Friday, June 09, 2006

Do the math

In comments at Obsidian Wings yesterday, I said:
I wonder if the DoD releases figures on how much has been paid out so far in "condolence payments" of up to $2500 per life ... For how many of those lives have the troops who killed them been punished in any way, including something as light as reprimands?

Within an hour of posting, I learned the answer to the first question, published that same day by the Boston Globe:

The amount of cash the US military has paid to families of Iraqi civilians killed or maimed in operations involving American troops skyrocketed from just under $5 million in 2004 to almost $20 million last year, according to Pentagon financial data.

The dramatic spike in what's known as condolence payments -- distributed to Iraqi families whose loved ones were caught in US crossfire or victimized during US ground and air assaults -- suggests that American commanders made on-the-spot restitution far more frequently...

That's almost 8000 civilian victims of U.S. military last year alone -- not a number we've heard much.

Now my second question -- how many servicemembers have been held accountable -- takes on more urgency. The Globe reporter may be trying to dig out an answer right now, but I imagine that will be much harder to extract. Call me cynical, but I'll be amazed if the number is as high as 400.

Update: The Scottish Sunday Herald reports:

Some 600 cases of abuse by GIs against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan have so far been investigated by the Pentagon. Although around 230 soldiers have been disciplined, most military personnel found guilty of abusing civilians received “administrative” punishment such as being reduced in rank, loss of pay, confinement to base or extra duty. Out of 76 courts martial, only a few resulted in jail terms of more than a year.



At 3:20 PM, June 09, 2006, Blogger Donald said...

Good catch, Nell. As I said (probably too many times) at Obsidian Wings, I've been trying to find out if there's any hint of how many people our troops are killing. IBC's figures are only a rock-bottom number.

I don't have the article in front of me, but if memory serves, it was 20 million dollars for one year, and payments were as little as a few hundred for some injuries or as much as 2500 for deaths. So 20 million could mean 8000 deaths or many tens of thousands of injuries, or maybe several thousand deaths and a ten thousand or more injuries or some such combination. (I'd guess the latter). And that's only what they're willing to pay.

It fits in with my guesses based on supposed numbers of insurgents killed per year--10,000 or so. If they're claiming that, then there are likely to be thousands of civilians killed as well.

I don't quite get why more people aren't obsessed by this question, even granting that I'm the sort of person who finds numbers make a story more real and maybe others aren't. (Jeanne is almost the opposite. I wish she'd come back.)

Donald Johnson

At 9:13 AM, June 10, 2006, Blogger Donald said...

The NYT has a story about the payments today--apparently some are handed out for property damage, so you can't use it to estimate civilian casualties.

This is a little frustrating. There's just no way to tell what is going on in Iraq on this issue and so far as I can tell, it's not a priority for the NYT, which didn't get around to telling us that using artillery and/or air strikes and causing civilian casualties is standard operating procedure for US forces until last Sunday.

At 11:57 AM, June 10, 2006, Blogger Thomas Nephew said...

Actually, it's likely far more than 8,000, given that "up to" $2500 is being paid (8000 is the figure if every payment of the $20M was exactly $2500). Of course, it's likely to be the $2500 payments that spotlight the worst incidents.

At 12:07 PM, June 10, 2006, Blogger Thomas Nephew said...

Sorry, now I see Donald made a similar point.

It seems possible to me that in some of these cases no reprimand would be warranted; you drop a bomb on a legitimate target (say Zarqawi's house?) but there are also civilians inside the house. I can't tell whether their family then gets a "condolence payment" or not.

Are condolence payments acknowledgments of wrongdoing or not? The link doesn't work now.

At 12:37 PM, June 10, 2006, Blogger Nell said...

Thanks for the heads-up, Thomas; I fixed the link. From the article: [Defense Department officials] stressed that the payments shouldn't be seen as an admission of guilt or responsibility.

Of course they did. But rules of engagement that allow the dropping of 500-lb bombs and shelling of buildings in which there are civilians make them responsible, whether they want to admit it or not.

At 12:56 PM, June 10, 2006, Blogger Nell said...

Donald, thanks very much for the tip on the NYT article on the same topic.

It makes clear how the DoD figures acquired by the Globe hide as much as they tell. If the $2500 figure is an infrequently awarded amount, that tells me the 3rd Battalion commander knew right off that the official Haditha story was a lie.

At 1:42 PM, June 10, 2006, Blogger Donald said...

Killing people by dropping bombs on them or blowing up their homes with artillery fire is perfectly acceptable--the troops at Ish-something or other (I can't remember the town's name) were "cleared" by the military of wrongdoing on the grounds that they had been engaged in a firefight with a terrorist and had called in an air strike and--whoops--9 civilians were killed. That's the story anyway. Whether it's true or not, it shows that collateral damage is not considered "wrongdoing".

Today there's an article in the NYT about Zarqawi--the military decided to bomb him rather than capture him because capturing him alive might not have been possible and American lives might have been lost. So they dropped the bombs and killed a few Iraqi civilians instead.

I'm not sure I blame the military for this attitude--if I had loved ones over there I doubt I'd be preaching that the proper way to fight a counterinsurgency is to risk one's own soldiers in order to spare civilians. But it's true nonetheless. So if we don't think a war is worth the lives of American troops, don't start the war.

On the subject of coverage of US-caused civilian casualties, time for me to write another letter to the NYT reader's advocate about their sorry record on covering this issue. Probably won't do much good, though I hope a number of people write similar letters. Also, I shudder to think of the kind of piece they might produce. But the issue is out there now and maybe there's a faint chance they'll commit an act of journalism. Even if they can't uncover the truth (I wouldn't expect them to), it would be worthwhile if they just printed a story explaining that the issue is very important, but governmental coverups keep us from knowing what is being done in our name.

At 5:34 PM, June 26, 2006, Blogger josh narins said...

I remember that Salam Pax of Dear Raed made the point, early on in the proceedings, that $2500 was _way_ too much, and it was distorting the market.

Condolence payments simply do exist in parts of the Middle East, my Lebanese raised Iraqi professor of Arabic told the class about parents who would (turn away now!) throw their children in front of tourist cars and demand $200 dollars.

And no, nothing he ever did or said made me think he was a neo-con.


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