IRAQ: Haditha massacre survivors paid 'hush money'

Issue 

Doug Lorimer

"The investigation of an alleged Marine massacre of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, last year has focused on whether cash payments to the families of victims were part of a cover-up", the June 8 New York Daily News reported.

The approval by Marine Corps officers of $2500 payments to the families of victims in the November 19 Haditha massacre have been the main focus of a cover-up investigation by US Army Major-General Eldon Bargewell, military and congressional sources told the Daily News.

The Marine Corps initially reported that 15 Iraqi civilians, including five girls aged 3-14, were killed by an insurgent's roadside bomb, but they were all later found to have died of gunshot wounds.

A Marine Corps headquarters spokesperson told the Daily News that payments were made to the victims' families a month after the incident, but said they were "not an admission of legal liability or fault".

"There's a gap in the whole narrative [in the Haditha case]. "You just don't give them a bag of money" without officers concluding that the marines bore some responsibility, New York Catholic University law professor Michael Noone, a former US Air Force lawyer, told the Daily News.

The June 8 Boston Globe revealed that the amount of cash the US military has paid to families of Iraqi civilians killed or maimed by US military operations in Iraq has "skyrocketed from just under $5 million in 2004 to almost $20 million last year, according to Pentagon financial data" recently provided to the US Congress.

"Defense Department officials maintain that the payments — which officials said range from a few hundred dollars for injuries such as a severed limb to $2500 for the death of a relative — mirror a local custom commonly known as 'solatia', in which families receive financial compensation for damages or human losses. They stressed that the payments shouldn't be seen as an admission of guilt or responsibility.

"But amid reports that US Marines paid $2500 per victim after dozens of civilians were killed on Nov. 19 in the town of Haditha — killings now engulfed by allegations of a massacre — the fourfold increase in condolence payments raises new questions about the extent to which Iraqi civilians have been the victims of US firepower ...

"If each of the payments made in 2005 was the maximum $2500 for an Iraqi death, it would amount to 8000 fatalities. But it's unknown exactly how many payments were made or for what amount."

From Green Left Weekly, June 21 2006.
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