President Barack Obama has reversed a few of the Bush administration’s most egregious policies violating human rights and international law, such as the announced closure of the detention center in Guantánamo. But it remains to be seen to what extent he will lead the military toward respect for human rights, and change the institutional impunity to which American commanders and U.S. military allies have become accustomed …
… Today, a reform process of the Foreign Assistance Act undertaken by the House Foreign Affairs Committee offers an unprecedented opportunity to require periodic and comprehensive evaluation of the human rights impacts of U.S. military assistance. As part of such evaluation, the government should establish an independent commission to investigate the past activities of U.S. military schools, and make recommendations to establish safeguards to prevent violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. The commission should include representatives of relevant government agencies, as well as human rights organizations and academics. Most importantly, such a commission should be given access to detailed data on who has received U.S. assistance and on human rights violations over long periods.
Periodic evaluation of the human rights performance of military training beneficiaries could draw on information already gathered by U.S. embassies from local courts, human rights NGOs, intelligence and enforcement agencies, and media reports. Basic criteria for evaluation should include whether there are credible reports of beneficiaries or troops under their command committing gross human rights abuses, and whether civilian courts are successfully trying those crimes. This evaluation should be transparent and made available to the public, and it should apply to assistance given through the Defense Department and other agencies, as well as the State Department.
Policymakers aren’t given to asking “why” questions. In the case of the human rights performance of client armies viewed as strategic allies, however, we should all be asking: If the United States is excluding abusive units from assistance, and training the rest in human rights, why so many of these armies continue abuse and kill their civilian compatriots? In the meantime, where the results of U.S. assistance are executions, torture, forced displacement, and other violations, the Obama administration should terminate military aid and cooperation.
John Lindsay-Poland, a Foreign Policy In Focus contributor, co-directs the Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean, in Oakland, California. He can be reached at johnlp (at) igc (dot) org. (full text).
Link: US – Torture case lawyers may face jail for letter, April 20, 2009.