[FoRK] Victim Compensation...
Ian Andrew Bell
fork at ianbell.com
Wed Mar 17 20:07:06 PST 2004
Dying at work in Manhattan because terrorists flew a plane into your
office tower: $1,821,886.00
Dying at home in Baghdad because a USAF satellite photo analyst mistook
your back yard swimming pool for a seren gas distillery: $5,000.00
Watching your wife burn to death when a ferrite missile warhead
explodes in your living room, and having to line up for weeks to get
that $5,000.00: WORTHLESS
March 17, 2004
For Iraqis in Harm's Way, $5,000 and 'I'm Sorry'
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
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AGHDAD, Iraq, March 16 ? Nearly a year ago, Ali Kadem Hashem watched
his wife burn to death and his three children die after an American
missile hit his house.
Last week, he got $5,000 from the United States government and an "I'm
sorry" from a young captain.
Mr. Hashem sat for a few moments staring at the stack of bills, crisp
"Part of me didn't want to take it," he said. "It was an insult."
But the captain, Jonathan Tracy, insisted. "A few thousand dollars
isn't going to bring anybody back," he explained later. "But right now,
it's all we can do."
It has been nearly a year since the war in Iraq started but American
military commanders are just now reckoning with the volume of civilian
casualties streaming in for assistance. Twice a week, at a center in
Baghdad, masses of grief-weary Iraqis line up, some on crutches, some
disfigured, some clutching photographs of smashed houses and silenced
children, all ready to file a claim for money or medical treatment. It
is part of a compensation process devised for this war.
Outside the room where the captain was saying he was sorry, a long line
of people waited. One was Ayad Bressem, a 12-year-old boy scorched by a
cluster bomb. His face is covered by ugly blue freckles. Children call
him "Mr. Gunpowder."
"I just want something," the burned boy said.
"Come back later," a guard told him. "You'll get some money. But we're
Military officials say they do not have precise figures or even
estimates of the number of noncombatant Iraqis killed and wounded by
American-led forces in Iraq.
"We don't keep a list," said a Pentagon spokeswoman, Lt. Cmdr. Jane
Campbell. "It's just not policy."
But nonprofit groups in Iraq and the United States say there were
thousands of civilian casualties. According to Civic, a nonprofit
organization that has surveyed Iraqi hospitals, burial societies and
hundreds of families, more than 5,000 civilians were killed between
March 20, when the war started, and May 1, when major combat operations
ended. "It says a lot that the military doesn't even keep track of
these things," said Marla Ruzicka, Civic's founder.
The Project on Defense Alternatives, a nonpartisan arms control think
tank in Cambridge, Mass., tracked Iraqi civilian casualties through
hospital surveys and demographic analysis. The group estimated that the
number of innocents killed in heavy combat was between 3,200 and 4,300.
Whatever the true figures, the list is growing. Since May 1, many Iraqi
civilians have been cut down by American forces in checkpoint shootings
and crossfires, accidents and mishaps. Last week, a 14-year-old Kurdish
girl was killed by an American mortar round near the northern city of
Mosul. Army officials said soldiers fired the mortar at terrorists. It
fell short. A few months ago, according to an official with the Iraqi
Interior Ministry, American soldiers shot and killed a man driving in
his car because he had a hole in his muffler and the sputtering exhaust
sounded like gunfire.
"The Americas are so jumpy," said Jameel Ghani Hashim, manager of
homicide statistics for the Interior Ministry. Mr. Hashim has a
five-inch-thick stack of reports detailing civilian casualties. He said
preliminary figures indicated that about 500 Iraqi civilians had been
killed by American-led forces during the occupation. Mohammed
al-Mosawi, deputy director of the Human Rights Organization of Iraq,
said more than 400 families had filed reports of wrongful deaths at the
hands of American soldiers.
American commanders declined to quantify how many Iraqi civilians had
been killed by their forces during the occupation. "We do keep records
of innocent civilians who are killed accidentally by coalition force
soldiers," said Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, assistant commander for the
First Armored Division, which patrols Baghdad. "And, in fact, in every
one of those innocent death situations, we conduct internal
investigations to determine what happened."
Nonprofit groups tracking civilian casualties said the military had
learned some lessons from the conflict in Afghanistan, in which
hundreds of civilians were killed after faulty intelligence steered
bombs into the wrong villages. The groups credited the military with
doing a better job in Iraq of selecting targets to minimize civilian
But many groups faulted the military for its continued use of cluster
bombs, explosives within explosives that sprinkle hundreds of soda-can
size "bomblets" over a wide area. Steve Goose, an arms expert at Human
Rights Watch, an organization that published two reports on civilian
casualties in Iraq, said that while the Air Force showed greater
restraint using cluster bombs, the Army did not. "The Army is still
using older weapons and firing them into heavily populated areas," Mr.
A Pentagon spokesman defended the use of cluster bombs, saying,
"Coalition forces used cluster munitions in very specific cases against
valid military targets."
One of the problems with cluster bombs is that some bomblets do not
explode right away. That is what disfigured Ayad, the boy whose face
looks as if it was tattooed. Ayad said that on April 25, he was tending
cows in the village of Kifil, south of Baghdad, when a bomblet in the
grass burst open. It embedded bits of metal in his face, leaving him
blind in one eye and coating his skin with dark dots that look like
His mother, Nazar, rushed him to the village doctor. Ayad was in a coma
for weeks. When he emerged, his mother looked down at a face she barely
knew. "He used to be so beautiful," she said. His father, Ali, went to
dozens of Army hospitals and bases. Army doctors said Ayad's cornea was
scarred and that rehabilitation would be difficult.
Ayad is a smiley boy but sometimes he flies into rage. "He beats me for
no reason," his mother said. "He threatens to cut my throat. But I
don't care. I am his mother."
This week, Ayad and his father took a bus to Baghdad. Ayad wore
sunglasses and a scarf over his face. He does that often, even when it
is boiling hot. "The children tease him," his father explained.
When the two arrived at the center run by Captain Tracy, there was a
crowd pressing against the doors. On Sundays and Thursdays, Captain
Tracy sits in a room on the second floor of the convention center and
doles out stacks of cash to civilian casualty victims. The Army calls
them "sympathy payments."
Captain Tracy also helps process claims under the Foreign Claims Act,
which covers damages and wrongful deaths but only in noncombat
situations. Captain Tracy checks each claim a civilian files against a
database of military incident reports. If they match, the military pays
the civilians, but does not issue a formal apology or claim of
responsibility. Of 540 claims filed, he said he had paid 261. While
occasional payments were made to families wrongly bombed in
Afghanistan, there was nothing this formalized before.
Captain Tracy, 27, said he had absorbed a lot of grief in that little
room. "I'm getting pretty burned out," he said.
He is limited in what he can pay. Guidelines set the maximum sympathy
payments at $1,000 per injury, $2,500 per life. With the daily patter
of bombings, rocket attacks and inadvertent killings, life in Iraq may
seem cheap. But many Iraqis say it is not that cheap.
"This war of yours cost billions," said Said Abbas Ahmed, who was given
$6,000 after an American missile killed his brother, his sister, his
wife and his six children. "Are we not worth more than a few thousand?"
In the cases of Mr. Ahmed and Mr. Hashem, whose wife and three children
were killed, military officials acknowledged the victims' houses had
been hit by allied missiles.
Ayad's family say they need money to pay for eye surgery. But by the
time Ayad and his father reached the front of the line, Captain Tracy
was closing for the day. While Ayad pleaded with a guard, his father
held up a small piece of paper to the glass doors. "I have a serious
problem," it read. "I need help. I wish I have a translator."
Nobody responded. A few hours later, the two were back on the bus,
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