With a grain of salt: Children of a lesser God?

August 12, 2006
Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta

As usual, various isolated strands came together to form the basis of this column. The first was an article I read in the Christian Science Monitor by Anas Shallal with the title: "Are all lives equal? Not according to the way the US compensates victims." The second was when I was having a heated discussion with my sister about values versus prices and whether the prices of war in terms of collateral damage, such as the war on terror, justified the values lost. Let us see how these two seemingly unrelated things tie in together.

In his article Anas Shallal quoted some figures for compensations paid by the US to families of deceased Iraqis. I quote: "In the early months of the invasion, the United States paid Iraqis $106,000 for 176 claims - averaging about $600 per claim. During the siege of Fallujah, where US soldiers killed 18 people and wounded 78 during an April 2004 firefight, the American military commander in the area paid $1,500 for each fatality and $500 for each injury. More recently the US paid $38,000 for Haditha victims' family members. That comes up to less than $1,600 per person killed. The most any Iraqi has received to date for injury or property damage is $15,000." Sounds like quite a bargain, especially considering that shortly after the start of the war with Iraq, the Bush administration pressed for legislation to double the death benefits paid to the families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to $500,000. So in comparison the life of an Iraqi is worth 3% that of an American?

It gets even more strange and the life of an American becomes even more expensive, when we compare the compensations paid by the Libyan government for the Lockerbie attack, which killed 259 passengers and crew and eleven residents of the town. The Libyans paid $2.7 billion with an average payment of $10 million per death. So $10 million compared to $1,500? But the amount of compensation and relative financial value of life in various industries, countries and circumstances is very strange and we will explore this anomalous situation in a future essay.

But it is not only this shameful "price tag" but also the near impossibility for the Iraqis to get hold of this compensation, not that any amount of money can replace the bread-winner of the family or any other loved family member. Shallal describes the procedure where the first step is having all necessary documents available and in order - birth certificates, witness accounts, proof of identity, etc. But one very important thing to note is that many a time if not most of the times the witnesses are afraid to come forward, fearing reprisal or hassles or just plain fear. Furthermore getting hold of birth certificates or proof of identity for some is also almost impossible, due to displacement, evacuation, migration towards some kind of safety or simply destruction of the houses with everything in them etc. If that is the case then an Iraqi must get "proof of negligence of US soldier from a US soldier or unit." And of course one can imagine how easy that would be.

But to go on, the claim must be filed within thirty days of death along with a phone number for contact, making it out of the question since the overwhelming majority of Iraqis do not have phones and those who have phones don't have working ones. But that is the routine which must be followed. Never mind that those thirty days the remaining family members are supposed to run around impossible bureaucratic routes while they are grieving. But to add insult to injury in the event that payments are made, liability is never acknowledged and oftentimes family members are asked to sign waivers to exempt US personnel from any legal action. So now we know the price of an Iraqi life, namely between $ 600 and $ 1.500 but do we know the value of an Iraqi life?

Under CPA Order No. 17, issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority prior to its dismantling in 2004, Iraqi courts are banned from hearing any cases filed against American servicemen or any foreign officials in Iraq. So where do Iraqis go when they have a serious complaint? Do they file a complaint in the USA? Even if that would be possible to them, until today no American soldier has been prosecuted for illegally killing an Iraqi.

We have heard about sentences with regard to torture in Abu Ghraib for Staff Sergeant Ivan (Chip) Frederick II, Specialist Charles A. Graner, Sergeant Javal Davis, Specialist Megan Ambuhl, Specialist Sabrina Harman, and Jeremy Sivits (now demoted to Private). A seventh is Private Lynndie England. They all faced charges that include conspiracy, dereliction of duty, cruelty toward prisoners, maltreatment, assault, and indecent acts, but until today we have not heard or read about any conviction for killing or murdering an Iraqi.

Specialist Charles Graner was found guilty and was sentenced to ten years in federal prison. Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick was sentenced to eight years in prison, forfeiture of pay, a dishonourable discharge and a reduction in rank to private. Jeremy Sivits was sentenced by a special court-martial (less severe than "general"; confinement sentence limited to one year) to the maximum one-year sentence, in addition to being discharged for bad conduct and demoted. Specialist Armin Cruz of the 325th Military Intelligence Battalion was sentenced to eight months confinement, reduction in rank to private and a bad conduct discharge in exchange for his testimony against other soldiers. Sabrina Harman was sentenced to six months in prison and a bad conduct discharge. She had faced a maximum sentence of 5 years. Megan Ambuhl was convicted and sentenced to reduction in rank to private and loss of a half-month's pay. Lynndie England was convicted of one count of conspiracy, four counts of maltreating detainees and one count of committing an indecent act, but was acquitted on a second conspiracy count. England had faced a maximum sentence of ten years, but was sentenced to just three years. She received a dishonourable discharge. Spec. Roman Krol, and Spec. Israel Rivera, who were present during abuse on October 25, are under investigation but have not been charged in exchange for having testified against other soldiers. So far so good. We can say that law and order are prevailing, that human rights are kept in mind, that justice will prevail and that Iraqis do count in some way. But do they really?

In The Guardian George Monbiot writes and I quote: "We were told that the Iraqis don't count. Before the invasion began, the head of US central command, General Thomas Franks, boasted that "we don't do body counts". His claim was repeated by Donald Rumsfeld in November 2003 "We don't do body counts on other people" and the Pentagon last January "The only thing we keep track of is casualties for US troops and civilians." I find this very strange coming from the US army, because I do recall weekly if not even daily claims at some point that the US has managed to kill so and so many insurgents. There were so many reports of killing insurgents that the numbers have reached up to a hundred at one incident, the last assault on the stronghold of the now late Zarqawi for example. So it appears that this claim of not keeping track of Iraqi deaths was false. What else is?

Maybe the estimate of civilian deaths? So how many Iraqis have died since the US invasion/liberation in 2003? In December 2003, Associated Press reported that "Iraq's Health Ministry has ordered a halt to a count of civilians killed during the war". President Bush's off-hand summation a few months ago of the number of Iraqis who have so far died as a result of the invasion and occupation as "30,000, more or less" was quite certainly less than more.

A report published in the British 'The Lancet Medical Journal' was based on the work of teams from the Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University in the U.S., and the Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad and sets the estimated number at 100.000 dead Iraqis. Les Roberts at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, U.S., who led the study, found it necessary to note that this "figure of 100,000 had been based on somewhat 'conservative assumptions'." It should be noted however that this estimate excludes Fallujah. If the data from this town is included, the compiled studies point to about 250,000 deaths since the outbreak of the war. The Iraqi Health Ministry, reports that twice as many Iraqis - most of them civilians - are being killed by US and UK forces as by insurgents. (Notice the lack of figures announced by the Ministry?)

When the US claims that it has just killed fifty, seventy or even a hundred insurgent fighters, we have no means of knowing who those people really were. Everyone blown up to pieces becomes a terrorist or insurgent in the reports, like the story of Haditha which until now has not been fully cleared up.

Naval investigators are reviewing whether U.S. troops murdered 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in cold blood as retaliation after a roadside bomb killed a marine, which did not become public until Time Magazine ran a story about it in March of this year. A top U.S. commander who reviewed an investigation into whether the Marines tried to cover up the Haditha case agreed that errors were made.

Errors? Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli has forwarded his findings and recommendations to Gen. George W. Casey, the top commander in Iraq and the only one superior to Chiarelli. I quote Major Breasseale saying in June that he did not know when results of the Haditha investigation would be made public. Perhaps he meant whether?

The case of Haditha is among the most serious ones against U.S. soldiers allegedly involved in the deaths of Iraqi civilians, but it was not the only attempted cover up that failed. We read about a case claiming that an Iraqi man was dragged from his house in Hamdania, near Baghdad, and shot to death in the face four times. Press reports have said that the troops responsible may have planted an AK-47 and shovel near the body to make it appear that the Iraqi man was an insurgent.

Seven marines and a Navy corpsman the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment have been held in pre-trial confinement at Camp Pendleton, California in relation to this case. Together, the Hamdania and Haditha cases have generated international criticism of the U.S. and unfavourable publicity for the Marine Corps. Gen. Michael Hagee, the Marine commandant, recently visited Iraq to reinforce the importance of adhering to ethical standards.

But slowly Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad, is also becoming a case due to the cover up of rape, arson and murder. The killing of an entire family which was originally reported by the military as due to "insurgent activity," ended up being just a cover up for the rape of the 15 year old Abeer Qasim Hamza. A senior police official in Mahmudiya said in a telephone interview that he received a report of the killings in March. The victims were a woman, her two daughters aged seven and fifteen and her husband. Steven D. Green, a former Army private, pleaded not guilty to federal court charges of murdering and raping the young Iraqi girl and killing her father, mother and sister. Up to four others, still in uniform, are under investigation in the same case.

In the past month, new cases in Iraq have led to charges against twelve American Servicemen, who may face the death penalty in connection with the killing of Iraqi civilians. But no American serviceman has been executed since 1961; the last one being John A. Bennett, hanged in 1961 after being convicted of the rape and attempted murder of an 11-year-old Austrian girl.

Still, the US Military officials caution against seeing the cases of abuse and murder as part of any broader pattern, noting that the incidents in question are isolated and rare! But as Bush himself has said, "we are different from our enemies" ... Until the US sees Iraqi lives as having a value close to that of an American life, nothing much will change.

As a potential recommendation, the US military and Iraqi administration should try to publicise these trials and punishments. Idiots, rapists and pathologically disturbed morons will always emerge during times of war and terrorism. One cannot stop that. What one can do is to show and publicise the rule of law and that nobody is immune from crimes. If winning hearts and minds is an objective, then showing equality, some care and thoughtfulness and simple following of the golden rule of treating others as you want to be treated will go a long way, otherwise the Iraqis will keep on thinking that they are the children of a lesser God.

All that to be taken with a grain of salt!

Please write on a sticky-note "ASIN" numbers - Ed

Dr. Bhaskar Dasgupta works in the city of London in various capacities in the financial sector. He has worked and travelled widely around the world. The articles in here relate to his current studies and are strictly his opinion and do not reflect the position of his past or current employer(s). If you do want to blame somebody, then blame my sister and editor, she is responsible for everything, the ideas, the writing, the quotes, the drive, the israeli-palestinian crisis, global warming, the ozone layer depletion and the argentinian debt crisis.
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With a grain of salt: Children of a lesser God?


Author: Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta


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