Democrats push for accountability for civilians harmed by U.S. military operations

Democrats push for accountability for civilians harmed by U.S. military operations

Congressional Democrats are pushing for greater accountability for civilians killed and injured by U.S. military operations abroad.

Democrats in both chambers on Thursday introduced two bills that would overhaul Pentagon reporting and disclosure requirements and move investigations of civilian harm outside of the units responsible for the strike.

“We cannot continue to accept the deaths of innocent civilians as an unavoidable cost of war — the Department of Defense has a moral responsibility to prevent civilian harm from its military operations and investigate if civilians are harmed,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mrs. Warren is leading the Senate push on the Civilians in Military Operations Act and the Department of Defense Civilian Harm Transparency Act in the Senate along with Sens. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat and Bernie Sanders, Vermont independent.

The two bills were also introduced in the House by Democratic Reps. Ro Khanna and Sara Jacobs of California, Jason Crow of Colorado and Tom Malinowski of New Jersey.

“The bicameral legislation that my colleagues and I are introducing builds from reforms that [Defense Secretary Lloyd] Austin has already asked DoD to consider, will put significant guardrails and transparency requirements in place, and establish a much-needed focal point in the government to investigate, report and prevent civilian harm,” Mrs. Warren said.

The two bills would increase coordination between the U.S. combatant commands around the world and the State Department to respond to incidents that harm civilians and put in place measures to ensure the integrity of investigations into civilian casualties.

The legislation also modifies reporting requirements on civilian casualties resulting from military operations, including requirements for the Pentagon to produce an unclassified report detailing civilians killed since the U.S. launched the global war on terror groups in 2001.

Mrs. Warren and Rep. Khanna introduced similar legislation in 2020.

Since then, the push for Pentagon accountability has grown in the wake of high-profile strikes that killed civilians, including the Aug. 29, 2021, U.S. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan that killed ten civilians amid the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country.

U.S. military airstrikes have killed up to 48,000 civilians, according to a 2021 report by Airwars, an independent monitoring group.

Airstrikes have fallen by 54% under President Biden compared to the previous administration, according to the group. The total number of U.S. declared strikes across active conflict zones fell from 951 in 2020 to 439 in 2021.

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