Thursday, April 12, 2007

fostering goodwill

The current administration has decided to use Iraq as a laboratory for tort reform--when the government screws up and shoots your innocent relatives, take what you are offered and pretend to be grateful:

In February 2006, nervous American soldiers in Tikrit killed an Iraqi fisherman on the Tigris River after he leaned over to switch off his engine. A year earlier, a civilian filling his car and an Iraqi Army officer directing traffic were shot by American soldiers in a passing convoy in Balad, for no apparent reason.

The incidents are among many thousands of claims submitted to the Army by Iraqi and Afghan civilians seeking payment for noncombat killings, injuries or property damage American forces inflicted on them or their relatives.

The claims provide a rare window into the daily chaos and violence faced by civilians and troops in the two war zones. Recently, the Army disclosed roughly 500 claims to the American Civil Liberties Union in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. They are the first to be made public.

They represent only a small fraction of the claims filed. In all, the military has paid more than $32 million to Iraqi and Afghan civilians for noncombat-related killings, injuries and property damage, an Army spokeswoman said. That figure does not include condolence payments made at a unit commander’s discretion.

. . .

In the case of the fisherman in Tikrit, he and his companion desperately tried to appear unthreatening to an American helicopter overhead.

“They held up the fish in the air and shouted ‘Fish! Fish!’ to show they meant no harm,” said the Army report attached to the claim filed by the fisherman’s family. The Army refused to compensate for the killing, ruling that it was “combat activity,” but approved $3,500 for his boat, net and cellphone, which drifted away and were stolen.

Thankfully our armed forces have not let their guard down against Iraqi fishermen engaging in “combat activity” with, well, presumably their daily catch. I can imagine the conversation in the helicopter:

Pilot: There he is!
Co-pilot: Where?
Pilot: There!
Co-pilot: What? Behind the fish?
Pilot: It *is* the fish!
Co-pilot: You silly sod!
Pilot: What?
Co-pilot: You got us all worked up!
Pilot: Well, that's no ordinary fish.
Co-pilot: Ohh. That's the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered aquatic vertebrate you ever set eyes on!
Gunner 1: You tit! I soiled my armor I was so scared!
Pilot: Look, that fish's got a vicious streak a mile wide! It's a killer!
Medic: Get stuffed!
Pilot: He'll do you up a treat, mate.
Medic: Oh, yeah?
Gunner 1: You manky Scots git!
Pilot: I'm warning you!
Gunner 1: What's he do? Nibble your bum?
Pilot: He's got huge, sharp... er... He can leap about. Look at the bones!
Co-pilot: Go on, fill him full of lead!
Gunner 2: Right! Silly little bleeder. One fish stew comin' right up!

The fishermen evidently were doing everything in their power to indicate that they meant no harm to the soldiers hovering overhead. But even if you speak the language of your benevolent overlords, how do you communicate with a fucking helicopter?

Apparently you don’t. (That’s the point of having a helicopter, really.)

In another incident, in 2005, an American soldier in a dangerous Sunni Arab area south of Baghdad killed a boy after mistaking his book bag for a bomb satchel. The Army paid the boy’s uncle $500.

. . .

Soldiers hand out instruction cards after mistakes are made, so Iraqis know where to file claims.

The give-away here: “mistakes are made.”

“The Army does not target civilians,” said Maj. Anne D. Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman.

The Army does not target civilians, it just shoots them. It’s like a video game, but more exciting cause you've got more skin in the game.

[Major Edgecomb continues:] “Sadly, however, the enemy’s tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan unnecessarily endanger innocent civilians.”

Sadly, Iraqi civilians have unnecessarily endangered themselves by carelessly inviting U.S. forces to destroy their country and gun them down for fishing and transporting books in public places. It’s not our fault that unforeseen political opportunities quickly seized the war on terra necessitated the mobilization of 130,000 soldiers to a remote land in order to subjugate the local population.

In late 2003, as more Iraqis were accidentally injured or killed, the Army began offering condolence payments. It has not always worked as planned, said Sarah Holewinski, the executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, a nonprofit group in Washington.

“Sometimes families would get paid and sometimes their neighbors wouldn’t,” she said. “It caused a lot of resentments among the Iraqis, which is ironic because it was a program specifically meant to foster good will.”

Fascinating—to think that a policy of this administration had the exact opposite of its intended effect. That’s got to be a first.

Once again, I'm unhappy that our government is off killing beleaguered, impoverished people who never posed a threat to us and telling us to be proud of it.

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