Monday, July 16, 2007

Civilian Casualties: We Can Do Better

Remember those horrific photos from a couple years ago, showing U.S. soldiers abusing and torturing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib? Of course you do. Who could forget those images. "Disturbing" doesn't even begin to say it.

Now, I've always had a tremendous respect for the service men and women who are out there risking their lives every day for our country. And it's important that we recognize that far more missions and prisons are handled with respect for human life than not. Meanwhile, whatever problems our military has, it's still known as the best and most humane in the world.

But we can do better.

This week, The Nation came out with an article including disturbing detail about the brutal treatment of Iraqi civilians by some U.S. soldiers and marines in the early years of the war.
The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness, by Chris Hedges & Laila Al-Arian, documents interviews with 50 Iraq combat vets, dozens of whom:

...witnessed Iraqi civilians, including children, dying from American firepower. Some participated in such killings; others treated or investigated civilian casualties after the fact. Many also heard such stories, in detail, from members of their unit. The soldiers, sailors and marines emphasized that not all troops took part in indiscriminate killings. Many said that these acts were perpetrated by a minority. But they nevertheless described such acts as common and said they often go unreported -- and almost always go unpunished.
Devastated neighborhood in Sadr City.Granted, The Nation's report is biased towards the earlier years of the war (including interviews with only two respondents who served in Iraq after 2005), and the Washington Post reports that the aggregate number of civilian deaths has decreased by 34% since January. Nevertheless, the June 30th bombing in Sadr City, in which two U.S. raids for insurgents hit a civilian area, prove we still have a problem. Witnesses -- including surviving residents, police and hospital officials -- said as many as 26 innocent Iraqis were killed during the operation, including a number of children.

Back in May, I wrote here about
the failure of the U.S. military to adequately document and compensate for the deaths of Iraqi civilians. The recent events in Sadr city substantiate the point we and our friends at the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) have been making...and breaks my heart, because it just shouldn't be this way.

"Every civilian death deserves recognition and the families suffering a loss deserve the dignity of knowing the circumstances,” said Sarah Holewinski, CIVIC’s executive director, in a recent press release. "If and when the US may be at fault, an investigation is appropriate and just."

EPIC joins with CIVIC in demanding a full, transparent investigation into these and other civilian casualties. "Investigate, figure out what went wrong, why civilians were killed, then fix the problem," said Holewinski. "That effort would show the Iraqi people that U.S. troops care."


Anonymous said...

In so many instances, the enemy is using civilians as a shield. They have no respect for these lives and love the bad press that results when there are casualties. We are in a no win situation and yet our troops must fight on and defend themselves. After all, this is war and "war is hell".

a soldier's girl said...

It's impossible for us to understand what faces our troops and what pressures they find themselves under. While it's very sad that civilians are caught in the crossfire, these things are going to happen. It's a dangerous country where it's hard to define just who is your enemy.

How can we ask them to go into battle and then prosecute them for doing what they've been trained to do? Do some of them go too far? Okay, but I say again, we don't know what pressure they're under and how can we justify punishing them during war?

Emily Stivers said...

I'm not saying "persecute all the soldiers who accidentally kill civilians." We just want a full investigation into wrongful deaths, and compensation for the families where warranted.

Yes, war is horrible and it is very hard being a soldier and trying to discern enemies from civilians. But we need to be sure our troops are not haphazardly firing at crowds or acting upon bad intelligence. And if they are, we need to be aware of and correct those problems.

And at the same time, consider it from the point of view of the victim's family. They have lost someone they love dearly and they want answers. They deserve that much respect, and when we don't give it, we anger a lot of people and make our troops targets that much more.

Anonymous said...

as I understant, the June 30th bombing in Sadr City was not an instance of troops accidentally killing civilians in a kill-or-be-killed situation. The U.S. forces conducted raids in search of insurgents and killed a lot of innocent people instead. It is a case of bad intelligence and we need to be aware when things like that happen and we need to knwo why.

Marla B said...

Hey there all... Marla B from CIVIC here. I wanted to make a few comments on this posting.

I want to make a clear delineation between accidental killings of civilians and wrongful killings.

BOTH should be investigated to determine root causes and to allow for reflection on how to prevent future situations.

BOTH types of victims should be compensated, accidental deaths by the US military's condolence payment program (which admittedly needs to work more fairly and efficiently)and wrongful deaths by the Foreign Claims Act which is a US law and was created to deal with these cases.

Further, if the enemy is using civilians as shields (which is obviously an egregious violation of the Geneva Conventions) and the US launches a operation in which those civilians are killed or injured, then it is in the best interest of the US military (both legally and morally) to go back and help those who were injured and the families of those killed.

We are waging a counterinsurgency war now, and counterinsurgency is all about winning the population. It is a way of showing that Americans value each and every life and that we understand that we must help where we have hurt... even if accidental.

i.m.small said...


Little child, who made thee?
Gave thee life and bid thee feed?
Little child, I´ll tell thee;
Little child, I´ll tell thee.

It was thy mother, she beside
Thee clutching, dead eyes open wide,
And thou the same, once meek and mild,
Dead as thy mother, little child.

Little child, who killed thee?
Dost thou know who killed thee?
Little child, I´ll tell thee:
A taxpayer like me.

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