Friday, June 02, 2006

The troubling concept of "blood money".

There is a troubling piece written by Andrew Walden that poses questions relating to the Haditha situation. The on-going investigation is that: on-going. But, before jumping to the conclusion that the Marines involved are all guilty (without benefit of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty), Mr. Walden’s piece brings out into the open the reliability of Iraqi witnesses, the question of their credibility, and the role “blood money” plays in Iraq.

All accounts of the incident describe 15 civilians being killed—with the cause of death in dispute. There is dispute over whether the nine other deaths were hostiles. The total is 24 deaths. Is it possible that Marines entered two separate homes, killed seven or eight civilians—including women and small children--in each home and in each case left a young girl in each home as the sole witness? Is it not impossible—but since all the reports depend entirely on Iraqi witnesses and the possibly coached testimony of two young girls, it is worth taking a look at other cases where these type of charges fell apart at trial.

There is another case which speaks directly to the credibility of local Iraqi witnesses and to the Iraqi tradition of “blood money”. On trial were seven British soldiers charged with murder stemming from a May, 2003 incident in Ferkah, Iraq. The trial collapsed November 3, 2005 after it became clear that many of the key Iraqi witnesses were lying in order to gain “blood money”. The BBC describes the collapse of the trial as follows:

“…it has become clear to everyone involved as the trial has progressed that the main Iraqi witnesses had colluded to exaggerate and lie about the incident.”

…The logic in the British case and possibly in Haditha is simple: If the coalition did not have a fight with the insurgents, the deaths would not have occurred. Therefore the coalition owes blood money regardless of who actually killed the 24 people in Haditha or the circumstances of those deaths. In this system the payment of blood money is not an admission of guilt, it is a balancing of tribal obligations.

…Would Muslims lie in order to obtain blood money payments? Some insight comes in this response to the collapse of the British trial posted online by a Baghdad-based US contractor.
I’ve been in Iraq for about 18 months now performing construction management. It is simply not possible for me to exaggerate the massive amounts of lies we wade through every single day. There is no way - absolutely none - to determine facts from bulls*** from these people.

To be fair to individual Iraqis, lying and deception is an integral part of their culture. It is not even considered lying to them; it is more akin to being clever - like keeping your cards close to your chest. And they don’t just lie to westerners. They believe that appearances--saving face--are of paramount importance. They lie to each other all the time about anything in order to leverage others on a deal or manipulate an outcome of some sort or cover up some major or minor embarrassment. It’s just how they do things, period.

I’m not trying to disparage them here. I get along great with a lot of them. But even among those that I like, if something happens I’ll get 50 wildly different stories, every time. There’s no comparison to it in any other part of the world where I’ve worked. The lying is ubiquitous and constant.

Obviously in the case of these soldiers, the “witnesses” were lying with malice for profit - saving face had nothing to do with it.

But every Westerner here has been taken totally by surprise by the lies upon lies upon BS and lies. It makes it impossible to form any agreements, impossible to plan anything, and impossible to investigate anything….

Remember this every time you see news reports where Iraqi “witnesses” say that American planes killed a bunch of civilians somewhere…. First, those people are living under the threat of terrorists in their midst - what do you think they are going to say when a western camera is thrust into their face, nice shot America! Death to the terrorists! They’d be dead in 5 minutes. It drives those of us who work closely with the Iraqis absolutely mad. It makes me sick and alarmed to think of any westerner being brought up on charges of any kind based strictly on the words of an Arab. I’m sure the prosecutors were informed by field officers and others about the Iraqi propensity to lie about everything all the time. Shame on them (the British Ministry of Defense) for going forward without any other evidence.
[Emphasis is mine.]

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