While $87 billion has been allocated for Iraq and Afghanistan, a recent decision by the Bush administration could deprive American prisoners of war of money awarded to them by a federal court.
Seventeen American soldiers who were tortured while being held captive during the Gulf War were set to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation paid from funds formerly owned by the Iraqi government. The Bush administration has frozen these Iraqi accounts in the United States and is now seeking to overturn the ruling that would hand over some of these funds to POWs.
The American POWs suffered through conditions that were in clear violation of the Geneva Convention. These men are said to have suffered through beatings, burnings, starvation, mock executions and threats of castration and dismemberment.
The administration claims the money that these soldiers were to receive is now needed by the new Iraqi government for the reconstruction of the nation. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, “It was determined earlier this year by Congress and the administration that those assets were no longer assets of Iraq, but they were resources required for the urgent national security needs of rebuilding Iraq.” Also, an anonymous American administrator in Iraq claimed that the money that was awarded to the former prisoners has already been “completely obligated or expended” in reconstruction efforts.
McClellan goes on to sympathize with the former prisoners and says, “No amount of money can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering that they went through at the hands of a truly brutal regime.” While it is true that it is impossible to compensate these men fully for years of torture by affixing a number of funds to their suffering, to not give them anything at all simply makes a bad situation worse.
A report in the The New York Times says, “If the Bush administration is successful, the former prisoners would be deprived both of the money they won and, they say, the validation of a judge’s ruling that documented their accounts of torture.”
The former prisoners dismayed by the administration’s attempt to block their ruling. Lt. Col. Dale Storr, whose A-10 attack jet was shot down over Iraq, said, “I don’t want to say that I feel betrayed, because I still believe in my country.” Yet, Storr goes on to say, “But it goes beyond my frustration when I see our government trying to pretend that this whole case never happened.”
With American taxpayers are being asked to pay the lion’s share of the rebuilding of Iraq, the administration is right to seek to diminish the burden on the public by searching for alternate sources of revenue within Iraq. However, to deny the American POWs the money already awarded them merely lends credence to critics who, citing cuts in veterans programs, claim the Bush administration’s concern for the welfare of soldiers ends when it deems them no longer useful.