LAST WEEK at the White House, President Bush marked the first anniversary of the Iraq invasion by saying: "The murders in Madrid are a reminder that the civilized world is at war. And in this new kind of war, civilians find themselves suddenly on the front lines."
There was no mention of Iraqi civilians killed by American bombs and bullets in the invasion and occupation.
Bush went to Fort Campbell, Ky., to tell soldiers that they had liberated a nation "in which millions of people lived in fear, and many thousands disappeared into mass graves. That was the life in Iraq for more than a generation until the Americans arrived."
The soldiers applauded. There was no mention of the civilian carnage caused by the arrival of the Americans.
At both Fort Campbell and in another speech in Orlando, where the crowd chanted "USA! USA! USA!" Bush said America will do whatever it takes to defeat and destroy the terrorists "so that we do not have to face them in our own country."
In his three speeches, Bush made no mention of the Iraqis who were permanently defaced.
Bush cannot mention them because the invasion had no grounds. Neither weapons of mass destruction nor proof of an imminent threat was found. Bush cannot mention them because he knows a needless invasion was not worth up to 10,000 Iraqi civilians killed by US and British forces. He cannot mention them because it would only bring attention to the paltry and peculiar way the United States pays victims and the families of victims for the injuries and fatalities suffered at our hands.
The New York Times featured Ali Kadem Hashem, who lost his wife and three children to a US missile. He received $5,000.
"Part of me didn't want to take it," Hashem said. "It was an insult."
Said Abbas Ahmed received $6,000 after losing nine members of his family. That works out to $667 per person.
"This war of yours costs billions," Ahmed said. "Are we not worth more than a few thousand?" Just as troubling is that the US military has rejected 5,700 of the 11,300 claims processed. Of the 5,600 cases where claims have been paid, the total payout has been $2.2 million. That is an average of $393 per Iraqi victim.
The families of American victims of 9/11 are receiving an average of $1.8 million per victim.
Military officers in Iraq admit that the payouts can seem random, without reason. A Newsday piece featured Wafa Abdul Latif, the mother of a 12-year-old boy who was shot by US soldiers. Because of a curfew, US troops blocked an attempt by neighbors to rush the boy to the hospital.
The boy died in the car. A US military official apologized for the shooting. The family was denied compensation.
"When the Americans first came, Mohammad and my other children watched them with joy in their eyes," Latif said. "Now we hate them."
Newsday and the Los Angeles Times reported on bizarre cases where people received more cash for damaged automobiles than for dead relatives. The family of Husham Sami was denied compensation despite the fact that the unarmed Sami was killed point-blank at his house by US soldiers who did not understand he was trying to desert Saddam's army. Sami's brother Kamel received $2,500 for his US-wrecked, 15-year-old car.
"It is a strange form of justice," Kamel Sami said.
Strange justice is a natural result of a strange and unjust war. At Fort Campbell, Bush said Iraqi civilians are seeing "the good heart of America." In the comfort of soldiers, he felt it was fine to inject some levity into his speech. He quoted a US female soldier who said she is one of the best shots in her battalion: "But hey, I'm a redneck, what do you expect?"
There was laughter and applause. In Iraq, there is no yahoo laughter or applause in homes reddened by the blood of civilian victims of the invasion. In those homes, there are the perturbations of hate.
Bush never fails to remind the rest of the world that 3,000 innocent Americans were killed on 9/11. Yet America refuses to count civilian casualties in Iraq. Bush still rails about a Saddam Hussein who "tortured children in front of their parents." Yet America stiffed thousands of Iraqis who watched family members burn and bleed to death because of our invasion.
Bush says that unlike the terrorists, "We believe in the values that uphold the dignity of life." Yet the value America places on American victims of foreign terrorism is 4,580 times more than the average compensation for Iraqi victims of premeditated American violence. That gap and the ease with which Bush made redneck jokes with his soldiers is a stunning clue why he found it so easy to invade Iraq.
Bush never put a human face on Iraqi civilians. That makes the invasion and occupation a failure, on face value.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.