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US Commander Pushes Congress to Ease Up on Human Rights Law

Rights groups decry move, say will only "reward" violations

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

The head of the U.S. military's Special Operations Command is pushing Congress to ease restrictions on a law that prevents American forces from training foreign military units linked to human rights violations.

Admiral William McRaven. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images / AFP) Authored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the law prohibits funding for training foreign military units if there is credible evidence linking them to gross human rights violations.

Though preventative, the U.S. military has previously found ways to bypass the Leahy law. For instance, the U.S. has been indirectly funding Mali's military campaign—despite last year's coup and frequent accusations of torture, summary executions and kidnapping— by routing aid through France's intervention.

Admiral William McRaven, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, said—ironically—that these restrictions "prohibited the kind of training that could reinforce the importance of human rights," Reuters reports.

“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, clearly forgetting the host of established and well-known incidents of U.S. military abuse.

Though he didn't name specific countries, McRaven added that the U.S. military is being "forced out at a time when we probably need to engage them more than ever before."

Tom Malinowski, Washington director for Human Rights Watch, argued that greater exposure to American training would not improve the behavior of foreign military units with a history of human rights violations. Rather, he said, the opposite is true.

"Training troops in places where leaders don't hold them accountable doesn't work," Malinowski said. "The whole point of the Leahy Law is to promote accountability so that training can achieve its goals."

By ignoring the abuses, he added, "that behavior is promoted in a command climate that rewards, instead of punishes, abuses."

Reuters adds that, in another hearing on Tuesday, "McRaven said he was exploring the issue within the Pentagon and with lawmakers in Congress."

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