Saturday, April 14, 2007

Blood Money

Cross-posted at Diatribune and BlueSunbelt

Ever wonder just how much money the U.S. Military pays out for its “collateral damage” -- civilian injuries and deaths in the war zones?

For me, it’s not the money paid out that drives my curiosity. I’m sure it’s just some arbitrary amount; just enough to temporarily appease the locals, and not drive them to join the insurgency. Rather, I’m interested in how far coalition forces will go in admitting how many Iraqi civilians are killed during military operations.

One thing you can be sure of, the FOIA requests in no way covered the true depth and scope of the collateral damage that the U.S. Military has wrought upon the war zones. After all, the records don’t even cover civilian injuries and fatalities incurred during “battle activity.”

Of course, coalition led investigations get to categorize the situation – and we all know how well most of the regular U.S military investigations have worked out for civilians caught in war zones.

Here’s one clue:

"We don't do body counts," Gen. Tommy Franks, who directed the Iraq invasion, has said. -- San Francisco Chronicle – May 3, 2003

Well, at least the ACLU is still trying to bring some sunshine to the fog of war. BTW, we really need to acknowledge the good work that the ACLU is doing both stateside and abroad lately.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about the ACLU. They’ve taken on some dubious cases in the past, IMHO. But, they seem to have found their way defending the U.S. Constitution in the Bush era. We’ll especially need their services here at home in the near future, working with the Dem Majority in Congress, to keep the pressure on the Bush administration by way of court filings, amicus curiae briefs, and perhaps, even a class-action suit or two. In case you missed the other links, you can join or donate to the ACLU here.

But, I digress…

The American Civil Liberties Union recently obtained files from the U.S. Military on compensation claims to Iraqi and Afghan civilians killed and hurt by coalition forces over the past five-plus-years. The records were turned over to the civil liberties group in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

From Friday’s BBC News:

Of the 496 claims, 164 resulted in cash payments to families, the ACLU says. Many files relate to civilian deaths at checkpoints or near US convoys.

If it does not accept responsibility for the civilian's death, the military can make a discretionary "condolence" payment, which is offered without admission of fault and is capped at $2,500.

In the 164 claims resulting in payments, about half were for compensation and the remainder condolence payments.

The New York-based ACLU believes the files it has received are a very small proportion of those held by the defence department, and is pressing it to disclose them all.

Yeah, right, maybe when I’m 80.

An attorney for the ACLU, Jameel Jaffer told BBC that it was the first time the U.S. government released to the public any records of this kind.

"For the first time they give the public access to very detailed information about the human costs of war," he said.

"They allow the public to understand the burden that has been borne by civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The ACLU published summaries of claims that were submitted to the U.S. Foreign Claims Commission by relatives of civilians said to have been killed as a result of actions taken by coalition forces.

• Some 479 of the claims relate to incidents in Iraq, dating from May 2003 to late 2006 with the majority in 2005, and 17 to Afghanistan, most dating from 2006.

• One-file records a payment of $35,000 made to a family in Hib Hib, Iraq, after US forces "accidentally discharged 155 mm rounds", killing three children aged five, 16 and 18 and damaging their home.

• Another, dating from February 2006, describes how a fisherman in Tikrit was shot as he reached down to switch off the engine of his boat. He had been shouting "fish, fish" and pointing to his catch. The US Army refused to compensate his family for his death, ruling that it was the result of combat activity, but paid $3,500 for the loss of his boat - which drifted off - net and mobile phone.

• In a fourth file, a civilian states that US forces opened fire with more than 100 rounds on his sleeping family, killing his mother, father and brother. He was also hurt and 32 of the family's sheep killed. The US Army paid $11,200 compensation and made a $2,500 condolence payment. It had been responding to an attack from the direction of the village.

About a fifth of the claims relate to deaths at checkpoints or near U.S. convoys.

In one case, a condolence payment of $7,500 was suggested for the deaths of a civilian’s mother and sister along with the injury of his 4-year old brother in an incident involving all four of them riding in a taxicab that traveled through a checkpoint in the town of Baquba without stopping.

An Army memo states:

"There is evidence to suggest that the warning cones and printed checkpoint signs had not yet been displayed in front of the checkpoint, which may be the reason why the driver of the taxi did not believe he was required to stop."

As a rule, the U.S. Military denies compensation for “significant acts” for lack of evidence, despite eyewitness accounts, and instead, in certain cases, issues minimum “condolence payments.” Some of the claimants told BBC that official denied claims usually conclude with the phrase:

"I wish you well in a Free Iraq.”

And, if you think that’s ironic.

Mr. Jaffer pointed out that he fears such platitudes, and the many instances denying compensation continue to enrage civilians, damaging U.S. efforts to win hearts & minds.

"It's extremely important from a policy point of view that the US compensates people in these kinds of claims and that the system is fair and not arbitrary," he said.

The US defence department has said it regrets any civilian deaths and strives to prevent them.

"Any loss of life is tragic and our forces, as well as the forces we serve with, take every available means to limit the effects of combat on civilians," defence department spokesman Todd Wician told the BBC.

I reiterate:

"We don't do body counts," Gen. Tommy Franks, who directed the Iraq invasion, has said. -- San Francisco Chronicle – May 3, 2003

Yeah, not even the children.

This war must end.