Senator Pat Leahy (Dem. VT), at the instigation of some of his Vermont constituents, is proposing to add three IDF special forces units to the list of those military forces to which the U.S. may not offer aid:
Leahy, who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee’s sub-committee on foreign operations, was the principle sponsor of a 1997 bill prohibiting the United States from providing military assistance or funding to foreign military units suspected of human rights abuses or war crimes. The law also stipulates that the U.S. Defense Department screen foreign officers and soldiers who come to the United States for training for this purpose.
Leahy wants the new clause to become a part of the U.S. foreign assistance legislation for 2012, placing restrictions on military assistance to Israel, particularly to those three units.
Leahy says these units are responsible for harming innocent Palestinian civilians and that no system of investigation is in place to ensure that their members are not committing human rights violations. According to Leahy’s proposal, U.S. military assistance to Israel would be subject to the same restrictions that apply to countries such as Egypt, Pakistan and Jordan.
They would join a rogue’s gallery of groups like the Nicaraguan contras and the Indonesian army when it inflicted genocide on East Timor.
The units to be punished are Shayetet 13 (responsible for the Mavi Marmara massacre), the Duvdevan undercover unit responsible for many of the IDF’s targeted assassinations of Palestinian militants (and civilians), and the Air Force’s Shaldag unit. Each of these units has been responsible for killings of civilians that could and should be investigated for violations of both Israeli and international law. None of them have faced any Israel or international legal accountability (and I do not construe fatally flawed inadequate government appointed investigations of Mavi Marmara as any serious form of accountability).
What is particularly entertaining in Haaretz’s article is the flagrant hasbara snow job Ehud Barak inflicted on Leahy in a so far unsuccessful attempt to dissuade him from supporting the designation:
Barak, who met with Leahy privately, was quoted by the senior Israeli official as telling the senator: “The difference between Israel and terror groups or other countries in the Middle East is that we give an accounting and there is monitoring.”
Barak also said the IDF had a strict judiciary with broader powers than the judiciary in the United States armed forces.
Barak was also quoted as telling Leahy that the IDF military advocate general is not subservient to the military command, but rather to the attorney general, and has complete autonomy.
“If a Palestinian is injured, he can approach the High Court of Justice,” Barak said. “The investigations undergo judicial review that is independent of commanders. There are dozens of hearings every year that are based on Palestinians’ complaints against soldiers. They reach the highest and most independent authorities,” he said.
So let’s take it from the top: the IDF “gives an accounting” and monitors abuses. Like the single Israeli officer reprimanded (secretly) for abuses during Operation Cast Lead (and that only because of heat brought by the Goldstone Report) after 1,100 Gaza civilians were murdered by the IDF including 300 children. Or like news of the targeted assassinations leaked to Uri Blau by Anat Kamm, which violated explicit rulings of the Israeli Supreme Court. These killings which in some cases were of unarmed men, were nominally investigated by the attorney general who gave the IDF a clean bill of health. You mean that sort of accounting and monitoring?
To claim that the IDF system of military justice is “stricter” than the U.S. army is saying little. Neither army has a justice system that is worth much. But at least in the U.S. system some soldiers are held accountable sometimes for abuses committed during war. Not many. But at least some. In the IDF soldiers are almost never held accountable. In the few cases in which they are it is usually because there was video footage or the abuse of a foreign national was killed.
As for Barak’s claim that the military advocate general is accountable to a civilian legal authority, that too means little since that civilian authority is predisposed against holding IDF soldiers accountable for their actions as has been proven time beyond measure.
Finally, the fact that a Palestinian may approach the Supreme Court means very little since the Court is inclined except in the most extreme cases to rule in favor of the military. In almost no cases does the Court find that a soldier has violated the rights of a Palestinian. Yes, there are a few examples in which they do support a Palestinian claim. But they are so few and far between that they serve as exceptions to prove the rule.
All this being said, you and I both know what will happen here. Pat Leahy, being a good liberal Democrat from a state with a strong human rights caucus, is going through the motions to establish his bona fides with his constituents. The legislation will never make it to a final vote. It will be quietly withdrawn at some point in the process. Then Leahy will be able to tell Vermonters he gave it his best shot, while also telling Barak that he did Israel a favor by getting the legislation killed.
That being said, I’m willing to accept this as a small victory in the path toward Israeli accountability for potential war crimes. I applaud Leahy’s efforts and if he proves me wrong and stands by this till the end, my hat will be off to him.