Friday, October 22, 2010

Deja Vu Day at the Spew

In other news, the US may have to cut off aid to Pakistani military units implicated in war crimes.  Congress requires it, as the Leahy amendment, named after Senator Leahy of Vermont*, restricts $$$ going to military to military interactions with war criminals essentially.  During my year in the Pentagon, I was curious about the role played by Congress in the US foreign policy process.  It seemed largely invisible, but then things like the Leahy amendment would remind me that the decisions made about US interactions around the world are constrained by laws (rule of law oh my!).

During my time on the Bosnia desk, the Leahy amendment was of serious concern, as we were trying to develop better relations with the militaries of Bosnia (two-ish--Bosnian Federation and Serbian entity or RS).  A key element was to have more interactions since the belief was that mil to mil engagement helps to socialize the other guy's military into western practices and values, including civilian control.  A key part of the process in the cases of Bosnia and Serbia was vetting the units and individuals involved to make sure no money was being spent on interacting with folks who engaged in war crimes. 

So, now this legislation is coming back into play.  The Obama Administration cannot choose to ignore the war crimes being committed by its allies, no matter how inconvenient, due to this old but still relevant law.    Plus Leahy is still around to take it seriously:
“I told the White House that I have real concerns about the Pakistani military’s actions, and I’m not going to close my eyes to it because of our national interests in Pakistan,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the author of the amendment, said Wednesday from his home in Vermont. “If the law is going to have teeth, it has to be taken seriously. Pakistan’s military leaders have made encouraging statements about addressing these issues, but this requires more than statements.”
Of course, it may seem hypocritical for the US to try to enforce standards of conduct after Abu Ghraib, rendition and all the rest.  It reveals the limits of Congress: regulations over how to spend money are very binding, but forcing the US govt to follow its own standards is harder.  Especially when Congress actually acts now to prevent the US from doing what is right--such as closing Guantanamo.

*  I did see Sen. Leahy one time while living in Vermont when we were at the same restaurant (Vermont is a small state).  And, yes, his head actually looks bigger in person. I almost felt its gravitational force.

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