Thursday, April 12, 2007

Towards Compensating for Lives Lost

Yesterday, the Department of Defense released documentation of 500 instances describing how the US deals with compensation for families of innocent victims of US actions in the Iraq War. Hopefully, with the release of these cases will come increasing public awareness of the human element in this war.

This New York Times article about the civilian compensation offered by the military tells tales that are, like so many of the narratives of this conflict, heartrending:
"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."
But looking deeper into the content of the article, there is some hope and something to admire. And that's the work done by the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict -- CIVIC for short. CIVIC was founded by Marla Ruzicka (pictured above), a humanitarian whose life was eventually cut short by her efforts to bring a little bit of justice into the lives of innocent victims of this war.

Before being killed by a car bomb on an Iraqi road in 2005, Marla was instrumental in getting legislation passed that established the funds from which civilians are now compensated. Prior to this, the families of Iraqis accidentally killed by the US actions, the victims of which were usually were men - the traditional breadwinners in Iraqi society - received no support from the US government, despite having their main sources of income taken away. Even though the release of the documents is a huge step towards improving the compensation system, there is still much work to be done:
“These documents seem to show that the US military’s compassion is random,” said Sarah Holewinski, director of CIVIC. “All the civilians harmed in these cases deserve recognition and redress. While some received condolence payments, many received nothing at all.”

It is imperative that all efforts be made to expeditiously improve the compensation system, but its existence alone is a testament to the fact that there are people who care about the well-being of Iraqis and will go to great lengths to advocate on their behalf. With Congress' return from spring break this coming Monday set to coincide with the second anniversary of Marla Ruzicka's death, next week is an ideal time to contact your representatives and senators here in Washington -- and let them know that you also care about the people of Iraq and want to see more US policies that show it.

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