Chilling accounts of hundreds of fatal encounters between the US military and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing a rare glimpse of the confusion and chaos of daily life in the conflict zones, were released by the Pentagon yesterday under the Freedom of Information Act.
Four-hundred-and-ninety-six files deal with Iraqi claims for compensation for family members killed by US forces between 2003 and last year and 17 files deal with claims from Afghanistan.
The files, including handwritten notes from some of the soldiers involved, record the deaths of civilians killed mainly at checkpoints, or in their homes, or when US forces sprayed roads with gunfire to protect convoys.
Many of the deaths result from a failure of communication between US forces, almost all of whom do not speak Arabic, and civilians. Among the files is one relating to a mother who was shot dead and her two children who were wounded when the taxi they were in went through a checkpoint at Baqubah, north of Baghdad, in February last year.
The US defense department file said: "While the matter is still under investigation, there is evidence to suggest that the warning cones and printed checkpoint signs had not yet been displayed in front of the checkpoint, which may be the reason why the driver of the taxi did not believe he was required to stop."
The case has since been resolved and the US military has paid out US$7,500.
Another file, from the 101st Airborne Division, deals with a claim for US$4,800 from a father whose son was shot dead in a car at a checkpoint between Baghdad and Kirkuk in 2005.
A sergeant dealing with the claim writes: "How was he supposed to know to get out of the vehicle when they fired warning shots? If I was in his place I would have stayed put too."
In spite of his comments, the claim was turned down.
The defense department paid out US$2,500 in another case, near Tuz in eastern Iraq, in which four family members were killed at their home in March 2004. The file records that more than 100 rounds were fired so indiscriminately that 32 sheep and a cow were also killed.
The files were released after a request by the American Civil Liberties Union and amount to only a fraction of civilian deaths at the hands of US troops and the compensation claims lodged.
Of the 496 Iraqi claims released yesterday, cash payments were made in 164 cases.
Marc Garlasco, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch, said he found the lack of consistency in deciding who was entitled to compensation shocking.
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