Yesterday was supposed to be Marla Ruzicka's 29th birthday. The humanitarian extraordinaire from
Washington State California was the founder of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC). According to United Press International (UPI) she worked with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.,
to put money in the annual Foreign Operations spending bill -- providing a total of nearly $40 million dollars for individuals and communities in Afghanistan and Iraq that suffered what the military calls collateral damage. In the latest bill, passed over the summer, the civilian assistance program was named the Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund, in her honor. (…) The funds are used to provide in-kind assistance, such as medical care, equipment to start a business, or the replacement of damaged or destroyed property like homes and schools, said the Leahy aide, Tim Rieser. And millions of dollars in cash have also been paid out by the military, under U.S. regulations that give unit commanders access to a special fund to "respond to urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction requirements." In many parts of Iraq, the U.S. military uses these funds to run programs generally paying out up to $2,500 per victim to the families of those killed, and smaller amounts to those who are injured or have property destroyed or who were detained. (…)
Ruzicka assisted families in negotiating the application process for both cash and in-kind compensation, which she said could be equally daunting for stricken relatives. She was on her way to a meeting about such a case when she was caught up in a suicide car bomb attack against a U.S. convoy on Baghdad's notorious airport road.
At the end of December, Congress passed another piece of legislation promoted by Marla Ruzicka: The military is now, according to the same UPI article, required to report to Congress about what information it collects on civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Marla got along very well with the military. Her work was and still is advancing US interests in Iraq as well. Senators and military leaders have now realized that a compassionate response to civilians accidentally injured or killed due to U.S. military action is important for gaining trust, winning hearts and minds and stabilizing Iraq. Right after Marla's death in April, The American Prospect wrote:
Marla's idea isn't just the right thing to do for moral reasons. Military expert Arkin argues that there is no longer a contradiction between military effectiveness and civilian protection, and that the military fully understands the direct and indirect effect of civilian casualties. "The United States' practice of stiff-arming civilian victims and ignoring civilian casualties has enormous negative consequences," he said. "We’re seen as craven. We’re seen as indifferent to civilian life. It harms our ability to operate on the ground."
The Rolling Stone has written a heart-wrenching biographic article about Marla "Bubbles" Ruzicka, who "stands as a youthful representative of a certain kind of not-yet-lost American idealism." What a shame that the media hardly ever writes about the many successful humanitarian and relief workers in war and natural disaster zones around the world, while they are alive. Happy Birthday, Marla.