We Are Way Past 4,000 Dead in Iraq

Whenever a terrible milestone is reach in Iraq for the number of American soldiers killed, such as 4,000 today, it is necessary to point out that the milestone being focused on was actually reached a long time ago. In addition to the 4,000 dead American soldiers, the following fatalities have also occurred in Iraq over the past five years:

* Journalists: 135 fatalities
* Non-American military coalition forces: 308 fatalities
* Non-military contractors: At least 1,001 fatalities as of June 30th, 2007
* Iraqi Security Forces: At least 8,057
* Iraqi military forces: During the invasion, between 15,000 and 45,000 Iraqi military personnel died.
* Civilians: Between 400,000 and 650,000 as of June 2006, and over 1,000,000 now.

We are way, way past 4,000 deaths in Iraq. The non-civilian death toll, including journalists, all coalition military forces, contractors and Iraqi security forces, currently stands at a minimum of 13,501, or about 15 every two days since the start of the war. The civilian death toll is actually the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Rwanda genocide, and possibly since even before then (I don’t want to start ranking genocides). Somewhere between 4% and 5% of the Iraqi population has died what is termed an “excess death” since the start of the Iraq war. For the sake of comparison, Pennsylvania represents just under 4% of the population of the United States.

Also, keep in mind that these are just deaths, and damage has been done in many other ways. Nearly four million living Iraqis are now refugees, roughly 16% of the population, 40% of the middle class, and larger percentages of religious and ethnic minorities. Between 60% and 70% of Iraqi children suffer from psychological trauma. Tens of thousands of American soldiers, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, have been injured. And oh yeah, the war will cost more than two trillion dollars.

All of this needs to be pointed out because, whenever one of these milestones are reached, it implies that the only suffering taking place as a result of the Iraq war is to be found within the American military. Such a narrow focus ignores the wide swath of destruction that the Iraq war has wrought. As long as there is a narrow focus on the efforts of the United States military, the war appears to be an honorable, gracious effort on the part of America with costs that, while grave, are ultimately discrete and containable. However, when one considers that the war has either killed or displaced more than 20% of Iraq’s pre-war population, that is has resulted in the European Union surpassing the United States as the world’s leading economic power, and that it has both caused and revealed significant weakness in our military capacity, the true nature of the Iraq war becomes apparent. In effect, we instigated a genocide in Iraq, and lost our status as the world’s sole superpower as a result. At this point, we are about one presidential election away from becoming the Soviet Union after their invasion of Afghanistan, and watching Americans who were ten years old when the war began die in the sands of Mesopotamia.

We are way, way past 4,000 deaths in Iraq. We have become death, the destroyer of worlds.

There is nothing we could ever do in Iraq that will be worth these costs.

by Chris Bowers, March 24, 2008.

THE REACH OF WAR; Civilian Claims On U.S. Suggest The Toll of War

In February 2006, nervous American soldiers in Tikrit killed an Iraqi fisherman on the Tigris River after he leaned over to switch off his engine. A year earlier, a civilian filling his car and an Iraqi Army officer directing traffic were shot by American soldiers in a passing convoy in Balad, for no apparent reason.

The incidents are among many thousands of claims submitted to the Army by Iraqi and Afghan civilians seeking payment for noncombat killings, injuries or property damage American forces inflicted on them or their relatives.

The claims provide a rare window into the daily chaos and violence faced by civilians and troops in the two war zones. Recently, the Army disclosed roughly 500 claims to the American Civil Liberties Union in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. They are the first to be made public.

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 paperwork, examined by The New York Times, provides unusually detailed accounts of how bystanders to the conflicts have become targets of American forces grappling to identify who is friend, who is foe.

In the case of the fisherman in Tikrit, he and his companion desperately tried to appear unthreatening to an American helicopter overhead.

”They held up the fish in the air and shouted ‘Fish! Fish!’ to show they meant no harm,” said the Army report attached to the claim filed by the fisherman’s family. The Army refused to compensate for the killing, ruling that it was ”combat activity,” but approved $3,500 for his boat, net and cellphone, which drifted away and were stolen.

In the killings at the gas station in Balad, documents show that the Army determined that the neither of the dead Iraqis had done anything hostile or criminal, and approved $5,000 to the civilian’s brother but nothing for the Iraqi officer.

In another incident, in 2005, an American soldier in a dangerous Sunni Arab area south of Baghdad killed a boy after mistaking his book bag for a bomb satchel. The Army paid the boy’s uncle $500.

The Foreign Claims Act, which governs such compensation, does not deal with combat-related cases. For those cases, including the boy’s, the Army may offer a condolence payment as a gesture of regret with no admission of fault, of usually no higher than $2,500 per person killed.

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. ”The Army does not target civilians,” said Maj. Anne D. Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman. ”Sadly, however, the enemy’s tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan unnecessarily endanger innocent civilians.”

There are no specific guidelines to tell Army field officers judging the claims how to evaluate the cash value of a life taken, Major Edgecomb 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.”

In Haditha, one of the most notorious incidents involving American troops in Iraq, the Marines paid residents $38,000 after troops killed two dozen people in November 2005.

The relatively small number of claims divulged by the Army show patterns of misunderstanding at checkpoints and around American military convoys that often result in inadvertent killings. In one incident, in Feb. 18, 2006, a taxi approached a checkpoint east of Baquba that was not properly marked with signs to slow down, one Army claim evaluation said. Soldiers fired on the taxi, killing a woman and severely wounding her daughter and son. The Army approved an unusually large condolence payment of $7,500.

In September 2005, soldiers killed a man and his sister by firing 200 rounds into their car as it approached a checkpoint, apparently too quickly, near Mussayib. The Army lieutenant colonel who handled the claim awarded relatives a $10,000 compensation payment, finding that the soldiers had overstepped the rules of engagement.

”There are some very tragic losses of civilian life, including losses of whole families,” said Anthony D. Romero, the A.C.L.U.’s executive director, in an interview. He said the claims showed ”enormous confusion on all sides, both from the civilian population on how to interact with the armed services and also among the soldiers themselves.”

Of the 500 cases released, 204, or about 40 percent, were apparently rejected because the injury, death or property damage was deemed to have been ”directly or indirectly” related to combat. Of the claims approved for payment, at least 87 were not combat-related, and 77 were condolence payments for incidents the Army judged to be combat-related.

About 10 percent of the claims were rejected because the Army could not find a ”significant activity” report confirming an incident.

A summary of the cases is online at http://www.aclu.org/civiliancasualties.

In Iraq, rules for evaluating claims have changed. Before President Bush declared major combat operations over, in May 2003, commanders considered most checkpoint shootings to be combat-related. Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the former commander of day-to-day operations in Iraq, stiffened rules at checkpoints. In late 2003, as more Iraqis were accidentally injured or killed, the Army began offering condolence payments. It has not always worked as planned, said Sarah Holewinski, the executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, a nonprofit group in Washington.

”Sometimes families would get paid and sometimes their neighbors wouldn’t,” she said. ”It caused a lot of resentments among the Iraqis, which is ironic because it was a program specifically meant to foster good will.”

The Army usually assigns a captain, major or lieutenant colonel to accept claims in Iraq and Afghanistan and decide on payment.

But in and near combat zones in Iraq, a claim’s merit is quickly judged by an officer juggling dozens of new claims each week, said Jon E. Tracy, a former Army captain and lawyer who adjudicated Iraqi civilian claims in the Baghdad area from May 2003 through July 2004.

”I know plenty of lawyers who did not pay any condolences payments at all,” said Mr. Tracy, who is now a legal consultant for the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict. ”There was no reason for it. It was clearly not combat, and the victim was clearly innocent, all the facts are there, witness statements, but they wouldn’t pay them.”

Half of the claims he adjudicated were property damage claims from collisions with military vehicles, he said. Most fraudulent claims were property claims; few were for wrongful killings. ”You just had to read people,” he said.

About a quarter of claims were for personal injury or deaths. In his year judging claims, Mr. Tracy said he paid 52 condolence payments, most for deaths. ”I had three to four times more,” Mr. Tracy said, ”I just didn’t have enough money.”

Ref: NY Times

Pattern Cited in Killings of Civilians by U.S.

Newly released documents regarding crimes committed by United States soldiers against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan detail a pattern of troops failing to understand and follow the rules that govern interrogations and deadly actions.

The documents, released today by the American Civil Liberties Union ahead of a lawsuit, total nearly 10,000 pages of courts-martial summaries, transcripts and military investigative reports about 22 cases. They show repeated examples of troops believing they were within the law when they killed local citizens.

The killings include the drowning of a man soldiers pushed from a bridge into the Tigris River as punishment for breaking curfew, and the suffocation during interrogation of a former Iraqi general believed to be helping insurgents.

In the suffocation, soldiers covered the man’s head with a sleeping bag, then wrapped his neck with an electrical cord for a “stress position” they said was an approved technique.

Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer was convicted of negligent homicide in the death of Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush after a January 2006 court-martial that received wide attention because of possible C.I.A. involvement in the interrogation.

But even after his conviction, Mr. Welshofer insisted his actions were appropriate and standard, documents show.

“The simple fact of the matter is, interrogation is supposed to be stressful or you will get no information,” he wrote in a letter to the court asking for clemency. “To put it another way, an interrogation without stress is not an interrogation — it is a conversation.”

The documents were obtained through a federal Freedom of Information Act request the A.C.L.U. filed with the military more than a year ago asking for all documents relevant to American military involvement in the deaths of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only the Army responded.

Nasrina Bargzie, an attorney with the A.C.L.U.’s National Security Project, said the documents show that “the government has gone out of its way to hide the human cost of this war.”

The lawsuit seeks to compel the military to produce all documents related to all civilian deaths since January 2005. The A.C.L.U. contends that the materials may be released under federal law.

The Defense Department declined to comment on the lawsuit until it could review its claims.

Among the files released were the court-martial records for two soldiers convicted of assault in the drowning and three soldiers convicted in the “mercy killing” of an injured teenager in Sadr City.

The boy had been severely injured; one soldier explained that he shot and killed him “to take him out of his misery.”

In two previously unreported cases, Pfc. James Combs was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for shooting an Iraqi woman from a guard tower in what he said was an accident, and Sgt. Ricky Burke was charged with murder for killing a wounded man alongside the road after a firefight.

Ref: NY Times