[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'

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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. 
Goose said.

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 
pencil stabs.

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, 
headed home.

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