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Special Ops Commander, Congress Evaluate Human Rights Law

By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 6, 2013 – The commander of U.S. Special Operations Command responded to lawmakers’ questions about the Leahy Amendment, which prohibits U.S. military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights and restricts U.S. aid to abusive security forces overseas.

Navy Adm. William H. McRaven told the House Armed Services Committee that the “poison person, poison unit” policy mandates human rights vetting and applies to all U.S. military and law enforcement assistance worldwide.

Committee members referred to recent incidents in Mali, where some of that nation’s soldiers allegedly engaged in torture, summary executions, and kidnapping since fighting in northern Mali resumed in January 2013.

“We try to teach [foreign nation forces] what we think right looks like [from] good order and discipline, to civilian rules of the military to human rights,” McRaven said.

Socom units face the ongoing challenge of working with international partners to strengthen accountability efforts and civilian protection to help prevent further abuses.

But the law, the admiral acknowledged, inherently restricts special operations from offering assistance to units that may require U.S. assistance to practice ethical behavior.

“If the individual has committed a human rights violation, then by default we have to go back, relook the entire unit [and] potentially step away from that unit … at a time when we probably need to engage them more than ever before,” McRaven said.

McRaven assured legislators that U.S. forces conduct appropriate human rights vetting in accordance to the law and policy.


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Navy Adm. William H. McRaven

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