IRAC in Iraq

“How much do you care about IRAC?” This was one of the many questions about exams posed to me recently, a nervous first-year student’s reference to the formulaic structure of legal argument drilled into law students across the nation: identify the Issue, state the Rule, Apply the rule to the facts, and state a Conclusion.

In fact, I don’t care much about IRAC, as I told my student. If it helps a student organize his thoughts, fine, but I certainly won’t discount an exam response because it doesn’t follow this formula. If anything, I often find legal writing a little too formulaic, squeezed into familiar patterns that take all life and personality out of the argument.

IRAC came to mind again today as I read the sad documents on civilian claims for deaths in Iraq, documents recently released to the ACLU pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request and now available on the ACLU website. The documents are indeed “deeply disturbing,” but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is so troubling about them. It’s not just that they make evident “the human costs of war,” as the ACLU puts it, though they do accomplish that. We already knew Iraqi civilians were dying, even if we didn’t and don’t know just how many. And it’s not that the U.S. government is wholly unresponsive to these deaths. Many (not all) of the files authorize cash compensation to surviving family members. Better $4000 for the loss of one’s 9-year-old son than nothing. And the documents often evoke sympathy not only for the family members, but for the service members involved, like this one that describes a distraught and angry soldier crying near the body of a boy that one of her colleagues has just killed. No, the message of these documents is something more complicated than the familiar claim that war is brutal and violent. One especially disturbing aspect of the documents is the way in which these efforts to make war a little less costly to civilians ends up reducing tragic deaths to bureaucratic forms and mechanical legal analysis. Indeed, at least one document contains IRAC analysis to make any legal writing teacher proud:

The issue presented is whether claimant may receive compensation for the death of his father, his mother, his brother, and 32 sheep’s.

… The claimant states that his family was sleeping when the shots were fired that killed his family. …The coalition force may have been justified in shooting at another target where the claimant and his family would be collateral damage to that combat operation. However, the [Rules of Engagement] require units to have positive identification of target before engaging. In this case, reports indicate that over one hundred rounds were fired that impacted around a flock of sheep and his sleeping family. Accordingly, it appears that the shooting, although not “wrongful”, was conducted “negligently”. It is therefore my opinion that there is sufficient evidence to justify compensation under the FCA.

Issue; rule; analysis; conclusion. Compensation payment authorized: $11,200. (It’s unclear how much of that sum is for the dead family and how much for the sheep.) The payment here, as in many of these files, is processed as an invoice for services rendered: “Public Voucher for Purchases and Services Other than Personal.” If these tragedies can be called “services,” in what sense are they not personal?

The New York Times covers the story here. But I encourage interested readers to look at the documents themselves.

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2 Responses

  1. Ann Bartow says:

    Whenever I question the point of blogs and blogging, I will remember this post. Thank you.

  2. Wilder says:

    Such a short post, but yet so very moving. I’ll second the thank you and pass this link along. Well done.