Thursday, April 1, 2010

Civilian Casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been devastating. It is our responsibility to know what is happening, speak for the victims, and look at the root causes. Kathy Kelly gets you started by documenting the impact of war in Afghanistan.

If the U.S. public looked long and hard into a mirror reflecting the civilian atrocities that have occurred in Afghanistan, over the past ten months, we would see ourselves as people who have collaborated with and paid for war crimes committed against innocent civilians who meant us no harm.

Two reporters, Jerome Starkey (the Times UK), and David Lindorff, (Counterpunch), have persistently drawn attention to U.S. war crimes committed in Afghanistan. Makers of the film “Rethink Afghanistan” have steadily provided updates about the suffering endured by Afghan civilians. Here is a short list of atrocities that have occurred in the months since General McChrystal assumed his post in Afghanistan.

But there must also be legal remedy. Today the ACLU has strengthened that process with the release of documents that underscore flaws in compensating victim’s families. Excerpts below.

"With more U.S. forces being sent into civilian areas in Afghanistan, it is critical that the American public be informed about what is at stake," said Nasrina Bargzie, cooperating counsel with the ACLU and an attorney at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP in Oakland, CA. "These newly released records illustrate that innocent civilian victims and their families are still not being appropriately compensated for their losses. Now that this problem has been brought to light, we hope the Obama administration will be compelled to reform the broken civilian compensation program."

The files made public today comprise over 800 claims for compensation or condolence payments submitted to the U.S. Foreign Claims Commissions and the Commander's Emergency Response Program by surviving family members of Afghan and Iraqi civilians said to have been killed or injured or to have suffered property damages due to actions by Coalition Forces. Many of the claims were denied under the so-called "combat exemption" to the Foreign Claims Act (FCA), which provides that harm inflicted on residents of foreign countries by U.S. soldiers during combat cannot be compensated under the FCA, even if the victims had no involvement whatsoever in the combat. The documents reveal that, due to the claim denials, many innocent civilians were not compensated for their harm or were referred to the Commander's Emergency Response Program for a discretionary condolence payment that is subject to an automatic $2,500 limit per death.

"These records will help the American people comprehend the impact of war on innocent civilians and will allow the public to participate meaningfully in the ongoing debate about these wars," said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "An informed public is a critical part of any democracy. Releasing the civilian casualty records is a good step towards increasing government transparency. The Obama administration should continue releasing documents that could inform the public about the critical issues of war."

Additiona Resources:

The documents released today by the ACLU are available here.

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Afghanistan 101 is a blog of the American Friends Service Committee
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