Patrick Leahy wants the State Department to investigate whether Israel and Egypt have committed “gross violations of human rights” in order to determine whether U.S. military aid to the countries should be affected.
“There have been a disturbing number of reports of possible gross violations of human rights by security forces in Israel in Egypt—incidents that may have involved recipients, or potential recipients, of U.S. military assistance. We urge you to determine if these reports are credible and to inform us of your findings,” Leahy wrote in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, which was also signed by 10 Democratic members of the U.S. House.
As far as Israel’s alleged crimes, the letter points to reports by human rights organizations of extrajudicial killings by the military and police, as well as the use of torture. The allegations against Egypt include forced disappearances, the massacre of demonstrators, and extrajudicial killings.
“In light of these reports we request that you act promptly to determine their credibility and whether they trigger the Leahy Law and, if so, take appropriate action called for under the law,” the lawmakers continued.
Politico, which gained access to the letter this week, explains how the law would affect military aid:
The Leahy Law's application and impact have been difficult to measure, and while U.S. funding to a particular foreign military unit may be cut off as a result of the law, overall U.S. military aid to the country need not be stopped. The details of when the U.S. invokes the law also are often kept secret. […]
State Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. does apply the Leahy Law in Egypt and Israel, "in the same way we do globally." "We do not provide assistance to any security force unit in Egypt or Israel when we have credible information that they have committed a gross violation of human rights," said Kirby, who added that the department "is responding" to the letter.
Symbolically, however, the findings—and even the investigation itself—could hurt the U.S.’s relationship with its most important ally in the Middle East.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already released a scathing rebuke, defending the “highest moral standards” of his security forces whose job it is to protect innocent civilians from “bloodthirsty terrorists who come to murder them.”
The letter, Netanyahu pointed out, would be better directed toward “those who incite youngsters to commit cruel acts of terrorism.”