And Who Will Lead Operation American Freedom?

“Services: Death of Wife/ Qty: 1/ Unit Price $2,500.”
— Iraq Body Count


23 March 2003:

“Donald Rumsfeld says the American attack on Baghdad is “as targeted an air campaign as has ever existed” but he should not try telling that to five-year-old Doha Suheil. She looked at me yesterday morning, drip feed attached to her nose, a deep frown over her small face as she tried vainly to move the left side of her body. The cruise missile that exploded close to her home in the Radwaniyeh suburb of Baghdad blasted shrapnel into her tiny legs ­ they were bound up with gauze ­ and, far more seriously, into her spine. Now she has lost all movement in her left leg.

Her mother bends over the bed and straightens her right leg which the little girl thrashes around outside the blanket. Somehow, Doha’s mother thinks that if her child’s two legs lie straight beside each other, her daughter will recover from her paralysis. She was the first of 101 patients brought to the Al-Mustansaniya College Hospital after America’s blitz on the city began on Friday night. Seven other members of her family were wounded in the same cruise missile bombardment; the youngest, a one-year-old baby, was being breastfed by her mother at the time.” — From “This is the reality of war. We bomb. They suffer.” 

Who will punish America’s government and military for the taking of civilian lives in Iraq, and the impending slaughter of innocent civilians, women and children in Syria by our weapons of shock and awe mass destruction?

One might think that if our Administration feels morally obligated to punish someone in Syria for the deaths of civilians in Syria (allegedly at the hands of Assad) that we might expect ourselves to observe the same judgment at some point in time (remember the Nuremburg trials?).

The PLOS Medicine journal estimates that 11,516 civilians were killed by American and Coalition forces in the first 5 years of Operation Iraqi Freedom:

In temporal analysis, numbers of civilian deaths from Coalition air attacks, and woman and child deaths from Coalition forces, peaked during the invasion. We applied a Woman and Child “Dirty War Index” (DWI), measuring the proportion of women and children among civilian deaths of known demographic status, to the 22,066 civilian victims identified as men, women, or children to indicate relatively indiscriminate perpetrator effects… Coalition forces had higher Woman and Child DWIs than Anti-Coalition forces, with no evidence of decrease over 2003–2008, for all weapons combined and for small arms gunfire, specifically.

Now is a good time to review the costs to Iraqi civilians — the 10’s of thousands of men, women and children — that we killed in the name of Operation Iraqi Freedom. One just needs to spend some time at to be reminded that our  attempt at nation building and exporting freedom & democracy — American style — dealt a heavy death toll to innocent civilians and children.

So when our present imperial president says he is going to engage in military action (with the acquiescence of Congress or not) to punish Syria for those 1500 deaths he’s feeling vindictive over, just how much civilian blood on our own hands are we willing to accept? 5? 50? 500? 5,000? 50,000? More? Throw enough hundred dollar bills at affected family members to assuage our guilt, then turn our backs?

Here is just one snippet from Iraq Body Count on how our military handles the cost of punishing and exacting revenge upon a dictator with no WMD’s:

“The Price of Loss: How the West values civilian lives in Iraq.” — by Lily Hamourtziadou, 12 November 2007

The American military has expressed regret “that civilians are hurt or killed while coalition forces search to rid Iraq of terrorism,” after the 11 October killing of 15 women (one pregnant) and children in an air raid near lake Thar Thar. The civilian death toll by US fire was 96 in October, with 23 children among them, while in September US forces and contractors killed 108 Iraqi civilians, including 7 children. In August US troops killed 103 civilians, 16 of them children, and in July they killed 196. In fact, during the last five months US forces in Iraq have killed over 600 Iraqi civilians. Regrettably, as always.

It is the ‘price to pay’, the ‘sacrifice’ that has to be made as we fight terrorism, the ‘cost’ of this war against evil forces. That is what we say to justify these killings. But those of us who speak of this price to be paid, this sacrifice to be made, do not pay this price, do not make this sacrifice. Our own country is not being destroyed, attacked, occupied. Our own children are not being blown up, our civilians are not becoming homeless by the millions. Those who speak of the necessity of this sacrifice, would they be prepared to pay such a price? In their own country? With the blood of their own families? 

How much easier it is to sacrifice others, to let others pay with their lives. The value of those lives is hardly high enough to trouble us. It is nothing our military cannot afford. Here is an example:

“A fisherman was fishing in the Tigris river in the early morning, when a Coalition Forces (CF) helicopter flew over and shone a spotlight on him. The fisherman began to shout in English, ‘Fish! Fish!’ while pointing to his catch. A patrol of Humvees arrived, and as the deceased bent down to turn off the boat’s motor, CF shot and killed him. CF did not secure the boat, which drifted off and was never retrieved.” Compensation for death denied due to combat exemption; compensation for boat granted: $3,500 US.

The US Army paid $7,500 to two children whose mother they killed inside a taxi that ran a checkpoint — both children were also in the taxi, and were shot and injured; they also paid $6,000 for killing a child looking out of the window, while a raid was on-going in the house across the street. They refused, as they do in the majority of cases, to compensate the child whose father they killed as he drove home, but agreed to make a ‘condolence payment’ of $1,500. More recently, the US military is reported to have paid $2,500 to each family of the three men they killed near Abu Lukah, as they guarded their village.

There are more:

Al Matasan Street, Samarra, Iraq

Claim on behalf of Iraqi [Redacted] by son. [Redacted], who was deaf, was shot and killed by US forces near the Samarra museum. Two eyewitnesses corroborated the story. Finding: denied for lack of evidence and combat exception. Condolence payment granted: $500 US.

Samarra, Iraq

Claim on behalf of Iraqi [Redacted] by parent. [Redacted], a four year-old girl, was playing in her front yard when she was killed by Coalition Forces’ (CF) fire. The CF and a Humvee were trying to cross the road and they shot to clear the traffic. A bullet ricocheted off of a wall and hit [Redacted]. Army memo: “A SIGACTS investigation revealed no activity meeting” the incident’s description, and “the claim is too old to verify.” Finding: denied due to lack of evidence. Condolence payment of $2,500 US granted.

Tikrit, Iraq

Claim on behalf of Iraqi [Redacted], an ambulance driver. [Redacted] was on his way to the scene of an accident with an IED when he was shot and killed by a US soldier. Finding: negligent fire; Compensation: $2,500 US.

Reading through the Army compensation reports, it is fairly clear just what the value of an Iraqi life is, of how the loss of a beloved child, parent and sibling is valued, priced. A few thousand dollars (if that) is how much they are worth, and no more. Their loss covered by a shockingly low monetary compensation. No further consequences, punishment, no further accountability.

Those of us who opposed this war and the long occupation that followed hold our political leaders responsible for the horrors of Iraq. We sometimes blame our soldiers. We always blame the terrorists. But we are reluctant to blame our nation or ourselves. “We can continue to blame the Bush administration,” writes Frank Rich, “but we must also examine our own responsibility for the hideous acts committed in our name in a war where we have now fought longer than we did in the one that put Verschärfte Vernehmung on the map.” We cannot simply ‘look the other way.’

We, who have lost very little, who have sacrificed very little, who have paid very little, we ‘turn the page,’ to use Rich’s phrase, and we continue to speak of ‘our’ war, of ‘our’ fight against the terrorists, ‘our’ ideals, ‘our’ kindness, ‘our’ courage; things that we value far more than the lives of millions of others, people whose deaths do not hurt us, whose loss does not affect us, and whose sacrifice we do not see bloodying our own hands.

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