US Compensation Payments to Iraqi Civilians Made Public

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Guardian/UK

US Compensation Payments to Iraqi Civilians Made Public

by
Mark Tran

The US army memo about the killing of an Iraqi woman in a taxi at a checkpoint in Iraq is terse and matter-of-fact.The incident occurred in the eastern Iraqi town of Baquba in February last year, when a taxi carrying a woman and her two children went through the checkpoint. US troops opened fire, killing the woman, who died from internal bleeding, and wounding her two children. 0412 04

"There is evidence to suggest that the warning cones and printed checkpoint signs had not yet been displayed in front of the checkpoint, which may be the reason why the driver of the taxi did not believe he was required to stop," says the memo, which recommended a compensation payment of $7,500 (£3,798).

The memo is just one of 500 claims for damages by family members of civilians killed or injured by US forces and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan that have been obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU made the documents public on its website today.

The ACLU received the records in response to a freedom of information act request filed in June last year.

"Since US troops first set foot in Afghanistan in 2001, the defence department has gone to unprecedented lengths to control and suppress information about the human costs of war," said Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU.

He added: "Our democracy depends on an informed citizenry, and it is critical that the American people have access to full and accurate information about the prosecution of the war and the implications for innocent civilians."

In another case, an Iraqi civilian said US forces opened fire with more than 100 rounds on his sleeping family, killing his mother, father and brother. Such was the firepower that 32 of the family's sheep were also killed. The army acknowledged responsibility and made two payments: a compensation payment of $11,200 and a $2,500 condolence payment.

The ACLU released a total of 496 files: 479 from Iraq and 17 from Afghanistan. Of the 496 claims, the ACLU said, 164 incidents resulted in cash payments to family members.

In approximately half of the cases, the US accepted responsibility for the death of the civilian and offered a "compensation payment". In the other half, US authorities issued "condolence" payments - discretionary payments capped at $2,500 - offered "as an expression of sympathy" but "without reference to fault".

Compensation for non-combat cases are governed by the foreign claims act, in which the army can offer condolence compensation as a gesture of regret with no admission of fault.

Based on the number of deaths represented and the variation in number and location of claims per year, the ACLU said it believes additional documents are being withheld and is pressing the defence department to disclose them all.

According to the New York Times, the US has paid out more than $32m in compensation for civilian deaths, injuries and property damage.

"As these files remind us, war imposes heavy burdens on innocent civilians," said Jameel Jaffer, the deputy director of the ACLU's national security programme. "Although these files are deeply disturbing to read, they allow us to understand the human cost of war in a way that statistics and the usual platitudes do not."

The plight of Iraqi civilians was highlighted by a report yesterday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said civilians are experiencing "immense suffering" because of a "disastrous" security situation, deepening poverty and a worsening humanitarian crisis.

The ICRC also saw no sign that the US "surge" in Baghdad was bringing relief to the capital.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

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