Newly Released Documents Reveal Details Of Civilian Casualty Claims In Afghanistan And Iraq
ACLU Releases 13,000 Pages Of Government Files That Underscore Flaws In Compensating Victims' Families
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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today made public more than 13,000 pages of documents regarding reports of civilians killed or injured by Coalition Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The documents include more than 800 claims for damages by the family members of those killed, including many that were denied, and reveal new details about the flaws in the system for compensating victims' families. The ACLU received the records in response to its September 2007 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, which is part of an effort to make more details about the ongoing wars available to the public.
"With more U.S. forces being sent into civilian areas in Afghanistan, it is critical that the American public be informed about what is at stake," said Nasrina Bargzie, cooperating counsel with the ACLU and an attorney at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP in Oakland, CA. "These newly released records illustrate that innocent civilian victims and their families are still not being appropriately compensated for their losses. Now that this problem has been brought to light, we hope the Obama administration will be compelled to reform the broken civilian compensation program."
The files made public today comprise over 800 claims for compensation or condolence payments submitted to the U.S. Foreign Claims Commissions and the Commander's Emergency Response Program by surviving family members of Afghan and Iraqi civilians said to have been killed or injured or to have suffered property damages due to actions by Coalition Forces. Many of the claims were denied under the so-called "combat exemption" to the Foreign Claims Act (FCA), which provides that harm inflicted on residents of foreign countries by U.S. soldiers during combat cannot be compensated under the FCA, even if the victims had no involvement whatsoever in the combat. The documents reveal that, due to the claim denials, many innocent civilians were not compensated for their harm or were referred to the Commander's Emergency Response Program for a discretionary condolence payment that is subject to an automatic $2,500 limit per death.
In related litigation, the ACLU is seeking records relating to the government's expanded use of predator drones to conduct targeted killings overseas. That FOIA lawsuit asks for information about the legal basis for drone strikes, as well as the number and rate of civilian casualties caused by the attacks.
"These records will help the American people comprehend the impact of war on innocent civilians and will allow the public to participate meaningfully in the ongoing debate about these wars," said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "An informed public is a critical part of any democracy. Releasing the civilian casualty records is a good step towards increasing government transparency. The Obama administration should continue releasing documents that could inform the public about the critical issues of war."
Attorneys on the civilian casualty FOIA litigation are Bargzie; Wizner and Alexander Abdo of the ACLU National Security Project; and Arthur B. Spitzer of the ACLU of the Nation's Capital.
The documents released today by the ACLU are available online at: www.aclu.org/civiliancasualties
More information about the predator drone FOIA lawsuit is available online at: www.aclu.org/national-security/aclu-seeks-information-predator-drone-program