U.S. payoff system shows no respect for Iraqi lives

Tehran Times

June 17, 2006

The shocking revelations in The Boston Globe about the common practice known as “solatia” – U.S. compensation payments to families of Iraqi civilians maimed or killed in operations involving U.S. operations – raise questions about the true number of innocent civilians killed by U.S. occupation forces.

The Globe report comes amid investigations into a series of incidents in which U.S. occupation forces killed innocent Iraqi civilians. The “solatia” practice attracted more media attention in recent weeks, with news that U.S. commanders paid about $2500 per victim to relatives of the 24 Iraqi men, women and children killed by American troops in Haditha last November. But how often does the military use this practice?

According to Pentagon financial data, the amount of the so-called “condolence payments” distributed to Iraqi families whose loved ones were killed or injured in U.S. attacks “skyrocketed from just under $5 million in 2004 to almost $20 million last year". The payments, which come from the Commanders Emergency Response Program, range from several hundred dollars for a severed limb to a standard of $2500 for loss of life.

The New York Times provided a city-by-city chart depicting the recent compensation payments – at least $6 million were paid in Baghdad last year. The chart also shows that the payoffs, already high, soared in January, with more than $4 million paid in that month alone.

And the carnage has only increased since. The military offers no explanation on how that huge figure was paid. According to Boston Globe reporter, Bryan Bender; "If each of the payments made in 2005 was the maximum $2,500 for an Iraqi death, it would amount to 8,000 fatalities. But it's unknown exactly how many payments were made or for what amount." Bender also quoted Pentagon officials as saying that the "solatia" payments shouldn’t be seen as an admission of guilt or responsibility. However, he says that "the fourfold increase in condolence payments raises new questions about the extent to which Iraqi civilians have been the victims of U.S. firepower." Bender also notes that "some experts have said that the commanding officers who approved the Haditha condolence payments should have asked more questions about what happened that day -- and whether the Marines were responsible."

The dramatic surge in the military payoffs also suggests that U.S. commanders made on-the-spot restitution far more frequently, according to congressional aides and officials familiar with a special fund at the disposal of military officers in Iraq.

Although some Iraqis take the compensation money, many others refuse to accept it, viewing the cash as an insult.

Earlier this month, the Knight Ridder reported on the accidental deaths of three Iraqi civilians, a woman and two men, in a U.S. training exercise in southern Baghdad. The report quoted U.S. officials as saying that the military would pay the families of the victims, with an Army captain saying that he doesn’t want to meet the relatives of the victims and give them the money.

Many innocent Iraqis have been killed in U.S. raids and indiscriminate shootings by American forces since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Although exact figures aren’t available, it is commonly believed by Iraqis that hundreds of civilians died this way.

Anti-U.S. sentiments are whipped up by incidents like Haditha. Major abuse cases such as the scandal at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison or the 2004 U.S. air strike on a wedding in western Iraq, that killed about 45 people, foster rage at American troops. "May God take revenge on the Americans and those who brought them here," said the brother of a pregnant Iraqi woman killed last month by U.S. troops at a checkpoint in Samarra. "People are shocked and fed up with the Americans. People in Samarra are very angry with the Americans not only because of Haditha case but because the Americans kill people randomly, especially recently."

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is pushing for a broader investigation into the condolence payments. "The dramatic rise in condolence payments raises many questions of accountability and process -- and serves as a warning sign for incidents like Haditha," he says. Army officials claim that the "solatia" practice help win the hearts and minds of Iraqis affected by this disastrous war. But is it possible that these payoffs help the military feel that it closes the book on a civilian killing or massacre?