Press Release

Welch Leads Colleagues Calling for Consistent Application of Leahy Law to the IDF

May 7, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt) this week led eight of his colleagues, including Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) in calling on U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to address concerns regarding the U.S. government’s failure to apply the Leahy Law consistently to all recipients of U.S. security assistance, and to specifically outline the steps the Departments of State and Defense are taking to address these concerns.  

The Senators highlighted this administration and previous administrations’ failure to implement the Leahy Law in Israel and requested answers from the Biden Administration regarding future consistent application of the Leahy Law in view of reports over many years of gross violations of human rights by certain units within the Israeli Defense Forces. 

“According to these investigative reports and other reports by U.S. and Israeli human rights organizations, despite credible information of gross violations of human rights (GVHR) of Palestinian civilians, including children, and of abuses of prisoners by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), over many years, not a single incident resulted in the denial of assistance to any unit of the IDF. In order for the United States to protect our own national security interests and maintain credibility as a global leader of human rights, we must apply the law equally,” wrote the Senators

“The Leahy Law applies to all security forces that receive U.S. training, equipment, or other assistance. Its purpose is two-fold: to shield the United States from complicity in the most serious human rights violations, and to encourage foreign governments to hold perpetrators accountable and by doing so deter future violations,” the Senators continued.

“The Leahy Law holds all countries to the same standard, yet it appears that the IDF, by far the largest recipient of U.S. military assistance, may have been held to a different standard.” 

The Senators requested the Department of State and Department of Defense answer the following questions: 

  1. Are you aware of any cases in the past three years when the U.S. Government found there to be credible information that a unit of the IDF committed a GVHR? If so, please identify those cases.  
  2. Are you aware of any cases in the past three years when an IDF unit was deemed ineligible to receive assistance under the Leahy Law? If so, please identify those cases.  
  3. Are you aware of any cases in the past three years when a member of the IDF was appropriately punished for committing a gross violation of human rights? If so, please identify those cases.  
  4. Are you aware of any cases in the past three years when an IDF unit was alleged to have committed a GVHR but there was not a consensus within the Departments of State or Defense that a GVHR had occurred, and for that reason the Leahy Law was not applied but U.S. assistance to such unit was withheld?  
  5. State Department officials familiar with the Leahy Law vetting process say the approach to vetting for units of Israeli security forces involves different procedures and levels of approval than for other countries. For countries that receive assistance “provided in a manner in which the recipient unit or units cannot be identified prior to the transfer of assistance,” what is the process for reviewing allegations of Leahy Law violations? Are there different procedures for vetting allegations about Israeli security forces compared to other countries, either now or in the past? If so, what are the differences and what is the justification for them?  
  6. What are the institutional or other reasons why the Leahy Law was not applied to cases involving the IDF in the past three years, including cases when there was credible information of a GVHR and no one was brought to justice? What steps are you taking to address them? 

Read the full text of the letter.