By: E&P Staff
The practice by the U.S. of making cash payments to families of those civilians our military forces have killed or injured in Iraq drew wide attention last year in the wake of disclosures of alleged massacres at Haditha and other sites. This prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to file a Freedom of Information request, and the Army has responded with about 500 of the thousands of claims.
The New York Times carries a full report on this on Thursday in making some of the claims public for the first time.
“The claims provide a rare window into the daily chaos and violence faced by civilians and troops in the two war zones,” the Times’ Paul van Zielbauer observes. In one
incident in 2005, for example, an American soldier in the south of Baghdad killed a boy after mistaking his book bag for a bomb satchel. The Army paid the boy?s uncle $500.
The military has paid more than $32 million to Iraqi and Afghan civilians for noncombat-related killings, injuries and property damage, an Army spokeswoman told the Times. That figure does not include what are known as “condolence payments” made at a unit commander?s discretion — the cash allotments that drew wide coverage last year.
?There are some very tragic losses of civilian life, including losses of whole families,? Anthony D. Romero, the A.C.L.U.?s executive director, told the Times. The group’s Web site, www.aclu.org, has a searchable database of reports. It notes that the A.C.L.U. is seeking more reports.
A summary on the site includes this paragraph: “The files provide a window into the lives of innocent Afghans and Iraqis caught in conflict zones. In one file, a civilian from the Salah Ad Din province in eastern Iraq states that U.S. forces opened fire with more than 100 hundred rounds on his sleeping family, killing his mother, father and brother. The firepower was of such magnitude that 32 of the family’s sheep were also killed. The Army acknowledged responsibility and the claim resulted in two payments: a compensation payment of $11,200 and a $2,500 condolence payment.
“In another file, a civilian in Baghdad states that his only son, a nine-year-old, was playing outside when a stray bullet hit and killed him. The Army acknowledged responsibility and paid compensation of $4,000.”
A few excerpts from the Times article follows.
The Foreign Claims Act, which governs such compensation, does not deal with combat-related cases. For those cases, including the boy?s, the Army may offer a condolence payment as a gesture of regret with no admission of fault, of usually no higher than $2,500 per person killed.
The total number of claims filed, or paid, is unclear, although extensive data has been provided in reports to Congress. 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….
In Haditha, one of the most notorious incidents involving American troops in Iraq, the Marines paid residents $38,000 after troops killed two dozen people, including women and children, in November 2005.
The relatively small number of claims divulged by the Army show patterns of misunderstanding at checkpoints and around American military convoys that often result in inadvertent or unnecessary killings.
In one incident, in Feb. 18, 2006, a taxi approached a checkpoint east of Baquba that was not properly marked with signs to slow down, one Army claim evaluation said. Soldiers fired on the taxi, killing a woman and severely wounding her daughter and son. The Army approved an unusually large condolence payment of $7,500, the documents show.
In September 2005, soldiers killed a man and his sister by firing 200 rounds into their car as it approached a checkpoint, apparently too quickly, near Mussayib. The Army lieutenant colonel who handled the claim awarded relatives a $10,000 compensation payment, finding that the soldiers had overstepped the rules of engagement.