A U.S. commander said Tuesday he is “deeply ashamed” by the Marine killings of Afghan civilians in March and reported that the American military has made condolence payments to their families.

“Today we met with the families of those victims: 19 dead and 50 injured,” said Col. John Nicholson, commander of the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, deployed in eastern Afghanistan. “We made official apologies on the part of the U.S. government” and payments of about $2,000 for each death. (AP via USA Today)

Old news, but I only came to learn of it during my commute back from work on NPR two days ago. Turns out the U.S. military makes condolences payments — officially called “solatia” payments (unofficially also “martyr” payments) — to the families of those accidentally killed during combat fire.

The Pentagon has set $2,500 as the highest individual sum that can be paid. Most death payments remain at that level, with a rough sliding scale of $1,000 for serious injury and $500 for property damage. Beginning in April of last year, payments of up to $10,000 were possible for “extraordinary cases” but only with a division commander’s authorization.

The report, titled The Department of Defense’s Use of Solatia and Condolence Payments in Iraq and Afghanistan (pdf),” offers a particularly coldblooded example of how payments are estimated, drawn from CERP‘s operating procedures: “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).”(WaPo, 06/18/07)

Some pics of these condolences payments being made from this article that makes it sound okay:

I’m frankly at loss for words. Can’t figure out what aspect to begin commenting on first. I don’t believe monetary apology to be valid after any wrongdoing. But let’s suppose that your life situation is desperate, and you make the trip to the official place to get ‘reimbursed,’ how far does $2,500 really go? Take any of the following scenario for instance, what do you suppose the money given to the victim’s family could most effectively be used for?

Approximately $8,000 was paid by the Pentagon to two children who lost their mother when the taxi in which she was traveling came under fire. The vehicle was said to have run a checkpoint. The children were alongside their mother when she died and were also injured. A measly “condolence” payment of $500 was paid to the family of a deaf man shot outside a museum in Samarra and a larger condolence payment of $2,500 was granted to the parents of a 4-year-old girl who died when a bullet fired from a Humvee struck her.

In what the U.S. military said “negligent fire,” an Iraqi ambulance driver was shot dead on his way to a bomb scene by a coalition soldier. The dead man’s family was paid $2,500. (AmericanFreePres)

Iraq Body Count, a Web site that reputedly maintains most accurate account of casualties of the war, reveals more instances where American military has put a supposedly justified price on lives or limbs lost. Please also read these two articles on the NYT, and listen to a report on NPR to learn more.

Lastly, I don’t mean to compare but, I would like to point out the amount given to the families of victims who lost their lives on the space shuttle Columbia in 2003: $26 million. This is far too sad for me to disrespectfully end the post with the usual clever comment. Because even these families likely are not satisfied, and would much rather have their loved ones returned, instead.

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