[DEHAI] U.S.-Trained Human Rights Abusers

New Message Reply About this list Date view Thread view Subject view Author view

From: wolda002@umn.edu
Date: Wed Apr 29 2009 - 00:09:41 EDT

U.S.-Trained Human Rights Abusers

John Lindsay-Poland | April 20, 2009

Editor: Emily Schwartz Greco


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.

Last month, combatant commanders came before Congress to make their case
for funding. Southern Command Chief Admiral James Stavridis didn't hesitate
to say how critical funds are for military training, especially the former
School of the Americas (now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for
Security Cooperation). "The camaraderie developed among our military
officers at these institutions," Stavridis said, "and the schools' strong
emphasis on democratic values and respect for human rights are critical to
creating military establishments capable of effective combined operations."

But what evidence is there that the specific military units in 149 other
nations receiving U.S. training and other assistance actually respect human
rights more after receiving the training? Legislation known as the "Leahy
Law" since 1997 has prohibited U.S. assistance to foreign military units
that have committed gross human rights abuses. But the focus is on abuses
committed before assistance is given. The United States doesn't conduct any
institutional evaluation of the human rights impacts of its military
assistance after it's given.
Is It the Students, Or the Training

The underlying article of faith for evaluating other nations' human rights
records to see if they are worthy of U.S. military assistance, is that such
assistance will "professionalize" other armies, or at worst be neutral for
its impact on respect for human rights.

In fact, sometimes the opposite is true. A study of School of Americas
graduates in 2005 found that soldiers taking more than one course at the
school were several times more likely to have allegedly committed abuses
than those who took just one course. A 2006 study by the RAND Corporation
found that U.S. military training supported forces that continued to commit
gross violations in Pakistan and Uzbekistan. Similar claims could be made
about assistance given to Iraq and Israel, to consider two obvious
examples. In Colombia, the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Amnesty
International reviewed data on army units receiving U.S. assistance —
especially training. We found that nearly half (47%) of civilian killings
reportedly committed by the army in 2007 were committed by units that had
been reviewed and received U.S. assistance in 2006 and 2007. Many more were
committed by units from which individual officers were drawn and received
leadership and other training at U.S. military schools.

Periodic evaluation is a basic prerequisite for any government program, but
especially one that imparts lethal skills and equipment. As Congress'
comptroller, the General Accountability Office should study whether
assistance is fulfilling U.S. human rights policy objectives. Instead its
reports focus on limited questions of efficiency in the use of funds. A GAO
evaluation of Plan Colombia last year, for example, that was two years in
the making, didn't once address the impacts on respect for human rights —
for good or bad — of the $5 billion in U.S. military aid to Colombia
since 2000.

In Colombia, progress on human rights is measured by macro-factors, such as
overall levels of political violence, instead of by violations by the
institutions that were directly assisted by the United States or by the
extent that those violations were prosecuted in civilian courts. The result
is that, while political violence has diminished as a result of dominion by
the State and — in many areas — the mafia, over insurgent groups,
killings of civilians by the Army trained and equipped by the United States
has risen dramatically, 72% since 2002.

The Colombian military's long history of gross human rights abuses should
have suggested long ago that the departments of State and Defense evaluate
their military training for human rights. But although international
military training aims to "emphasize an understanding of internationally
recognized human rights," the military doesn't evaluate human rights
performance, either. The U.S. Southern Command, for example, typically
measures success of training by promotions of officers receiving
assistance, by the officers' positive image of the United States, and
whether they rise to positions of prominence such as defense attaché, or
even the presidency.
Addressing the Problem

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

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.

New Message Reply About this list Date view Thread view Subject view Author view

© Copyright DEHAI-Eritrea OnLine, 1993-2009
All rights reserved