"Sorry We Shot Your Kid, But Here's $500"
By Greg Mitchell April 12, 2007
For the entire war in Iraq, the press has been kept largely in the dark concerning the number of civilians killed by our forces, and what happened in the aftemath. Now several hundred files posted online reveal some of the true horror while raising questions about lack of compensation.
The most revealing new information on Iraq -- guaranteed to make readers sad or angry, or both -- is found not in any press dispatch but in a collection of several hundred PDFs posted on the Web this week.
Here you will find, for example, that when the U.S. drops a bomb that goes awry, lands in an orchard, and does not detonate -- until after a couple of kids go out to take a look -- our military does not feel any moral or legal reason to compensate the family of the dead child because this is, after all, broadly speaking, a "combat situation."
Also: What price (when we do pay) do we place on the life of a 9-year-old boy, shot by one of our soldiers who mistook his book bag for a bomb satchel? Would you believe $500? And when we shoot an Iraqi journalist on a bridge we shell out $2500 to his widow -- but why not the measly $5000 she had requested?
This, and much more, is found in the new PDFs of Iraqi claims, which are usually denied.
Last June, The Boston Globe and The New York Times revealed that a local custom in Iraq known as "solatia" had now been adapted by the U.S. military -- it means families receive financial compensation for physical damage or a loss of life. The Globe revealed that payoffs had "skyrocketed from just under $5 million in 2004 to almost $20 million last year, according to Pentagon financial data."
In a column at that time, I asked: How common is the practice? And how many unnecessary deaths do the numbers seem to suggest?
It's necessary to ask because the press generally has been denied information on civilian killings and, in recent years, it has become too dangerous in much of Iraq for reporters to go out and investigate shootings or alleged atrocities.
Now we have more evidence, thanks to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) request for files on payments by the military. The FOIA request produced 500 case studies, which deserve broad attention.
An Army spokesman told the New York Times that the total payments so far had reached at least $32 million. Yet this figure apparently includes only the payments made in this formal claim process that requires offiical approval. The many other "solatia" or "condolence payments" made informally at a unit commander's discretion are not always included.
The ACLU site, www.aclu.org, now features a searchable database of reports (the ACLU is seeking more of them in case this is just the tip of the iceberg).
The New York Times comments today: "There is no way to know immediately whether disciplinary action or prosecution has resulted from the cases. Soldiers hand out instruction cards after mistakes are made, so Iraqis know where to file claims. .
If this kind of murderous behavior was happening in America, there would be a mass uprising of folks fighting back against the military machine performing the murders. If that happened, would the MSM brand the Americans trying to take back their country "Insurgents?"
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