Today the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) released a report analyzing claims made by family members of civilians killed by Coalition Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Called “Adding Insult to Injury: US Military Claims System for Civilians,” the report is based on documents that the ACLU obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and made public in April 2007 and searchable on our website. The documents provide first-hand accounts of civilian deaths from the perspective of family members. Although these files are deeply disturbing to read, they allow us to provide the public with the information to understand the human cost of war that other outlets simply have not. We believe that Americans have a right to unfiltered and complete information about the victims of war.
We filed our FOIA request because the human costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan remain cloaked from public view, which is the way the Bush administration likes it. The government has banned photographers on U.S. military bases from covering the arrival of caskets containing the remains of soldiers killed overseas and paid Iraqi journalists to write positive accounts of the U.S. war effort. It has invited U.S. journalists to “embed” with military units but requires them to submit their stories to the military for pre-publication review — a policy which according to some reports, co-opts the embedded journalists and makes independent and objective reporting more difficult. The military also refuses to disclose statistics on civilian casualties, and has erased journalists’ footage of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. The FOIA documents help to close the gap between the information that we receive from the news media and the reality of the wars.
CIVIC has expertise in civilian death compensation programs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its report analyzes the documents and draws conclusions and recommendations based on its expertise.
This enlightening use of our documents highlights the power and importance of Freedom of Information Act requests as a vital tool of democracy, and we hope that more individuals and organizations will follow CIVIC’s example.