The Pentagon’s “Martyrs” And Other Tales of Collateral Damage

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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.

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    In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

    If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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