Pentagon must do more to mitigate civilian harm, says House Armed Services Committee chairman

The Pentagon should step up its efforts to track down and publicly report on civilians injured and killed by U.S. military operations, under the unpublished 2023 Defense Spending Bill.

The Department of Defense should establish a Civilian Injury Commission and do more to mitigate the effects of civilian casualties, according to the National Defense Appropriation Act, or NDAA, FY 2023 draft obtained by Olx Praca. The so-called Chairman’s mark — The NDAA version of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith — contains recommendations for legislation and funding that still need to be considered, debated, and voted on. The House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to review Smith’s bill and propose amendments later this week.

“These proposals reflect the fact that in 20 years the accumulation of reports – by you, by you New York Timespainful report on the strike in Kabul last year led Congress to a tipping point where they felt the need to pass legislation to better understand and do something about the damage to civilians,” Brian Finucane, senior adviser at the International Crisis Group and former State Department legal adviser. , — told Olx Praca.

While measures to harm civilians at a premium represent a significant improvement, especially the requirement for a Commission and significant changes to the Department of Defense’s annual civilian casualty report, known colloquially as Section 1057, experts say they are still do not meet the requirements. They also note that there is no guarantee that the measures will make it into the final version of the NDAA.

“It’s a good improvement, but we’d like to see it go further,” said a Democratic congressional official familiar with the document. “We are pleased with the 1057 changes, as well as the Council of Europe and the Commission on Injury to Civilians, and we very much hope that these parts will remain in force.”

The bill, shared with Olx Praca prior to its public unveiling this week, contains elements of directives set out in a January memo from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin directing subordinates to draw up “Action Plan for Mitigation and Response to Civilian Damage‘, which has not yet been released. The chairman’s badge also bears the imprint of Pentagon overhaul legislation. civilian harm prevention, mitigation, accountability and transparency policypresented in April by representatives Jason Crow, Colorado; Ro Hanna, California; Sarah Jacobs, California; and Tom Malinowski, DN.J., and Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-MA.

The chairman’s note contains proposed changes to the Pentagon’s Annual Report on Civilian Casualties, including new requirements for disclosing the geographic coordinates of attacks, justification for strikes, whether the military conducted any interviews of witnesses or site visits, and information about the number of men. . , women and children suffered. This last mandate is especially important, said Heather Brandon-Smith, legislative director for militarism and human rights of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker group.

This “requires them to look at the human faces of these operations.”

“Obviously, all of this will help assess compliance with legal obligations regarding proportionality, but also requires them to look at the human faces of these operations. These are real people who are being killed, so that’s very important,” she told Olx Praca. “All of these changes are very welcome and it’s great that Chairman Smith noted them.”

The Commission on Injury to Civilians, as detailed in the Chairman’s statement, will be composed of 12 civilians not yet hired by the government, including experts in human rights law, U.S. military operations, and other relevant topics who will be tasked with studying people affected by USA. military operations; and the Pentagon’s policies, procedures, and regulations for preventing, mitigating, and responding to civilian harm throughout the so-called war on terror. Experts say it could be a game changer.

“At a minimum, the commission can provide the most comprehensive assessment and accounting of civilian damage” since 2001, Finucane said. “Think tanks, the media, and non-governmental organizations have reported extensively on the harm done to civilians, but the mandate of this commission would be very broad and comprehensive and could provide a holistic view of the harm caused by US military operations over the past 20 years.”

The commission, whose members will be appointed by Congress, is tasked with investigating “the record of the United States in causing harm to civilians … by investigating a representative sample of cases of harm to civilians confirmed by the media and civil society organizations and rejected by the Department of Defense). This body will be empowered to investigate whether civilian casualties have been covered up by the military, what whistleblower mechanisms exist, the effectiveness of the inspector general’s oversight, and the accuracy of civilian damage estimates offered to the public. To this end, the group is authorized to hold hearings and interview witnesses, as well as review Department of Defense documents and, if useful, visit the sites of U.S. attacks that have injured or killed civilians.

The commission also has a mandate to assess whether the military has implemented past recommendations to enhance the protection of civilians and minimize, investigate, and respond to harm to civilians from civil society organizations, Congress, the Pentagon, and other government agencies. An independent body is mandated to evaluate the Department of Defense’s response to allegations of civilian harm and assess how well it has investigated incidents and compensated victims. The 12 members will also assess whether the current policy of harming civilians is consistent with international humanitarian law and human rights law.

Pundits were far less impressed with the wording of the Civilian Harm Mitigation Center of Excellence bill, which Austin mandated in his January memorandum to “institutionalize and disseminate knowledge, practices, and tools to prevent, mitigate, and respond to civilian harm.” “.

April’s bicameral Civilian Injury Bill proposed $25 million in annual funding for the center, but that wording is missing from the chairman’s note, along with many other details. “Unlike the legislation governing the commission, the provision for the Center of Excellence is very vague. It does not specify who should lead it or what experience they should have,” Brandon-Smith said. “It also does not involve any funding and does not indicate that there should be new hires with experience in their respective fields.”

While the experts were optimistic about the proposed changes in the chair’s note, they remained cautious about whether the recommendations would be implemented and whether the result would be institutional changes in the Department of Defense. Although he saw great promise in the Civilian Injury Commission, Finucane made a reservation. “The question of whether this will change anything remains open. Over the years, there have been several blue ribbon commissions authorized by Congress that issued reports that were read by half a dozen people and then quietly filed,” he told Olx Praca. “It’s hard to say whether the final recommendations of this commission will actually be implemented – if it were ever created.”

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