In Defense of Blood Money...

In Defense of Blood Money
Why the United States was right to give $50,000 each to the families of villagers massacred in Afghanistan.
By Will Oremus, Slate, March 29, 2012

There’s no price you can pay to make up for the loss of a loved one. That’s as true in Afghanistan as it is in the United States. It’s understandable, then, that some people in both countries found it insulting that the U.S. government reportedly gave $50,000 each to the families of the 17 villagers allegedly slain by Staff Sgt. Robert Bales earlier this month. "The villagers aren't like animals that you can buy," an unnamed Afghan official told ABC News. "Yes, it's a lot of money. But their children are not coming back."

The United States, for its part, has been offering “condolence payments” to civilian victims of its combat operations for years. The military won’t talk much about the practice, but documents obtained by the ACLU and the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, or CIVIC, show that the standard sum is $2,500. It’s not exactly blood money; the United States makes no admission of wrongdoing in cases where the victims are considered collateral damage, and the payment isn’t meant to reflect the full value of the life lost. Still, the amount of the payment is inevitably interpreted as a reflection of the extent to which the United States acknowledges harm done—and the extent to which it cares about that harm.

The counterinsurgency strategy, which makes protection of civilians an explicit goal, may have helped (belatedly) in changing some perceptions. And while Republicans have blasted President Obama for apologizing for American missteps, including the Quran burnings, such public acknowledgments by the commander in chief go a long way as well. What Afghans want most of all is not money or apologies, but for Bales to face justice. Without a trial, the condolence payments do become blood money, in the worst sense; see the case of former CIA contractor Raymond Davis, whom Pakistan grudgingly released only after the United States forked over $2.3 million to the families of his two victims. Hassan Abbas, a former Pakistani government official and a professor at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., notes that such payments not only fail to defuse resentment, but undermine the rule of law

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