Wednesday, February 14, 2024

  • Wednesday, February 14, 2024
  • Elder of Ziyon
The New York Times reports:

The State Department is reviewing reports of harm to Gazan civilians by Israel’s military as part of a new U.S. program that tracks cases in which foreign militaries use U.S.-made weapons to injure or kill civilians.

A State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, told reporters on Tuesday that the Biden administration was “reviewing incidents” in the Gaza war under what it calls Civilian Harm Incident Response Guidance [CHIRG], which The Washington Post reported was established last August, several weeks before Hamas led sweeping attacks on Israel on Oct. 7.

The policy was instituted to create greater accountability for the use of American weapons by U.S. allies and partners. It aims to improve assessments of military incidents involving civilians and to create recommendations based on them but does not include automatic triggers for policy responses or penalties. 

 I cannot find the text of the CHIRG. The Washington Post article is literally its only source. Even Congressional documentation that references it have footnotes to the Washington Post, not to the text itself.

Is CHIRG meant to oversee arms sales to problematic partners like Saudi Arabia to ensure that the weapons are not being used to target civilians? Or is it meant to be much more sweeping and second-guess US allies' legitimate military use of the weapons that may cause collateral damage that is allowed under international law?

Without the text, it is difficult to know.

A year ago, President Biden issued a National Security Memorandum on United States Conventional Arms Transfer Policy. The memorandum says:

[N]o arms transfer will be authorized where the United States assesses that it is more likely than not that the arms to be transferred will be used by the recipient to commit, facilitate the recipients’ commission of, or to aggravate risks that the recipient will commit:  genocide; crimes against humanity; grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, including attacks intentionally directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such; or other serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law, including serious acts of gender‑based violence or serious acts of violence against children.  

This is appropriate. And it seems likely that CHIRG is meant to be an implementation of this policy.

However, everything depends on the wording of the CHIRG. Saying that it is being used to evaluate Israel's policies in Gaza is worrying, because it might be possible to misuse CHIRG as a political weapon rather than a legitimate tool to ensure that US arms are not used to target civilians. 

Indeed, some far-Left senators are already invoking CHIRG to accuse Israel of violating US policies. The only people who think that Israel is guilty of genocide are people who already hate Israel - because by definition they are assuming that Israel intends to target and murder Palestinian civilians. 

The Biden administration (and the Obama administration beforehand) has prioritized human rights in its military policies, because of a number of embarrassing incidents of US forces killing civilians who were nowhere near any military targets. Every decision like this has tradeoffs - working harder to prevent collateral civilian damage may place soldiers at higher risk.  International law is open to interpretation, and the US DoD Law of War manual has generally done a good job balancing competing priorities of protecting troops and protecting civilians. The US can certainly choose to interpret international law more towards protecting civilians in its own policy. 

But if it starts to enforce US policy on allies beyond the requirements of international law, that is problematic. Failing to shoot a rocket launcher in Gaza with civilians nearby could easily result in the deaths of Israeli civilians, a factor that the US does not have to worry about. 

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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

This blog may be a labor of love for me, but it takes a lot of effort, time and money. For over 19 years and 40,000 articles I have been providing accurate, original news that would have remained unnoticed. I've written hundreds of scoops and sometimes my reporting ends up making a real difference. I appreciate any donations you can give to keep this blog going.


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