A CIVIC Project: Helping Innocent Victims of War in Iraq and Afghanistan

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After witnessing the effects of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, you founded the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC). What is CIVIC's current mission, and does it have long-term ambitions?

I work with victims of conflict. We do everything we can to get them help. Each person's situation is different based on their loss, but that is the important thing--they are individual people.

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CIVIC right now is simply operating. We are starting just like a business starts. We are incorporating; we are trying to get a policy in place; we are becoming an organization; we are becoming a movement. Currently, I am fundraising in the United States to keep the project going.

We are also in Iraq, where we have completed a survey on the humanitarian consequences of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Additionally, at the start of 2004, we began a survey of Iraqis who have been hurt in violence with coalition troops after May 1, 2003, when President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat operations, and we have sought assistance for victims of terrorist attacks there.

But mostly, we seek to make sure that victims of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan are not forgotten. We work with the press and try to get laws changed, and we work with many people in Afghanistan and Iraq to help them get assistance.

We do have long-term ambitions. Right now, the more we get for Iraq complements what we can get for Afghanistan. But I am one person against two wars, two major wars. In the long term, we would like to go to Liberia, Colombia--there are a million places where, all over the world, we see that women and children are hurt by conflict. The US government tries to spare civilian life, and that is why we need to have a response policy when civilians are accidentally stricken. We also want to conduct our type of surveying during a conflict--as the conflict is going--to see how people were hurt and to advocate immediate assistance for those particular families and individuals, so they can have peace and reconciliation.

Wherever a conflict occurs, we would like to be there. When Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups do horrific acts, what about the shopkeeper and the workers who are caught there? Victims of violence, terrorism, and war--we want them not to be forgotten, we want a process that accounts for them. We want governments--international, the United States, the United Nations--to have structures in place for assistance.

Why was CIVIC's niche still left to fill when you founded the organization?

Humanitarian groups do their individual projects. The International Committee of the Red Cross goes in and gives food the day after the war. But we want there to be longterm assistance for people hurt in war. Some groups do things like that, but we are also trying to hold accountable certain governments who are responsible for the conflict. They should be the ones to come up with the projects and the programs. That is the unique role we play: we combine humanitarianism and advocacy. It is tough. We do whatever we have to do, because our bottom line is helping individuals hurt in war.

Although we do advocacy, we are not about being for or against the war. Not at all. We are about the people who make the decisions--getting them to do the right thing, getting them to do what the American people want. Americans hate civilian casualties.

How many civilian deaths and casualties resulted from the Iraq war?

The counts already conducted range all over. I know what we documented, and we did not seek to get the whole number. There is no possible way that we could get a complete count. We do door-to-door, face-to-face work, so I cannot answer. Every organization that has done a cumulative total--the Human Rights Watch, the Associated Press--admits that it cannot come up with the right number.

But our goal is not a number, because what is a number? …