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Insane Musings

Catching up: Diary from April 25 (posted at dKos)
Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Gulf War POWs get F'd.

This story has been low on the radar screen today.

It shouldn't be.

I remember where I was when I saw the Gulf War began. I was on a treadmill in a gym in my apartment complex and the TV was tuned to CNN. What ensued was a spectacular display of military pyrotechnics, and one which left the viewer with the impression that American service personnel were far from the action and largely out of harm's way.

More on the flip.

Not all of them were, of course. American soldiers were captured and taken prisoner by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Ironically, one of the places they were held was Abu Ghraib prison, but I digress. These POWs were repeatedly subject to torture - some were starved, beaten, suffered broken bones - they received intensely inhumane treatment.

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, however, granted these POWs the right to sue Iraq and the regime of Saddam Hussein. In 2002, they leveraged this legal opportunity. They were awarded $653 million in compensatory damages and another $306 million in punitive damages. If you're counting, that's just under $1 billion awarded to the POWs for the harm they suffered and that many of them continue to suffer, both emotional and physical. In a report done by Mike Wallace of CBS' 60 Minutes (find the text here), the POWs explained that a large block of assets seized by the US when sanctions against Iraq were put in place would have more than covered any anticipated award. The seized assets totalled $1.7 billion, so it turns out that their assumption was correct. Moreover, the court, in awarding damages to the POWs, cited more philosophical reasons than simply compensating the POWs. Here's what the presiding judge, Richard Roberts had to say about the decision:

POWs are uniquely disadvantaged and deterring torture of POWs should be of the highest priority. Only a very sizable award would be likely to deter the torture of American POWs ... in the future.

Let's recap: US military service personnel, in fulfilling their duty to their country, were taken prisoner and tortured as a result of the 1991 Gulf War. These service personnel continue to suffer emotional and physical effects of that torture. After the Gulf War, the US imposed sanctions on Iraq and seized $1.7 billion in Iraqi assets. Iraq was, at the time of the seizure, under the control of Saddam Hussein. The US Congress passed legislation in 1996 that enabled military personnel to sue foreign governments and regimes for their treatment while in captivity. 17 such personnel did exactly that, and were awarded just under $1 billion in compensatory and punitive damages for the harm they suffered, all of which was payable out of the money seized from Saddam Hussein's Iraq and was not going to be paid out of US taxpayer dollars.

So - all's right with the world, yes? No. Fast forward to 2003 and the US invasion of Iraq and subsequent toppling of the regime of Saddam Hussein. This is where it gets ugly.

When Saddam Hussein's regime fell, the Bush Administration had the $1.7 billion in seized Iraqi assets frozen and transferred them to the US Treasury Department. The POWs were shocked but undaunted. They filed a lawsuit against the US Treasury Department to collect the compensatory and punitive damages awarded to them by the Federal court. Enter the Justice Department. Their argument? That once the President had confiscated the frozen Iraqi assets they were no longer assets of Iraq. From the 60 Minutes report:

And that money, said the president, was needed to assist the Iraqi people and to rebuild Iraq. The government did acknowledge that the president had the authority to use that money to pay the POWs but that he did not choose to do so.

Nice. Through a sleight of procedural hand that would be revered by Houdini himself, the Bush Administration stepped in to legally deny these POWs the restitution that they not only deserved, but that the law had allowed. The POWs, however, were not upset and not greedy. The 60 Minutes report tells us:

"I support that reconstruction. Take the money, give it to Iraq. But give us a process to settle these claims," says Tice [one of the POWs]. "We made an offer that was completely ignored by the Justice Department."

Molly Poag, a lawyer for the POWs, explained the offer:

"Our clients came forward and said, `Please, use the money now, as long as you, the U.S. Government, agree to replenish this fund later from Iraqi funds.' Because Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world, in the future there will be funds. And we need not shut out the POWs."

Would the POWs accept less money? Yes, Poag says.

Not only would they take less, but, if they were to get any money at all, the POWs had set up a foundation to help future POWs, and had committed a chunk of the award to that foundation.

The Administration not only denied them their award but sought to have the original judgment thrown completely out. No compromises, no future promises - just erased. Gone.

Today the POWs lost their final legal battle. Says an article in today's Los Angeles Times:

The justices heeded the advice of the Bush administration and let stand an appeals court ruling that threw out a nearly $1-billion verdict won by the Gulf War POWs two years ago.

The court's refusal to hear the case spares the administration from having to go before the Supreme Court to argue against American POWS who were tortured.

And THAT is how we treat our service people.

Our government, my government, just reinforced their agenda for military personnel:

I, for one, am disgusted - and ashamed.

[editor's note, by RenaRF] I wrote this diary because I know one of the POWs in question. I can't believe it's come to this, to such bald-faced abandonment of the people we rely on to put themselves in harm's way.

posted by RenaRF @ 2:29 PM,


At 8:05 PM, Blogger The Appalachianist said...

Well, that sucks. First...I can't imagine you used such harsh language...I'm scarred. I had you all wrong. Enough cutting up.
America doesn't take care of it's veterans period. Never has and unless we can stop the crumble of an empire, probably never will. You hear alot,but, it's all lip service and vote pandering. I sympathise with the former POW's over what was promised,but,I disagree with such laws. These things are hollow in the 4th Generation world. We are obsessed with our "Rule of Law" that we can't even cope with the lawless. These laws give us a false sense of security. Heck, it took an invasion to occur for compliance. Yet, Congress will come up with this crap and tell us it was a victory. If the US Government truly cared about the people that go duke it out with our enemy's thay would reach inot their own pocket and give due compesation. They could do it if they stopped wasting our money on stuff that doesn't matter...and with a tax cut.

At 8:55 PM, Blogger RenaRF said...

Well!! On just about everything we agree!! Thanks for reading. :-)


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