Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Fairness sought for 'condolence payments'

An Iraqi woman mourns the death of a relative killed during a battle between U.S. soldiers and insurgents.

The terrible news out of Iraq today: At least 70 people people died in a sectarian attack at a university. Plus, the United Nations released a report finding that 34,000 Iraqi civilians died in Iraq in 2006. Most of those civilians were killed in Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence, but not all of them.

The U.S. military has been involved in a number of civilian casualties, and we wondered, what does the United States do when that happens? Do they make reparations for the families who've lost loved ones?

We checked, and in fact, the Pentagon does have a program to compensate victims of so-called "collateral damage." But as we found out, it's pretty haphazard, and there are those both in and out of the military who think it would be a good idea to set up an official policy to compensate civilian victims of U.S. military actions.

One of those is the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a Democrat. He wants the Pentagon to replace the old system of leaving the amount of so-called "condolence payments" up to the discretion of field commanders with a formal program where the Defense Department would need to come to Congress to ask for money, and Congress could then ask questions about civilian deaths. The idea hits on fairness and transparency.

A significant side effect of that kind of program would be to, for the first time, give the public an idea of how many Iraqis have died under U.S. fire. Because right now, no one is counting.
Posted By Steve Turnham, CNN Producer: 3:53 PM ET
  39 Comments
Did Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon compensate the families of victims of the World Trade Center in New York?
Posted By Anonymous xtina - Chicago IL : 5:24 PM ET
Steve,

I totally support a change in the policy that results in consistency and transparancy in making condolence payments. That is also fairer to the civilian population. However, did we do this other wars? And do the families of our guys get payments if they are killed by friendly fire vs enemy fire? Just asking. And I sure wouldn't want to be the one that has to determine the value of something that is priceless--human life.
Posted By Anonymous Charlotte, Stockton CA : 5:39 PM ET
What disturbing statistics. I have a serious problem with condolence pay. How can someone give a monatary value to someone's life? I can't imagine having that job.
Posted By Anonymous Jess, Paris, KY : 5:50 PM ET
Seem to recall CNN footage of our troops pealing of bills to 'pay' Iraqi civilians for damages and under the 'general accounting' program of Bremer, the bundled bills were referred to as 'footballs'. Glad someone is finally addressing the cash drain. It would seem like this is a long way from the final solution though with the no-bid contractors and an Iraqi government that has no 'payroll' or fiscal system.
Posted By Anonymous linda, bella vista,ar : 6:01 PM ET
Mr Turnham,
that is one excellent subject worthy of intense investigation!
I hope this will be discussed on 360 and other programs .
It's a well-known fact to non-Americans ,that Americans don't like to take a good look at anything that could possibly tarnish the varnish of their military and government.
Was anybody ever counting in any American war?
Posted By Anonymous Minou, New York, NY : 6:05 PM ET
"Did Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon compensate the families of victims of the World Trade Center in New York?"

That is comparing apples to motor oil. None of these countries launched a full scale infiltration and take over of our country using their established, accountable military units. None of these countries utilized any of their tax dollars to fund this attack. This was not a state-funded attack, no matter how much the righties would like to twist it into one. In America, we believe in doing the right thing, and if we dont, we make it right. I was in the Army in Kosovo during the very short- lived conflict we had there in the laate 90's (thank you Mr. Clinton!), and when we accidentally blew apart half a farmer's houses with the mk-19 automatic grenade launcher mounted atop my Humvee, we made sure he was well compinsated for this. Not because we had to, we could have acted like nothing happened. We did it because it was the right thing to do. If we compensate for collateral damage to property, and we decide we are not going to for the loss of human life, what does that say about the value we place on a human life? Why are there people in this country that would like to see the number of Iraqi deaths remain obscured by haphazard conservative guesses? Of course, ol Rummy used to sign the apology notes to deceased soldier's families with an AUTO PEN! So maybe nothing should surprise us any more..
Posted By Anonymous nathan karczewski, junction city, KS : 6:13 PM ET
Steve/AC360:
I understand what Senator Patrick Leahy is proposing, but with the US having spent $357+ billion for the war, where is the Iraq civilian "collateral damage" going to come from? Our government can't even dispense funds to the Katrina survivors after 16 months since the hurricane!

Yes, accountability is necessary. In many ways, I am scared to know the numbers of Iraqis killed by the US military. Whether it was by friendly fire or self-defense, it won't be pretty.

How will the American public react to numbers? I site the Vietnam War. Or is our current society just too passive about this war and its casualties unless it is about our own men and women.

Keep them honest.
Posted By Anonymous Sharon D., Indianapolis, IN : 6:20 PM ET
Hey Steve,

I'm fine with fairness & transparancy. But the idea of putting a price on a human life is disturbing. In every war there is "collateral damage"(I hate that we reffer to that term to talk about human beings being at the wrong place at the wrong time). Giving money to the families won't bring back their loved ones.

Joanne R.
Laval Quebec
Posted By Anonymous Joanne R. Laval Quebec : 6:29 PM ET
So far this seems like a great way to get into deeep trouble, morally, and find ways to misplace lots of money. Who is in charge of placing a value on life? What makes you worth more than your neighbor? Will the government keep track of money or will it be another Katrina? Maybe if we'd taken care of business when we first got to Iraq, 34,000.00 cicilians wouldn't have died last year.
Posted By Anonymous Kathy Chicago,Il : 6:35 PM ET
What have we achieved? More people dead and more memories created. The statistics reveal a simplistic truth and unfortunately the greater the number of zeros in any statistic of death, the more attention there is towards the situation. How can you compensate for a life lost, and that to a civilian life. No words, money, or actions can change the bitter truth of death.
In the end of all this, one thing is for sure. War doesn't decide who is right, but who is left. Unfortunately, innocent lives have to suffer to only prove that military action does not solve every problem.
Posted By Anonymous Shruti Bala, Glendale, AZ : 6:36 PM ET
When and if US troops purposefully killed Iraqi civilians there should be some form of compensation but it seems to me for the most part they're over there trying to protect them. Also a very large amount of US money goes over there for rebuilding. I don't know how the troops tell civilians from insurgents since Iraqis don't wear uniforms. It's an unfair war no matter which way you look at it. Like someone else said, I didn't see the US being compensated for 9/11 by the Arab government.
Posted By Anonymous Bev Ontario Canada : 6:36 PM ET
And why should we count? Civilians die in wars. It is sad, but part of the process in this conflict. Pardon the snippiness, but since when did Congress become great military gurus? And when did America have to know everything about military missions? I surely don't. The field commanders are in "the field" and best know what should be done with military matters. What's the going rate for a human life anyway? One grand, ten grand, a million? Maybe Congress should worry more about taking care of Americans in America and let our military continue to do their jobs as they know how. An official policy would be great, but let the military handle it since they are the ones dealing with this in Iraq. Maybe every Congressman should spend time in body armor embedded with our service personnel in battle for a few days. I bet it might change the song and dance.
Posted By Anonymous TA Cheramie, Berwick, LA : 6:43 PM ET
I was angered beyond belief when Bush was asked on this past Sunday's "60 Minutes" if he owed innocent Iraqis an apology for how he has conducted the war and he said that he thought, actually, Iraqis owed us a debt of gratitude.

How much is a life worth? And how much less would this administration value an Iraqi life? As they have shown by their actions, they really don't value any life... Iraqi or American soldier.

734 days, 3 hours, and 55 minutes until Bush is out of power. But who is counting???

Since our president sure as heck won't do it, I am sure I am one of many Americans who would like to apologize to the many innocent Iraqis, our troops, and quite frankly, the rest of the world. I am sorry that our counry has failed you and is continuing to fail you. The same, alas, can also be said to the many survivors of Katrina, as well as the families of those who did not survive. And our over 30 million Americans living in poverty. And our schoolchildren getting a substandard education. And everyone worldwide who breathes our polluted air. And the list goes on...

Question to 360: Aren't more people dying yearly because of this war than died yearly under Hussein?

Maybe the thing holding up those flowers that would be strewn at our feet when we are "greeted as liberators" are that Iraqis can't afford flowers since we decimated their economy. Or maybe we just killed off anyone who might have given us the flowers.

As Bush's comment Sunday showed, this administration continues to just not get it. Their idiotic comments show their disregard for human life that just makes me ill.

Pray for peace. Pray for us not to start an unjustified war anywhere else in the next 734 days (or after that, for that matter).
Posted By Anonymous Norah, West Chester, PA : 7:20 PM ET
Just to clarify, I believe that 'compensation' is part of the cost of war, but it should have accountability rather than setting up a bartering system open to theft and graft.
Posted By Anonymous linda, bella vista,ar : 7:31 PM ET
Personal loss is a GREAT tragedy. But... the United States compinsating cvilians who are inadvertently killed in a War Zone is inconcivable. Where is the research on past wars? Why are we, the U.S. paying for everything(as it seems) We are there to do a job. Yes. I am a spouse,mother,mother-in-law and sister-in law, all of military men serving,served and will be serving again. I just can not fathom it coming down to picking and choosing where our boys fight because there are too many civilians.The enemy does not wear a UNIFORM! All kinds of people die in war,war does not discriminate. Money does not heal the pain or mend the heart. Our bleeding heart liberals need to find something more constructive to do with OUR tax money!
Posted By Anonymous Nance,Grand Forks,ND : 8:00 PM ET
What are the condolences offered to the families of American soldiers who die? The value of those lives are priceless too. The lives of both soldiers and civilians are part of the tragic cost of war, and their families should be compensated equally.
Posted By Anonymous Leslie Joseph, Flagstaff AZ : 9:42 PM ET
Having been over there, and helped in the payment of several reparations payments, I can add some light to this story. First: There are specific policies governing how much money is paid and for which causes. I don't know if they vary from region to region, but all of Al Anbar Province was operating on the same sheet of music.
Secondly: The death gratuity is roughly equivilent to a year's wages for a blue collar worker with a steady income, and although that seems paltry to us, there are a couple of issues to consider... One being that this is still a ton of money in a country rocked by insurgency and uncertainty, and the second being that an overly large payment would just make an already grieving family the target of common criminals. Several times we had to provide protection for families that we had just paid.
All arguments for or against this policy aside, it does an amazing job of allowing coalition forces to pick up the pieces of otherwise unfortunate situations. Both the military and the civilians can continue to work together because both have met part-way on the issue.
Posted By Anonymous Paul, Jacksonville, NC - soon to be Iraq again : 9:48 PM ET
The military claims to execute missions that minimize civilian casualties. It can't make that claim if there is not some accounting of both the number of lives lost and the reparations paid for them.
Posted By Anonymous Leslie Joseph, Flagstaff AZ : 9:51 PM ET
Give me a break, this kind of compensation happens everyday in US courts and has in time of war has been traditionally called 'reparations'. The difference here is that the US has chosen to 'pay as they go' rather than wait until a truce or surrender occurs.
Posted By Anonymous linda, bella vista,ar : 10:28 PM ET
I can understand the principle of not placing a monetary value on a life, but I also understand that it costs money to move on. Who do they look to when it comes to paying for the two recent funeral expenses? Where does the income come from when a father is found under a pile of debris? This wouldn't exist to help the "enemy". It would be there for those that are just trying to survive one day at a time.
Posted By Anonymous Jemaul, Savannah Georgia : 10:33 PM ET
There is no price for life. Life is way too valuable. I think America should leave Iraq as soon as it is ethically and Militarily possible.
Posted By Anonymous Liz Walters, Howell, NJ : 10:55 PM ET
Every day I see holes in U.S. defence.This exploitation is unacceptable for preparation of an inevitable world war III.
Posted By Anonymous Noah - East Bridgewater , MA : 1:09 AM ET
A bit of 'Service Journalism'...
Civilains killed by Governments in the Twentieth Century
Nazi Germany - est. 20 million+ (Rummel)
Yugoslavia - est. 1.5 million+ (Rummel,97)
Cambodia - est. 1.7 million (CGP)
Rwanda - est. 800000 (UN)
Indonesia - est. 600,000 (Rummel)

When is a mass number of murders considered a genocide? When it is deliberate? Is there a definitive number to determine such a title? I assume the devil is in the details... lost in economic ideologies and 'good democratic intentions.'

A bit of my thoughts...
Military friends of mine, stationed in Iraq, have shared horrible stories with me invovling their witness to deliberate civilian killings. "These guys just snap, out of boredom or something, and kill tons of people."
My friends detailed their witness accounts of conscious murder and questioned their involvement with the army, and more importantly with the war.
"Why are we here? Osama isn't here? Why are forced to remain here?"

...I read comments and I am disgusted to discover that American civilians fear to know the number of dead Iraqi civilians and fear to pay a little more out of their pockets to provide any form of 'condolences' for those deaths. I do not agree with placing a price on an individual's life, but I agree with taking positive action.
What American civilians, especially those who comment to CNN blogs, should be fearing is the escalating civilian body count...
Posted By Anonymous Vanessa Vela Lubbock, Texas : 4:14 AM ET
It's an interesting concept, but should be left up to the field commanders as it is now. The real reason the Iraq war has become such a disaster is there is far too much direct interference on the part of Congress and the media, and this would only make it worse. Military leaders simply cannot do their job effectively when hordes of politicians and reporters are breathing down their necks, second-guessing every decision and forcing them to adapt their tactics to accomodate someone's political agenda.

War is a military matter, and we would all be wise to leave it and everything associated with it to the professionals.
Posted By Anonymous Stuart Warren, Champaign, IL : 9:31 AM ET
Give me a break! What nonsense. It is a war zone and while tragic innocent people are killed in the effort to liberate and keep peace. War is ugly and a US compensation program is liberal foolishness. We are pouring huge dollars to make a difference in that country and have great service members working hard. You want to spend money liberally then start a non-profit organization to solicit funds and quit spending our taxes!
Posted By Anonymous Scott, Mobile, Alabama : 9:52 AM ET
How much clearer do we need to say that we shouldn't be over in Iraq and that money is already being wasted over there. This war is turning out to be one of the most expensive wars in U.S. history. Not only us, but our children and grandchildren are going to be stuck paying back the cost of this war. What about the government domestic programs we have here in our country. All these government programs are taking huge cuts to pay for this war. I just read about four homeless men that were killed and thrown down manholes in South Bend, Indiana. We shouldn't have people here in this country living like that and being killed. Who going to give money to their families to help pay funeral costs? We have major problems right here in our own country that need to be addressed first.
Posted By Anonymous Steve Salt Lake City, Utah : 9:55 AM ET
What is the count? From my estimate the US killed more Iraqis since we been there than its dictator did in more than 20 years.
Posted By Anonymous Julie, Austin, Texas : 10:09 AM ET
I am very sorry for the innocent people losing their lives in Iraq, but I also have a friend who served over a year there and he will tell you that the civilians WANT us there!! They need help and obviously they can't do this alone! I am sick of our country being so greedy! Yes, this war is costing a lot of money, and yes, we will be paying for it for many years to come. Take a look at our society people! WE have let our country's issues become worse- so all should take some blame...NOT just the government! I work hard for my money and I feel better giving some to help anyone! If that means that me, my daughter, and my grandchildren will be paying for this war then fine! I don't think anyone in this country, who is complaining right now, thought about how much money they were spending on junk over the holidays, or throughout the year. Why didn't they give it to those in need? This country is full of people who make too much money, are materialistic, and have lost all morals of life!
Posted By Anonymous Carrie, Seymour, Indiana : 12:17 PM ET
I am sick of people saying 'we are there to do a job/mission/free them of oppression'.

Well that is your lame excuse. No one in Iraq asked you to invade their country neither did they perpetrate 9/11.

It was our own govt's conspiracy to launch an attack on Iraq because they knew that they don
't have any offensive military capability (Air/Navy).

We can't dare to attack Iran/North Korea (for simple reason that they are going to hit back very hard).

Why don't we attack Saudi Arabia or Egypt. Both are not democracies (for so called humane ppl here) and cruel regimes. Oops I forgot they are our friends even if their citizens conspire every single second to attack us.

Shame on you hypocrites.
Posted By Anonymous Jack, Colmbus, Ohio : 1:42 PM ET
It is funny how the U.S. government can pay so many different ethnicities for the tragedies they cause but have yet to pay the descendants of African Americans they enslaved, raped and murdered reparations.
Posted By Anonymous Jean Wynn, Chicago, IL : 2:44 PM ET
Get out of Iraq. Then we will not have to pay condolence fees. They do not want a troup increase either.
Posted By Anonymous Mary, Hopewell, NJ : 2:54 PM ET
Wouldn't it be more expeditious to allow the military a set amount for compensation and allow them to go ahead and disperse it? Tell Congress the how many's and who. But if they have to go to Congress over and over, ask and be questioned: Alot of beaurocratic red tape from the Democrats.
Posted By Anonymous Jean Bennett, Livingston, Montana : 3:09 PM ET
Although using words like "fairness" and "transparency" to describe an official policy that mandates the military establishment to report specifically on colateral damage in Iraq seems like the so-called right thing to do, the public must understand the dubious implications of this proposal. It is my firm belief that this proposal is meant to shore up public disapproval of the war by increasing the media exposure of the destruction and devastration wrought by this war. Also, perhaps it should be the impotent Iraqi government to make condolence payments to families, considering that it is Prime Minister al-Maliki whose tolerance of Shiite militias, namely the al-Mahdi Army, is leading to increased sectarian violence and more civilian casualties.
Posted By Anonymous Matt, Waldwick, NJ : 3:22 PM ET
U.S. should pay for every Iraq civilian life lost in gunfire or bome. The reason is simple: this war caused these deaths.
Posted By Anonymous Jennifer, Bolingbrook, IL : 3:25 PM ET
Matt:

You say that the intent of the proposal is to shore up dissaproval for the war? Can the approval of the war really get any lower anyway? Only 3 in 10 americans, according to Gallup polling, actually still think we should be there. So you are telling me this is a big conspiracy to sway the other 2, lol? And I suppose you still think Vietnam was "winnable". I think all the people in support of the war should be required to serve over there for a minimum of 1 month. Just to get a taste of it. I've had a loooong sip, and it doesnt taste good..
Posted By Anonymous nathan karczewski, junction city, KS : 4:01 PM ET
I'm a US Army officer who recently returned from an Iraq Tour. Many comments say that you can't put a price on human life, but in Iraq they do and they have since time immemorial. That is the way Iraqi tribes have always settled killings; with monentary reparations. Failing that, they resort to revenge killing. $2500 doesn't seem like alot to Americans, but it goes an extremely long way in Iraq. These payments, while alien to us, are an accepted and crucial part of that culture. They also apply this to US forces. If an Iraqi family or tribe does not recieve monetary compensation, their honor and culture demands that they at least attempt to kill US Soldiers as a different form of "reparation."

Any attempt to stop these payments in order to save taxpayer money will directly result in US deaths, period. Any attempt to delay the process while Congress rakes commanders over the coals and micromanages will directly result in US deaths, period. This is not a liberal conspiracy to waste money, nor is it a callous neo-con brushoff. It is a smart policy implemented and handled, as best they can, by US unit commanders on the ground to save lives.
Posted By Anonymous Chris Bowers, Clarksville TN : 5:00 PM ET
I am in the same situation as Paul above and I totally agree with him. I am also one of Sen. Leahy's constituents, and, with all due respect, his idea is not a good one. I believe that the stupidest thing Congress could do with this issue is take the authority to make payments away from battalion commanders. The root cause of most of the missteps in this war, in my opinion, has been too much centralization in the decision-making process. If anything, commanders down to the company and platoon level need MORE, not less decision-making authority. I'm sure that some members of Congress would like nothing more than to make every death payment a matter of public record to be debated in the halls of the Capitol, thereby bringing attention to civilian casualties in what they see as an unjust war. However, doing so would seriously undermine our efforts to win the hearts of the local population. There is no way a central committee in Congress can be as responsive in delivering payments to the bereaved as can a local commander on the scene. Ultimately, such a change in policy would make Iraqis more hostile to American forces, eventually resulting in more friendly casualties. This is utterly unacceptable. The honorable Senator needs to think about the repercussions of this idea of his.
Posted By Anonymous Dan, Camp Lejeune, NC : 6:57 PM ET
Nathan,

Perhaps you misunderstood the intent of my original statement. But your response reinforces what I was attempting to say because you immediately put me into America's two new parties--"For the War" and "Against the War." I was simply saying that we should all stop playing politics and come up with some viable solutions. Yes, 70% of the American public disfavors the current situation and handling of Iraq (we all know this, except for President Bush apparently). The question remains--what do we do next??? Certainly adding 21,500 troops is not the answer. As soon as we stop blaming one another and start working together, the sooner our soldiers come home. With this president I don't know if that is possible. Hopefully the the Dems can do a better job than their predecessors. Lastly, to imply that people are unpatriotic for not serving in the armed forces is highly insulting.
Posted By Anonymous Matt, Waldwick, NJ : 7:20 PM ET
All this new program procedure will do will be to add more bureaucracy, paperwork, and time for these families to receive some sort of compensation. Payments are no good if the recipient cannot reasonably expect a timely result. It will result in more resentment as the current system, although not perfect, is considered by many Iraqis to be too slow as it is. Culturally, death gratuities are a method to put conflict to rest but they must be paid quickly to have any effect. Additionally, how can a committee in Washington, DC, accurately judge the situation when they are so far removed from it. Commanders on the ground know what occurred and how best to influence the situation based on the here and now. If we can't trust commanders to do their job then maybe the Congress or State Department need to get out of Washington and into Iraq to provide this kind of support to the military instead of tieing their hands even more than they are now.
Posted By Anonymous Mike, Junction City, KS : 10:00 PM ET
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