2003, a sharp decline from the previous year.

The initial report was issued April 28. On June 10, the State Department acknowledged the findings were inaccurate. Powell attributed the errors partly to a new data system and said there was no attempt to manipulate the figures to buttress Bush’s argument.

When the report was issued, senior administration officials claimed that it showed Bush’s counter-terror campaign was a success.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the report was based “on the facts as we had them at the time. The facts that we had were wrong.”

The April report said attacks had declined last year to 190, down from 198 in 2002 and 346 in 2001. The 2003 figure would have been the lowest level in 34 years and a 45 percent drop since 2001, Bush’s first year as president. The department is now working to determine the correct figures.

Democratic Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California had challenged the initial findings. He said he was pleased that officials “have now recognized that they have a report that has been inaccurate, and based on the inaccurate information they tried to take self-serving political credit for the results that were wrong.”

But Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., was sharply critical on Tuesday.

“Funny things happened on the way to the printer,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is not the first, second, or third instance, for that matter, of a Bush Cabinet secretary having to rewrite a report from their own department.”

Emanuel cited inaccurate reports on racial disparities in health care, misleading estimates of the Medicare prescription drug bill and the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed mercury emissions rules.

“The first draft reflects the administration’s ideology and political objectives and the rewrite reflects the facts,” Emanuel said in a House speech.

And Raphael Perl, a terrorism analyst for the Congressional Research Service, said “the numbers add up.”

But, he said, “there is no doubt that the credibility has been damaged, but the administration has come out clean and hopefully has rehabilitated the report.”

Among the mistakes, Boucher said, was that only part of 2003 was taken into account.

Powell said, “I can assure you it had nothing to do with putting out anything but the most honest, accurate information we can.”

“Errors crept in that, frankly, we did not catch here,” Powell said. The report showed both a drop in the number of attacks worldwide in 2003 and the virtual disappearance of attacks in which no one died.