Wednesday, June 20, 2007

How much money should the U.S. pay Iraqi and Afghan civilians?

On Monday, Walter Pincus wrote an interesting piece in the Washington Post: “The Measure of a Life, in Dollars and Cents.” Pincus discussed anew GAO report detailing how the U.S. government makes condolence payments to the families of civilians killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Based on Pincus's article, I tracked down the GAO report and read it for myself. Here is my analysis.

Programs for Compensating Iraqi and Afghan Civilians

The U.S. has several programs in place to compensate Iraqi and Afghan nationals for damage, injury, or death that occurs due to U.S. actions.

Foreign Claims Act (DoD) - Covers adjudication of claims up to $100,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan. (GAO, 49) DoD paid about $26 million to settle approximately 21,450 claims under the Foreign Claims Act from FY2003 to FY2006 in Iraq and Afghanistan. (GAO, 50)

Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund (USAID) - Funds projects to assist Iraqi civilians, institutions, and communities directly impacted by the actions of U.S. forces. (GAO, 53) The fund has paid $17.8 million for 768 projects since 2005. (ibid.)

Afghan Civilian Assistance Program (USAID) - Funds projects to assist Afghan civilians, institutions, and communities directly impacted by the actions of U.S. forces. (ibid.) The fund has paid $2.3 million for 51 projects since 2003. (ibid.)

Claims and Condolence Payment Program (State Dept.) - Makes condolence payments resulting from harm caused by State Department protective security details in Iraq. (GAO, 51) There is no comparable program in Afghanistan. There is no explicit maximum payment level, but the payments tend to be $2,500, the maximum condolence payment level established by DoD. State has paid $26,000 for 8 claims since FY2006. (GAO, 52)

Solatia Payments (DoD) - Token or nominal payment for death, injury, or property damage caused by U.S. forces during combat. (GAO, 13) Solatia payments in Iraq were only used for a short period of time and DoD isn't obligated to report solatia payments, although commands in Afghanistan track this information. Maximum payments in Iraq were $2,500 for death, $1,500 for serious injury, and $200 (or more) for minor injury. The Marines reported making $1.7 million in solatia payments in Iraq from FY2003 to FY2005. $141,466 was paid in Afghanistan in solatia payments during FY2006. (GAO, 42)

Condolence Payments (DoD) - Expression of sympathy for death, injury, or property damage caused by U.S. forces. Also sometimes given, at commander's discretion, to Iraqi civilians assisting U.S. forces who are harmed by enemy action. Maximum payment is $2,500 for each instance of death, injury, or property damage. DoD paid $29 million in condolence payments in Iraq and Afghanistan during FY2005 and FY2006. (GAO, 43)

GAO also provides a chilling example of the calculation that goes into condolence payments:
Two members of the same family are killed in a car hit by U.S. forces. The family could receive a maximum of $7,500 in CERP condolence payments ($2,500 for each death and up to $2,500 for vehicle damage). (GAO, 25)

Solatia payments were made out of units' operations and maintenance (O&M) funds while condolence payments are made out of the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds. CERP funds have nineteen prescribed uses. Number 16 reads: "Condolence payments to individual civilians for death, injury, or property damage resulting from U.S., coalition, or supporting military operations." (GAO, 19)

Funding for Condolence Payment Programs in Iraq

Here are charts provided by GAO that break down condolence payments as a proportion of total CERP disbursements in FY2005 and FY2006:
Thus, condolence payments represented 8.2% of total FY2005 CERP disbursements in Iraq, compared to 5% in FY2006. Why did total CERP disbursements decrease between FY2005 and FY2006? Why did the proportion of CERP disbursements set aside for condolence payments decrease during the same time?

One answer to both questions might be that the money wasn't reduced but merely redirected into other similar DoD programs focusing on supporting Iraqi civilians. In his article, however, Walter Pincus insinuates that this isn't the case: "In 2005, the sums distributed in Iraq reached $21.5 million and - with violence on the upswing - dropped to $7.3 million last year." Pincus seems to think DoD took money out of condolence payments and didn't redeposit it somewhere similar.

Here is a look at where condolence payment disbursements in Iraq have gone geographically:

These numbers are very interesting. The high level of FY2006 condolence spending by Multinational Force-West likely reflects the attention paid to Anbar province by coalition forces during that time. American commanders were trying to make inroads with tribal leaders in Anbar and condolence payments were an integral part of that mission.

The recent reduction of violence in Anbar may be partially explained by the effectiveness of CERP and condolence payments, although it would be a stretch to stay that CERP single-handedly quelled the violence in Anbar.

dollars in the near future as In fact, it appears now that insurgents merely migrated from Anbar to Diyala and other provinces, the proverbial "whack-a-mole" phenomenon. Currently increased levels of insurgent activity in Diyala and the corresponding increase in the American troop presence as part of Operation Arrowhead Ripper may mean that Multinational Division-North receives more CERP disbursements as reconstruction and stabilization efforts unfold. (See this morning's Times and Post articles for more information on Arrowhead Ripper)

It is surprising that Baghdad received only 10% ($3 million) of total condolence payment disbursements ($28.8 million) in Iraq during FY2005-FY2006. Roughly 6 million people live in Baghdad - out of a total Iraqi population of 27.5 million - meaning Baghdad contains about a quarter of all Iraqis. Furthermore, violence levels in Baghdad have been consistently higher than other parts of Iraq.

With more people and more violence, why didn't Multinational Division-Baghdad receive more condolence payment disbursements ?

Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) Funding

The FY2007 war supplemental spending package (HR 2206) signed into law by President Bush on May 25, 2007, provides $456.4 million for CERP in Iraq and Afghanistan. (see my analysis of the Supplemental)

The House passed its version of the FY2008 Defense Authorization bill (HR 1585) with a recommendation to extend the CERP program through FY2009. (Sec. 1205)

The Senate Armed Services Committee recommended $977.4 million in CERP funding for Iraq and Afghanistan in its marked-up but yet to be considered version of the Defense Authorization bill (S 1547). (Sec. 1203)

To date - including the recently passed FY2007 Supplemental spending package - the U.S. has spent approximately $610 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (see my analysis of the Supplemental)

Here is what the U.S. spent on condolence payments according to the most recent numbers provided in the GAO report (numbers from above):

Foreign Claims Act (DoD) - $26 million
Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund (USAID) - $17.8 million
Afghan Civilian Assistance Program (USAID) - $2.3 million
Claims and Condolence Payment Program (State Dept.) - $26,000
Solatia Payments (DoD) - $1.8 million
Condolence Payments (DoD) - $29 million
...for a grand total of $76.9 million. That is roughly 0.013% of total spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We owe innocent Iraqi and Afghan civilians harmed as a result of U.S. actions more than 0.013% of our total war spending.

The proportion of CERP disbursements going towards condolence payments should be restored to Iraq's FY2005 level of 8%. Based on this percentage, if the House and Senate agree to adopt the Senate Armed Services Committee's $977.4 million recommendation for CERP, DoD should pay out $78.2 million in condolence disbursements in Iraq and Afghanistan during FY2008.

This increased condolence payment funding would be combined with funding in other programs - like Foreign Claims - to far surpass anything that has spent up until this point.

In Iraq, if the U.S. truly hopes to transition the mission, condolence payments will help achieve two goals: 1) Engender goodwill within the Iraqi populace by providing some concrete recognition that the U.S. has made mistakes while occupying Iraq; and 2) Prime the pump of the Iraqi economy by providing desperately needed capital for personal and community investments.

While handing out money is not a panacea, the commanders on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan regularly report that CERP is one of the most effective hammers in their toolkit. Congress should listen to U.S. commanders on the ground and invest in Iraqi and Afghan civilians' well-being, as opposed to funding only the bullets and bombs that drive civilians further into the hands of terrorist groups and sectarian militias.

The path to justice in the post-George W. Bush world begins in Iraq and Afghanistan with increased condolence payments to innocent civilians harmed by U.S. military actions.

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