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Monday, July 03, 2006

Are all lives equal? Not according to the way the US compensates victims

Question: How much is an Iraqi life worth? Answer: A lot less than an American or British life, according to the amount of compensation paid to the relatives of victims.


In the early months of the invasion, the United States paid Iraqis $106,000 for 176 claims - averaging about $600 per claim.

During the siege of Fallujah, where US soldiers killed 18 people and wounded 78 during an April 2004 firefight, the American military commander in the area paid $1,500 for each fatality and $500 for each injury.

More recently the US paid $38,000 for Haditha victims' family members. That comes up to less than $1,600 per person killed. What a bargain.

The most any Iraqi has received to date for injury or property damage is $15,000.

By comparison, the Libyan government recently settled a lawsuit for victims of Pan Am 103, which was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. The Libyans paid $2.7 billion for 270 passengers with an average payment of $10 million per death. Shortly after the war with Iraq, the Bush administration pressed for legislation to double the death benefits paid to the families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to $500,000.

Last year a Seattle woman was awarded $45,000 for the wrongful death of her cat.

For Iraqis to get a claim paid is harder than getting a rebate on your iPod. First you must have all your documents in order - birth certificates, witness accounts, proof of identity, etc. Most witnesses are afraid to come forward for fear of retribution. Obtaining birth certificates and proof of identity for some is nearly impossible, due to displacement or other mitigating circumstances. Then, you must get "proof of negligence of US soldier from a US soldier or unit."

That's a task that is virtually impossible, being that US soldiers are instructed not to assume blame. The claim must be filed within 30 days of the death along with a phone number for contact, making it out of the question since the overwhelming majority of Iraqis do not have phones.

Furthermore, the loopholes are so complicated that for most Iraqis it is nearly impossible to get a claim filed, let alone paid.

When payments are made, liability is never acknowledged and oftentimes family members are asked to sign waivers to exempt US personnel from any legal action.

Beyond the initial payments there is little recourse for the families of the victim. Until today no American soldier has been prosecuted for illegally killing an Iraqi. Commanders refuse even to count the number of civilians killed or injured by their soldiers.

Under CPA Order No. 17, issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority prior to its dismantling in 2004, Iraqi courts are banned from hearing any cases filed against American servicemen or any foreign officials in Iraq.

Those who were allegedly involved in the Haditha massacre are awaiting a trial.

Waleed Mohammed, the attorney representing the victims, told The Washington Post that he has little hope for a fair outcome: "They are waiting for an outcome although they are convinced that the sentence will be like one for someone who killed a dog in the United States.... Iraqis have become like dogs in the eyes of Americans."

Are all lives equal? Not according to the way the US compensates victims
Anas Shallal, The Christian Science Monitor, July 3, 2006 edition

"We don't do body counts," said General Tommy Franks. So in essence from the very start of the war there has been a conscious effort on the part of the US military not to know how many civilians have died.

While Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is probably correct when he is saying that 99% of the US soldiers are acting honorably and not abusing civilians - and that percentage may even be higher than that - it doesn't help much those Iraqis whose family members or friends have been killed by those American soldiers who have crossed the threshold of law. And, regardless of whether the death in question was a result of criminal behaviour or just a tragic accident having insurmountable bureaucratic obstacles in the path of the family getting compensated adds insult to injury and probably serves to bolster the insurgency.

Altogether it seems hard to design a better policy of covert racism and to ensure that the ranks of those willing to harm Americans in Iraq - and probably elsewhere in the Muslim World - do not dwindle any time soon.

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