Leahy asked State Dept. to investigate Israeli human rights ‘violations’ – Nahal Toosy/POLITICO
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and 10 House members have asked the Obama administration to investigate claims that the Israeli and Egyptian security forces have committed “gross violations of human rights” — allegations that if proven truei could affect U.S. military aid to the countries.
In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry dated Feb. 17, the lawmakers list several examples of suspected human rights abuses, including reports of extrajudicial killings by Israeli and Egyptian military forces, as well as forced disappearances in Egypt. The letter also points to the 2013 massacre in Egypt’s Rab’aa Square, which left nearly 1,000 people dead as the military cracked down on protesters, as worthy of examination.
Leahy’s signature is particularly noteworthy because his name is on a law that conditions U.S. military aid to countries on whether their security forces are committing abuses.
“In light of these reports we request that you act promptly to determine their credibility and whether they trigger the Leahy Law and, if so, take appropriate action called for under the law,” the signatories state in the letter, which was obtained by POLITICO on Tuesday evening from an organization that provided input for it.
The Leahy Law’s application and impact have been difficult to measure, and while U.S. funding to a particular foreign military unit may be cut off as a result of the law, overall U.S. military aid to the country need not be stopped.
The letter’s real impact may be political: Israel’s unusual, if not unprecedented inclusion with Egypt on such an inquiry is likely to rile Israel’s allies in Washington, who bristle at the notion that the Middle East’s only established democracy could be lumped in with a notorious human rights abuser like Egypt.
Though it was sent to Kerry well beforehand, the timing of the letter’s release comes just days after an Israeli soldier was filmed executing a Palestinian prisoner at close range – setting off fury in the Arab world and launching a military disciplinary process that has many on the Israeli right fuming.
Leahy spokesman David Carle downplayed Israel’s inclusion in the request, noting that the Vermont Democrat “has always said” that the law that bears his name “should be uniformly applied.”
Egypt’s inclusion may be no easier to navigate, as the military-backed Egyptian regime has proved a vexing problem for President Barack Obama as he has sought to balance the U.S.’s traditional concern for human rights with its need to maintain Cairo as an ally in an increasingly chaotic Middle East.
The U.S. is so wary of losing Egypt’s friendship it declined to call the military’s 2013 takeover over of the elected Muslim Brotherhood government a coup — a label that would have triggered a legal obligation to suspend military aid. Israel, meanwhile, remains America’s closest ally in the region despite tense relations between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and it has received billions in U.S. military assistance over the years.
The letter questions the current mechanisms that the U.S. has to monitor its military assistance to both countries and asks for clarity on how the various divisions of the State Department “document and determine the credibility of information related to allegations of gross violations of human rights by foreign security forces.”
“According to information we have received, the manner in which U.S. military assistance has been provided to Israel and Egypt, since the Camp David Accords, including the delivery of assistance at the military service level, has created a unique situation that has hindered implementation of normal mechanisms for monitoring the use of such assistance,” the letter states.
A State Department spokesman said it would provide a comment later Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the letter was hailed by left-leaning organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace, the National Lawyers Guild International Committee and others. These groups also provided input for the letter.
“Both Israel and Egypt receive billions of dollars in U.S. military aid, and both countries’ security forces have opened fire on protesters with impunity. This letter from key members of Congress is an important first step in the right direction,” said Sunjeev Bery of Amnesty International USA.
Added Raed Jarrar of the American Friends Service Committee: “We call on the Department of State to investigate all the cases mentioned in the letter, and to provide Congress with a comprehensive answer.”