An IDF soldier readies a 155mm artillery shell for loading in a howitzer.

An Israeli soldier carries a 155mm artillery shell near a self-propelled howitzer deployed at a position near the border with Lebanon in the upper Galilee region of northern Israel on October 18, 2023.

(Photo: Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty Images)

Rights Groups Urge Biden to Make Delayed Report on Israel's Use of US Arms Public

The report—due Wednesday under the terms of a White House directive—has been indefinitely postponed, according to congressional aides.

Before Tuesday's reporting that the Biden administration will delay a highly anticipated report on whether Israel is using U.S. military aid in compliance with international law, a coalition of advocacy groups circulated a letter urging the White House to share the document with the public once it's published.

In February, President Joe Biden issued National Security Memorandum (NSM)-20, which requires Secretary of State Antony Blinken "to obtain certain credible and reliable written assurances from foreign governments" receiving U.S. arms "that the recipient country will use any such defense articles in accordance with international humanitarian law" and then provide Congress with periodic reports "to enable meaningful oversight."

The first report is due by Wednesday. However, four congressional aides toldPolitico Tuesday that publication would be postponed indefinitely.

"It is not clear if your administration intends to... make this report available to the public," coalition members Amnesty International USA, Defending Rights & Dissent, Freedom of the Press Foundation, National Press Photographers Association, Radio Television Digital News Association, and Reporters Without Borders said in a letter to Biden drafted ahead of Politico's reporting.

"We strongly urge you to make the report available to the public and the press to the greatest extent possible," the groups added.

Access to the document, the coalition argued, "will allow the press to more fully and accurately report on how elected leaders are making decisions about military aid to foreign countries" and "will help Americans make informed judgments about our leaders' decisions on foreign military aid."

"We strongly urge you to make the report available to the public and the press to the greatest extent possible."

The letter comes as Israel uses U.S.-supplied arms and ammunition to wage what hundreds of international legal experts and others say is a genocidal war on Gaza. These include 155-millimeter artillery shells and 2,000-pound guided "bunker-buster" bombs, which Israel says are necessary to target Hamas' underground tunnels.

Aided by artificial intelligence-based target selection systems, Israel Defense Forces commanders are ordering strikes they know will cause large numbers of civilian casualties. In a bid to assassinate a single Hamas commander, the IDF dropped at least two 2,000-pound bombs on the densely populated Jabalia refugee camp on October 31, killing more than 120 civilians.

Even the U.S. military—which since 2001 has killed hundreds of thousands of people during the open-ended so-called War on Terror—avoids using 2,000-pound bombs in densely populated areas due to the tremendous damage they cause.

One prominent U.S. military historian called Israel's Gaza onslaught "one of the most intense civilian punishment campaigns in history," comparing it to the Allied firebombing of Dresden during World War II, which also killed tens of thousands of civilians.

The letter also comes as the Biden administration reportedly believes that Israel's nascent ground invasion of Rafah does not cross the president's "red line" warning that any "major operation" in the southern city—where more than 1 million Palestinians forcibly displaced from other parts of Gaza are sheltering alongside around 280,000 local residents—would damage U.S.-Israeli relations.

The International Court of Justice found in January that Israel is "plausibly" perpetrating genocide in Gaza, where Israeli bombs, bullets, and blockades have left more than 123,000 Palestinians—most of them women and children—dead, injured, or missing since October 7, and hundreds of thousands more suffering full-blown famine.

While the Biden administration has accepted the Israeli government's claims that it is not breaking international law when using American weapons, a number of House Democrats have challenged Israel's assurance, citing "mounting credible and deeply troubling reports and allegations" of human rights crimes committed by IDF troops in Gaza, and by soldiers and settlers in the illegally occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Officials at the United States Agency for International Development also concluded in a confidential April memo to Blinken that Israel is violating NSM-20 by blocking humanitarian aid from entering the besieged Gaza Strip as children there starve to death.

Furthermore, a leaked State Department memo revealed last month that officials at four of the agency's bureaus concluded that Israel's assurances of legal arms use are "neither credible nor reliable."

In addition to NSM-20, federal legislation including the Arms Control Export Act and Leahy Laws also proscribe U.S. arms transfers to human rights violators—although there are many examples of these statutes being ignored for the benefit of key allies including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other nations.

"The public has a profound interest in understanding how the U.S. ensures that its military aid doesn't go to human rights abusers," Caitlin Vogus, deputy advocacy director at Freedom of the Press Foundation, said in a statement Tuesday.

"If the Biden administration can stand behind its decisions about defense assistance, it should have no reason to withhold the report that members of Congress will see from the press and the public," Vogus added.

While Biden has criticized Israel's "indiscriminate bombing" of Gaza and is reportedly holding up two shipments of precision-guided bombs to send a message to Israeli leaders, the president continues to affirm his steadfast support for Israel and has recently approved the transfer of more warplanes, 2,000-pound bombs, and other arms to its key Middle Eastern ally. The administration is also pushing Congress to approve the sale of $18 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to Israel.

Earlier this year, a group of mostly Democratic members of Congress asked Blinken to explain what they called "highly unusual" moves by the Biden administration to bypass lawmakers in order to fast-track emergency military aid to Israel. Biden—who recently signed off on $14.3 billion in new armed aid to Israel atop the $4 billion it already gets from Washington each year—has also come under fire for approving more than 100 weapons sales to Israel since October.

Human rights defenders slammed Biden's reported decision to postpone publication of the report due on Wednesday.

"It's obvious why Biden is burying the NSM-20 report on Israel: He won't hold Israel accountable," Georgetown University adjunct professor Josh Reubner asserted on social media. "There's no way to conclude that Israel hasn't violated assurances it won't use U.S. weapons to break international law or block aid. Of course it's doing both."

Palestinian American author and political analyst Yousef Munayyer asked: "Hey, Joe Biden, what are you hidin'?"

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