There are more details on the paltry sums the U.S. military pays out to the civilian victims of its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, thanks to a new GAO report [PDF]. Some highlights:
Condolence payments for death, injury, or property damage max out at $2,500 in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Under new rules, generals in Iraq may authorize payments up to $10,000 in "extraordinary circumstances."
In 2005, the military paid out $21.5 million in condolence payments in Iraq; it paid out $7.3 million in 2006. Assuming that the $2,500 maximum was disbursed in each case, that means more than 11,500 payments were made. However, the military does not keep records on the number of payments or the reasons for them. It also does not keep track of denied requests for payment.
Here's an example of the system at work: "Two members of the same family are killed in a car hit by U.S. forces. The family could receive a maximum of $7,500 in [...] condolence payments ($2,500 for each death and up to $2,500 for vehicle damage)."
Civilians may also file for up to $100,000 in compensation under the Foreign Claims Act. Between 2003 and 2006, the Pentagon paid out $26 million on 21,450 claims filed by Iraqis under the act. That comes out to an average of $1,200 per claim.
Before April 2006, no condolence payments were offered for Iraqi soldiers, police officers, or government workers wounded or killed by U.S. and Coalition operations. The Pentagon has since started offering what it calls "martyr payments" for Iraqis killed on the job.
In short: One Iraqi life is worth the same as a totaled car, but very special Iraqis may be worth up to $10,000. Also, it's very hard to do math amid the fog of war, so don't bother asking about civilian casualty figures. And being called a martyr by the U.S. government? Priceless.
From Scooter Libby's lawyers' response [PDF] to federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's sentencing memo, in which he reasserted that Valerie Plame Wilson was indeed an undercover CIA agent:
First, the government claims that its "investigators were given access to
Ms. Wilson's classified file."....This is tantamount to
asking the Court and Mr. Libby to take the government's word on Ms. Wilson's status,
based on secret evidence, without affording Mr. Libby an opportunity to rebut it. Such a
request offends traditional notions of fairness and due process.
Where to begin on this one? The irony of a former aide to Dick "You Can't Handle the Truth" Cheney questioning the government's wordits classified word, no less? (However, the government in this case is the CIA, which neocons know is a bunch of untrustworthy wusses.) But what really stands out here is that the legal protection that Libby is claiming, the right to see and confront secret evidence, is the very right the White Housethe Office of the Vice President in particularhas spent five years denying to Guantanamo detainees. But waitI thought we can't take the intelligence community at its word, especially when a man's freedom is on the line. Makes your head hurt, don't it? (Extra bonus points: Libby's law firm also represents Gitmo detainees.)
A couple of days ago, we posted an image of the beach volleyball court inside the monster U.S. embassy complex under construction in Baghdad. The rendering came from the site of the architecture firm that designed it. But now it's pulled the images under pressure from the State Department, which claimed they were a security risk. Despite the warning, a spokesman for the architecture firm gave the bad guys even more ideas by revealing that "Google Earth could give you a better snapshot of what the site looks like on the ground." So I think it's still safe to show you this image of a Marine guard and a tiny pixelated diplomat.
Meanwhile, the embassy project has other problemssuch as using coerced labor to get the job done. As Iraqslogger reports, American managers have complained that the builder, First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting, has mistreated the thousands of South Asian, Filipino, and other foreign laborers brought in to construct the complex. Some of the allegations:
[C]onstruction crews lived in crowded quarters; ate sub-standard food; and had little medical care. When drinking water was scarce in the blistering heat, coolers were filled on the banks of the Tigris, a river rife with waterborne disease, sewage and sometimes floating bodies, they said. Others questioned why First Kuwaiti held the passports of workers. Was it to keep them from escaping? Some laborers had turned up "missing" with little investigation. Another American said laborers told him they were been misled in their job location. When recruited, they were unaware they were heading for war-torn Iraq.
As one American supervisor explained, "Every US labor law was broken.... I've never seen a project more fucked up."
Tom Engelhardt has come across what might be the first public glimpse of the $1.3-billion U.S. embassy under construction in Baghdad. At 104 acres, and with 1,000 staffers, it's going to be America's biggest embassy anywhere. It might as well have a giant "kick me" sign on its front gateshence the 15-foot-thick walls and who knows how many Marines and Blackwater guys on duty. Visualizing the fortress-like enclosure has been a bit tough. Until now, thanks to some 3-D renderings Engelhardt found on its architects' website. It almost looks like the next backdrop for Grand Theft Auto, but with tennis courts, a pool, and housing for 380 families. That family housing stat is a new detail. Somehow I doubt that the balmy weather and outdoor pool will convince many embassy dwellers to bring along the kids.
Good news for dancers and copyfighters: the creator of the Electric Slide has just taken a step back and agreed to allow non-commercial use of the disco-era dance which, as Wikipedia helpfully explains, "is still done frequently at social occasions to virtually any music." Ric Silver, the man behind the moves, had been sending legal notices to people who posted videos of the dance, asserting his copyright over it. Now, he's going to license the dance through Creative Commons (which apparently includes letting Spiderman and a Transformer do it, as they do in this image from his website). There's no word, however, on the Funky Chicken patent dispute.