Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Compensating Iraqi Victims of the US Military

One of the items on the agenda for US Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's meetings today with the new Iraqi leadership was the future legal status of US forces, either under an extension of the current UN Security Council resolution authorizing the US presence or a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and Iraq. Both would create immunity from prosecution for US troops; the troops would only be liable under US law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The Iraqi government is rightfully concerned about negligent (and in some instances intentional) killings of Iraqis -- both in and out of US custody. The US military has for some time been making quiet compensation in some of these cases. Casey seemed to confirm that this will continue to be standard procedure in Iraq. This from today's WaPo:

The immunity of U.S. forces from Iraqi courts could be sensitive because of Iraqi concerns about innocent civilians being accidentally killed. On Wednesday, Jafari told reporters he had asked Casey to investigate cases of "wrongful killing" by American troops and to offer compensation and an apology. Casey confirmed that he had written the prime minister a letter stating that the military would investigate any such incidents that occurred within the past 60 days. He also said he would consider refreshing training for troops and considering more routine compensation not only for accidental killings but also for property damage.

Ongoing trials of American and British soldiers who have engaged in unlawful killings send an important signal that, despite the immunity from Iraqi law, we take seriously our obligation to investigate and prosecute criminal activity during war. (In the case of the UK trial, they are doing so in accordance with the complementarity provisions of the ICC statute.) By additionally compensating victims for criminal killings and for those in which no criminal charges are brought, we convey a sense of responsibility and remorse in terms that are culturally understood. But better to "refresh" training so that fewer mistakes are made in the first place.

In the case of detainees, as I argued earlier this week, having clearly defined parameters of treatment -- set down by congressional statute, as opposed to vague and shifting notions of necessity emanating from the executive -- would go a long way to ensuring that we have political accountability.