THE WISDOM FUND: News & Views
November 26, 2003
The Guardian (UK)

U.S. Pays Up for Fatal Iraq Blunders

Over 10,000 claims but families must waive rights

by Rory McCarthy

The US military has paid out $1.5m (907,000) to Iraqi civilians in response to a wave of negligence and wrongful death claims filed against American soldiers, . . .

Commanders make payments from their discretionary funds, rarely even admitting liability. Payouts average just a few hundred dollars and in some cases families have been asked to sign forms waiving their right to press for further compensation. In one area of south-western Baghdad, controlled by the 82nd Airborne Division, an officer said a total of $106,000 had been paid out to 176 claimants since July. . . .

Iraqi courts, because of an order issued by the US-led authority in Baghdad in June, are forbidden from hearing cases against American soldiers or any other foreign troops or foreign officials in Iraq. . . .

Human Rights Watch concluded that US troops were operating "with impunity. The individual cases of civilian deaths... reveal a pattern by US forces of over-aggressive tactics, indiscriminate shooting in residential areas and a quick reliance on lethal force", Human Rights Watch said. "The lack of timely and thorough investigations into many questionable incidents has created an atmosphere of impunity, in which many soldiers feel they can pull the trigger without coming under review."

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[A U.S. warship fighting gunboats in the Persian Gulf yesterday mistook an Iranian civilian jetliner for an attacking Iranian F14 fighter plane and blew it out of the hazy sky with a heat-seeking missile, the Pentagon announced. Iran said 290 persons were aboard the European-made A300 Airbus and that all had perished.--George C. Wilson, " Navy Missile Downs Iranian Jetliner on 4th of July," Washington Post, July 4, 1988]

"$116 trillion lawsuit filed by 9/11 families," CNNfn, April 16, 2002

[On July 1, 2002, a U.S. AC-130 gunship attacked and strafed four villages in the Deh Rawud district of Uruzagan, killing more than 60 innocent Afghans and wounding about 120 others. The American troops which occupied the villages offered tents and blankets as compensation. A week later, the U.S.-installed and backed Karzai regime offered the Afghan wedding victims $18,500 in compensation, or about $100 per victim -- the payments were $200 on behalf of each individual killed and $75 for each wounded person, . . .

The Times of India caustically noted that about $40,000 was spent on the rehabilitation of every sea otter affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.--Marc W. Herold, "The Value of a Dead Afghan: Revealed and Relative," Cursor, July 21, 2002]

[Millions of dollars have been awarded in such cases including $55.4 million to the family of a Marine colonel murdered in Lebanon in 1989 and $41.2 million to Terry Anderson, the former Associated Press Beirut bureau chief who was held hostage for more than six years.--"Relatives of Sept. 11 Victims Sue Bin Laden Supporters," Fox News, August 15, 2002]

[The world's worst industrial accident happened in the Indian city of Bhopal around midnight on December 3 1984. The date and scale of the disaster are among the few undisputed facts. But Bhopal didn't just happen in 1984: it has been happening ever since. Babies are born with monstrous deformities. Young people are physically twisted and brain damaged by the ongoing contamination. Older people are spluttering out their lives, their lungs, eyes and other organs corrupted by the gas that spewed from the Union Carbide pesticide plant, after a tank containing 40 tonnes of lethal methyl isocyanate (MIC) exploded.

. . . around 4,000 people were killed in the hours after the gas leak, and another 200,000 subsequently affected. Even now, however, there are any number of counter-bids in the grisly auction of death and suffering. Some put the initial death toll at 2,000; others at 8,000. (The latter is more plausible, given that around 7,000 shrouds were sold in Bhopal in the three days after the leak.) The office of Bhopal's medical commissioner registered 22,149 directly related deaths up to December 1999. But the fact is, we will never know the exact figure. Whole families were wiped out, and had no living relatives to report their passing. Others were buried or cremated quickly. At the railway station, where a tribe of Gypsies was encamped, everyone perished; no one was left alive to say who they were. . . .

In 1989, while the Supreme Court was still considering the company's latest submissions, the government settled out of court for just $470m - less than a tenth of the compensation Exxon paid after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, an incident that killed nobody. Around $240m still sits in government coffers. The most recent official records available, published in 2000, show that 8,394 claims of personal injury and 570 claims relating to deaths were still to be decided. Some 550,000 injury awards had been made, at an average of $529 per person. More than 14,000 awards had been made to families of the dead, at an average of $1,170. At the same time, more than 450,000 claims had been rejected, many on pettifogging grounds to do with incorrect form-filling.

The pursuit of criminal justice has been no less shambolic. In the hours after the blast, Union Carbide's chairman, Warren Anderson, decided against most advice to fly to Bhopal from the company's Connecticut headquarters. It was a principled decision and, for him, a bad one. To his horror, he was promptly arrested. The central government in Delhi, eager to maintain and attract foreign investment, was every bit as horrified as Anderson, and within 24 hours he had been freed on bail of 25,000 rupees (less than 1,500). He gave an undertaking that he would return to face any subsequent court summons, and then left the country, never to return.--Derek Brown, "The dead zone," The Guardian, September 21, 2002]

"Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death," ACFTV, February 4, 2003

"Iraq Civilian Body Count Passes 6,000," Reuters, July 9, 2003

[Herrold said the way in which Washington assigned relative values to life was more worrying in the international sphere, because it might even guide foreign policy.

These equations probably guided the way a war was run in Afghanistan, he said. "Afghans are at the bottom of the totem pole, below Palestinians, below Iraqis," he said. --Andrew Chang, "What Price, Life? It Depends on Who You Are, and What Your Country's Worth," Reuters, September 4, 2003]

[If the US were to lift its sanctions, unlikely in the current climate, the families will each receive another $4m. If Libya is removed from the state department's list of terror sponsors, they will get an additional $2m - a total of $10m for each family. If the US does not lift its sanctions within eight months, the families will receive only $1m more, or $5m per victim.--Gary Younge and Brian Whitaker, "Lockerbie relatives see UN end Libya sanctions," Guardian, September 13, 2003]

[In a report last month, Human Rights Watch concluded that "US soldiers at present operate with virtual impunity in Iraq" and accused them of over-aggressive tactics, indiscriminate shooting and a quick reliance on lethal force.--Rory McCarthy, "No regrets or culprits, just cash for series of random killings," Guardian, November 26, 2003]

[Relatives of 170 victims of the bombing of a French airliner in 1989 have signed a $170m payout deal with Libya.--"Libya signs UTA bombing payout," BBC News, January 9, 2004]

Jeffrey Gettleman, "For Iraqis in Harm's Way, $5,000 and 'I'm Sorry'," New York Times, March 17, 2004

Kamal Ahmed, "Iraqis lose right to sue troops over war crimes: Military win immunity pledge in deal on UN vote," The Observer, May 23, 2004

[The families or loved ones of civilians killed on Sept. 11 received, on average, $3.1 million in government and charitable awards.--David W. Chen, "New Study Puts Sept. 11 Payout at $38 Billion," New York Times, November 9, 2004]

[Families suffering a death, serious injury or property damage can receive a one-time payment of as much as $2,500.--Jackie Spinner, "Rebuilding What the Assault Turns to Rubble," Washington Post, November 10, 2004]

[In 2001 three families of Cuban-American pilots whose planes were shot down by Cuba were paid damages totalling $97m.--Stephen Gibbs, "Cuba sued over death of CIA pilot," BBC, November 19, 2004]

"U.S. jury hits alleged Hamas backers with $156m damages," Reuters, December 9, 2004

[On December 3, 1984, huge amounts of toxic gas leaked from the Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, poisoning hundreds of thousands of people, and killing thousands, the biggest and deadliest chemical disaster of all time. Today, hundreds of thousands of people still suffer. Drinking water for at least sixteen nearby communities remains severely polluted, while, to date, no court of law anywhere in the world has ever held Union Carbide or any of its officers responsible for what happened that night.--VIDEO: "Litigating Disaster," LinkTV, June 12, 2005]

[The insurance payout to the beneficiaries of an American soldier who dies in the line of duty is $400,000, while in the eyes of the U.S. government, a dead Iraqi civilian is reportedly worth up to $2,500 in condolence payments--Andrew J. Bacevich, "What's an Iraqi Life Worth?," Washington Post, July 9, 2006]

"U.S. court awards $48 million to victim of Palestinian terrorism," Associated Press, February 8, 2007

[The Pentagon has set $2,500 as the highest individual sum that can be paid. . . . "the full market value may be paid for a Toyota run over by a tank in the course of a non-combat related accident, but only $2,500 may be paid for the death of a child shot in the crossfire."--"The Measure of a Life, in Dollars and Cents," Washington Post, June 18, 2007]

[A federal judge yesterday ordered Iran to pay more than $2.6 billion to nearly 1,000 family members and a handful of survivors of a 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 soldiers.--Glenn Kessler, "Iran Must Pay $2.6 Billion for '83 Attack," Washington Post, September 8, 2007]

[The EPA's estimate of the "value of a statistical life" was $6.9m as of this May - down from $7.8m five years ago - according to an Associated Press study released today.--Elana Schor, "US environmental agency lowers value of a human life," Guardian, July 11, 2008]

Andrew Buncombe, "The cursed children of Bhopal," Independent, November 19, 2008

"U.S. orders PA to pay $116 million to family of terror victims," Haaretz, May 15, 2009

[Amnesty International will this week call on the Indian government and Dow Chemicals, which bought Union Carbide in 2001, to take "urgent and decisive action" to ensure that the accused appear in court - more than 20 years after arrest warrants were first issued. Dow continues to deny any responsibility for the criminal case.--Nina Lakhani, "Bhopal: The victims are still being born," Independent, November 29, 2009]

[The death of a child or adult is worth $1,500-$2,500, loss of limb and other injuries $600-$1,500, a damaged or destroyed vehicle $500-$2,500, and damage to a farmer's fields $50-$250.--Christopher Torcha, "US compensates Afghans for death, damage from war," thestate.com, February 19, 2010]

Mark Townsend, "Nato draws up payout tariffs for Afghan civilian deaths," Observer, February 28, 2010

[One million dollars for cancer. Two million dollars for death.--James Bone, "Damaged heroes of 9/11 are offered a share of $675m in final payoff ," Times Online, March 13, 2010]

Raphael Ahren, "US court orders Syria to pay $330 million to bereaved family of 2006 TA bombing victim," timesofisrael.com, May 15, 2012

Tracy Jarrett, "Fund to distribute nearly $61 million to victims of Boston Marathon bombings," nbcnews.com, June 29, 2013

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