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How much is an Iraqi life worth?

Detainees sit blindfolded after being arrested by Iraqi police in Karbala, October 2006. A US army sergeant on trial for murder testified Thursday he had no role in the killing of unarmed Iraqi detainees, but helped to cover up the shootings out of loyalty to his men.(AFP)

How much is an Iraqi life worth? $3,000, $2,500, $500? The ACLU has been trying to find out. Yesterday, they released 496 files which they received in response to a Freedom of Information request and now you can read them yourself. Here are just a few examples:

rmy Bates 1648 – 1650 5/30/2005 Mahmodiyah, Iraq Claim  behalf of Iraqi [Redacted] by parent. Claimant's son was exhumed by NCIS as part of a double murder investigation involving the Marines. Claimant was given a claims card and told to file it with FOB St. Michael for compensation regarding the exhumation. Notes that the family of the second victim has already been paid a condolence payment for same incident. Condolence payment granted: $700 US. Circumstances of incident unknown. See related claim: Army 1646 – 1647.

Army Bates 1004 – 1007 1/6/2005 July Bridge, Baghdad, Iraq Claim on behalf of Iraqi [Redacted] by wife. [Redacted], a journalist for an independent newspaper, was shot and killed by US forces as he crossed the bridge. [Redacted] was the father of four kids. Claimant had "documentation from CA confirming that U.S. troops were in the area at that time." The medical report also confirmed that a 5.56 mm round killed [Redacted]. Finding: sufficient evidence; Compensation: $2,500 US.
Army Bates 75 – 78 3/4/2003 Kandahar, Afghanistan Claim filed on behalf of Afghan [Redacted] by mother. [Redacted] (a young child) was hit by a US Humvee while crossing the road. [Redacted] was hospitalized for three weeks before dying of his injuries. Finding: negligence; Compensation: $1,500 US.
Army Bates 205 – 207 4/2/2005 Redacted Claim on behalf of Iraqi [Redacted] by husband. Husband, wife, and children were returning home from a party when they were fired on by Coalition Forces (CF). An RPG had been previously fired at CF and CF were returning fire when they struck and killed [Redacted]. The vehicle was also damaged by gunfire. Finding: not included. A condolence payment of $4,000 US total ($2,500 for death and $1,500 for damage) is offered and justified as follows: "By making this condolence payment, MNF ensures the family and community recognize the MNFs' sympathy for the unfortunate occurrence. Support will positively influence both the community and local Iraqi leaders."

It's important to note that these 496 files are just the tip of the iceberg … as a followup to the ACLU's release, the New York Times reports:

They represent only a small fraction of the claims filed. In all, the military has paid more than $32 million to Iraqi and Afghan civilians for noncombat-related killings,

injuries and property damage, an Army spokeswoman said. That figure does not include condolence payments made at a unit commander’s discretion.

The Foreign Claims Act, which governs such compensation, does not deal with combat-related cases.

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.

And who decides the value of that life?

There are no specific guidelines to tell Army field officers judging the claims how to evaluate the cash value of a life taken, Major [Anne] Edgecomb [an army spokesperson] said. She said officers “consider the contributions the deceased made to those left behind and offer an award based on the facts, local tribal customs, and local law.”

The math is horrific – the ACLU files show that about 40% were rejected as "combat related" and if condolence payments were made, those payments are not included in the $32million figure. Another 10% are paid nothing "because the Army could not find a “significant activity” report confirming an incident." Looking at the ACLU files, it appears that the typical payment is no more than $3,000 for a dead civilian … a very rough estimate would mean that the $32 million in payments means 10,667 civilian deaths where the US actually agrees to pay (but of course, not to take specific responsibility). And remember that these are non combat related deaths – any hint that the civilian was even near a combat site places them outside this compensation system. One example from the ACLU files:

Army Bates 518 – 521 2/24/2005 Al Dijail, Iraq Claim on behalf of Iraqi [Redacted] by father. [Redacted], a shepherd, was tending his sheep 1,000 meters from a site where Coalition Forces (CF) detonated a stockpile of old regime ammunition. The detonation resulted in shrapnel, some of which hit and killed [Redacted]. Finding: denied due to combat exception. Finds that "detonation of ammunition" is a combat activity.

Reading these files – and realizing they are just a small fraction of the total, realizing that many Iraqis would not even consider filing such a claim – we begin to get a fuller picture of the true horror of our actions in Iraq. I've been trying all day to find words to accompany these records, a way of memorializing these senseless deaths caused by our occupation or Iraq, but no words come. We can and should demand a full investigation and a full accounting of the civilian casualties of our actions in Iraq, we can and should demand an end to the occupation … but today, it's important that we take the time to read these files, to recognize our sisters and brothers in those dreadful bureaucratic forms and to mourn these innocent lives … each and every one worth so much more, so much more.

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Siun is a proud Old Town resident who shares her home with two cats and a Great Pyrenees. She’s worked in media relations and on the net since before the www, led the development of a corporate responsibility news service, and knows what a mult box is thanks to Nico. When not swimming in the Lake, she leads a team working on sustainability tools.

Email: media dot firedoglake at gmail dot com