Are All Lives Equal? Not According To the Way the U.S. Compensates Victims

Question: How much is an Iraqi life worth? Answer: A lot less than an American or British life, according to the amount of compensation paid to the relatives of victims.

It’s hard to get definitive data on compensation for Iraqi victims. However, it is clear that the precise sum of money paid is often done so at the whim of the commanding officer.

This compensation is channeled through a discretionary fund that is given to the field commanders, and the criteria for disbursement are subjective at best.

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. What a bargain.

The most any Iraqi has received to date for injury or property damage is $15,000.

By comparison, the Libyan government recently settled a lawsuit for victims of Pan Am 103, which was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. The Libyans paid $2.7 billion for 270 passengers with an average payment of $10 million per death. Shortly after 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.

Last year a Seattle woman was awarded $45,000 for the wrongful death of her cat.

For Iraqis to get a claim paid is harder than getting a rebate on your iPod. First you must have all your documents in order–birth certificates, witness accounts, proof of identity, etc. Most witnesses are afraid to come forward for fear of retribution. Obtaining birth certificates and proof of identity for some is nearly impossible, due to displacement or other mitigating circumstances. Then, you must get “proof of negligence of US soldier from a US soldier or unit.”

That’s a task that is virtually impossible, being that US soldiers are instructed not to assume blame. The claim must be filed within 30 days of the death along with a phone number for contact, making it out of the question since the overwhelming majority of Iraqis do not have phones.

Furthermore, the loopholes are so complicated that for most Iraqis it is nearly impossible to get a claim filed, let alone paid.

When payments are made, liability is never acknowledged and oftentimes family members are asked to sign waivers to exempt US personnel from any legal action.

Beyond the initial payments there is little recourse for the families of the victim. Until today no American soldier has been prosecuted for illegally killing an Iraqi. Commanders refuse even to count the number of civilians killed or injured by their soldiers.

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.

Those who were allegedly involved in the Haditha massacre are awaiting a trial.

Waleed Mohammed, the attorney representing the victims, told The Washington Post that he has little hope for a fair outcome: “They are waiting for an outcome although they are convinced that the sentence will be like one for someone who killed a dog in the United States…. Iraqis have become like dogs in the eyes of Americans.”

Anas Shallal, an Iraqi-American, is a founding member of Iraqi American Alliance and an analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus. He lives in northern Virginia.