“Profound Equities with Yemen in Terms of Counter-Terrorism” Justify Child Soldiers?

As the prosecutors in Omar Khadr’s sentencing hearing try to undercut the testimony of a defense witness who believes Khadr can be rehabilitated, not least because of his age, an anonymous White House official justifies to Josh Rogin Obama’s decision to undercut a law prohibiting the government from funding countries that use child soldiers.

As I suspected, the Administration rationale for exempting Yemen from sanction explicitly has to do with our counter-terrorism efforts there.

Yemen is a recipient of significant direct U.S. military assistance, having received $155 million in fiscal 2010 with a possible $1.2 billion coming over the next five years. Yemen is also a much needed ally for counterterrorism operations. The government is engaged in a bloody fight with al Qaeda (among other separatist and terrorist groups), and estimates put the ratio of child soldiers among all the groups there at more than half. Nevertheless, “the president believes there are profound equities with Yemen in terms of counterterrorism that we need to continue to work on,” the official told The Cable.

It’s bad enough that our assistance in Yemen will contribute to a war in which half the soldiers are boys.

But I really am saddened by the coincidence in this timing. At this very moment, we’re going to great lengths in Gitmo to villainize Khadr, at least partly to dismiss all the criticism about trying a child soldier (for a crime that is not a crime). It’s as if those involved are trying to convince themselves that their war on terror trumps international norms of decency.

And even as we’re doing that, the President is taking affirmative steps to make it more likely that another boy, like Khadr, will be put in the same situation as him, attacked for following the orders of the adults around him.

  1. harpie says:

    Marcy, putting these two circumstances together, as you do here, is a powerful indictment of US.

    Joseph Welch:


    “Until this moment, Senator [McCaarthy], I think I never gauged your cruelty or recklessness. […] Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator…. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

    The answer is clear. We do not.

  2. karenr says:

    Its as if those involved are trying to convince themselves that their war on terror trumps international norms of decency.

    They themselves are already convinced. I think its the rest of us they trying to rope in.

    And I would substitute the word *laws* there for *norms*. But maybe thats just me.

  3. klynn says:

    It’s as if those involved are trying to convince themselves that their war on terror trumps international norms of decency.

    No sense of decency. No practice of international norms or laws.

    And we are to hold diplomatic leverage on human rights how? It must be awful to be a diplomat right now.

    • BoxTurtle says:

      When was the last time you heard a US diplomat speak about human rights? It used to be the main point of contention between us and China, now we worry only about the exchange rate.

      Remember when we used to speak about human rights (specifically womens rights) in Saudi Arabia? Not word one.

      We still pick on Iran for human rights violations, though. Apparently, we can still complain about stoning.

      Boxturtle (and if someone picks on us for our human rights violations, we’ll rat ’em out for helping us)

      • klynn says:

        I agree. And that is a problem. We use to be able to utilize human rights as a tool for diplomatic negotiating of economic sanctions (or benefits) as a path forward towards establishing basic rights for citizens in any country.

        It is clear, since we are not interested in human rights, we are not interested in building voting rights or democracy.

        Why are we spending any money abroad on wars and otherwise if we have no clear standard practices on human rights as proof towards national and international interests in human rights?

        How can we take on the rights of women in countries around the world if we cannot be consistent on the protected rights of children?

        We cannot be this inconsistent. If that is the plan, then we need to just pack our bags, come home and focus our $$ on rebuilding our own democracy and reestablish a record on human rights.

      • Sharkbabe says:

        When was the last time you heard a US diplomat speak about human rights?

        Diplomat, schmiplomat. DoD is the new DoS. Been that way since Cheney at least, and Oh Bomb Em seems to like it too.

  4. harpie says:

    With regard to counterterrorism in Yemen, the following is information powwow and I looked at in this 10/1/10 diary. [The comments were formatted differently, but are now much more difficult to read.]

    Friends of Yemen: Tie Aid to Human Rights ; Letta Tayler; terrorism and counterterrorism researcher, Human Rights Watch; 9/23/10

    [Friends of Yemen includes US]


    […] Yemen’s intelligence and security forces appear to have rounded up many critics under the guise of counterterrorism operations. In August for example, government counterterrorism forces arrested a journalist who reports on security issues and a cartoonist friend and held them incommunicado for 20 days. The journalist, Abd al-Ilah al-Shayi’ of the official Saba news agency, appeared bruised at his first court hearing a month after his arrest and said government forces had beaten him.


    Some of President Saleh’s counterterrorism efforts have caused civilian casualties and displaced tens of thousands of people in the south. This has angered local populations including southern separatists, even though many of them have a history of opposition to Islamic terrorism and are struggling against the Yemeni government, not the US. That in turn has generated sympathy between Islamist militants and some separatists that al Qaeda is exploiting.

    […] [Several examples of counterterrorism measures and their results]

    If they fail to take such steps, Friends risk galvanizing support in Yemen for the very forces they are trying to weaken.

    Par for the course.

  5. karenr says:

    wish there was an Open Thread for #Khadr tweet watchers…. so sad.

    carolrosenberg: Tabitha Speer [widow], staring at Omar #Khadr from witness stand: *The victims, the children, they are my children. Not you.* Khadrs head is bowed.


    carolrosenberg: #Guantanamo juror to widow: Would you see this differently if an *enemy soldier* in Iraq or Afghan uniform killed your husband? Widow: Yes.

  6. fatster says:

    MI6 chief: we have nothing to do with torture
    Sir John Sawers talks of dilemma between protecting Britain and using intelligence drawn from tortured terrorist suspects

    But . . . “Sir John Sawers warned that innocent lives could be lost if his service did not pass on intelligence drawn from suspects who might have been treated badly.”


  7. Mary says:

    Obama to Stewart:

    Obama suggested that his administration did so much that “we have done things that some folks don’t even know about.”

    Somehow, he didn’t mention paying off Yemen to conscript child soldiers and turn them into killers.

  8. harpie says:

    U.S. Continues Aid to Nations That Used Child Soldiers; NYT; 10/28/10

    “We put these four countries on notice by naming them as having child soldiers, and thereby making them automatically subject to sanctions, absent the exercise of a presidential waiver,” said Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman. “Our intention is to work with them over the next year to try to solve this problem — or at least make significant progress on it — -and reassess our posture towards them next year, depending on the progress they have made.”


    Jesse Eaves, child protection policy adviser with World Vision, said he did not understand why the administration had not availed itself of a provision allowing targeted cuts in military assistance to leave only programs explicitly helping demobilize child soldiers or professionalize national armies.

    A White House official said this approach had been weighed but rejected as unwieldy.

    Mr. Eaves said rights groups active on the issue were frustrated.

    “This came as a total shock to everyone in the community,” he said. “At this point we’re just running to catch up.”

  9. powwow says:

    Probably a predictable, if not pre-ordained, waiver, but a great find, emptywheel, especially given the events of the day it was issued, as you noted in your earlier post.

    In 2008, President George W. Bush signed the law, which prohibits U.S. military education and training, foreign military financing, and other defense-related assistance to countries that actively recruit troops under the age of 18. Countries are designated as violators if the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report identifies them as recruiting child soldiers.

    The original bill was actually sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) before being added to a larger bill led by then Senator, now Vice President Joseph Biden. The only countries where the restrictions under this law are still in place are now Burma and Somalia.

    The only reason provided in the memorandum was that Obama determined it was in the “national interest” to waive the law for those four countries.

    – Josh Rogin, 10/26/2010

    “Prohibited” in Congressional vernacular these days doesn’t mean what it means to the rest of us, obviously.

    Many thanks and kudos to Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy for following up on the waiver of this little-reported law with direct questions to the powers that be (by the way, EW, it appears that you meant Rogin’s story link to be the first link in your post, which seems to instead mistakenly have one link twice in the same sentence).

    And thanks to harpie @ 12 for noting another story now out on the subject by Brian Knowlton of the New York Times:

    Of the six countries the State Department identified as using child soldiers during 2009, only two — Somalia and Myanmar — were not granted exemptions from the law, and Myanmar receives no military aid from the United States.

    “Everyone’s gotten a pass, and Obama has really completely undercut the law and its intent,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

    “Everyone’s gotten a pass” because Congress was fine with everyone getting a pass, their contemptible pretend-law and its title’s lofty, disgraceful invocation of “William Wilberforce” notwithstanding.

    Maybe Knowlton can put in a call to Dick Durbin, John Kerry, Howard Berman, Carl Levin or others still in Congress, who’re nominally in favor of this “ban,” next time he writes on the subject, considering that they’re the parties who enabled such easy presidential waiving of this make-believe “prohibition” in the first place.

  10. PatrickD says:

    If you had told me this in November 2008, I would never have believed it. Obama is determined to drag our nation through the same sewer that Cheney/Bush did. When he was elected I thought that we would see a national restoration and a new commitment to our core values. Instead the situation continues to worsen by the day. Like every other would-be global empire that has gone down this road, it’s not going to end well for us.

    • whattheincorporated says:

      It’s bad for us, but it’s good for the world.

      When we collapse we won’t be able to try to run the world like a Roman Empire with nukes anymore.

      Maybe we can have world peace when our hypocritical leaders stop making it impossible.

  11. harpie says:

    Mark Leon Goldberg talks about Rogin’s article here:

    Human Rights Watch: Obama Directive “Essentially Nullifies” Child Soldiers Law; October 27, 2010

    and says:

    I just spoke with Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch who told me this “essentially nullifies the law.” The Child Soldiers Prevention Acts, says Becker, mandates that the State Department list governments that recruit child soldiers. In June 2010, six countries were listed: Chad, DRC, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Burma. By issuing such a sweeping waiver, Becker says the administration has effectively undermined the law. ”It gives us no leverage to deal with the recruitment of child soldiers in these countries,” she says. […]

    Thanks for getting the link to the Rogin article, powwow.

    Here’s the link from the Rogin article for the WH Memorandum

  12. powwow says:

    I see from a new emptywheel tweet, that Josh Rogin has the full memorandum that Obama sent to State justifying his child soldier waivers, as reported in a new post this evening at Foreign Policy’s The Cable blog. Josh even spoke with the offices of Members of Congress, and got some interesting, if anonymous, feedback:

    We’re going to ask for some greater explanation on some of these. To do the waiver on all of the countries certainly caught our attention,” said one Democratic Senate aide involved in the issue. “When using American tax money to help governments that use child soldiers, there should be a pretty high bar.”

    Thanks again, Josh.

    [It may just be me, but I don’t see a linked source for EW’s blockquote excerpt in this post (maybe that’s the missed link I noted @ 13, rather than Rogin’s related story). I assume that’s because it’s a quote from the same memo that Josh is now linking – or at least her lead-in makes it appear that way. Anyway, Josh has the full memo publicly available now for anyone who wants to read it. Second aside, apropos something else entirely: I just saw a commenting handle here that I misread at first as “Hugh” – which suddenly made me realize that I don’t recall seeing comments here at FDL from Hugh in quite some time. Assuming that he in fact hasn’t been around of late, I just want to publicly wish Hugh well, and note that I think the commenting here is the poorer for his absence, as it is with the absence of selise, who is also in my thoughts (as it happens, particularly so this evening, too, given the latest missive from her Congressman that’s just been posted at FDL).]

      • powwow says:

        It’s very good indeed to hear that from you, selise. Thank you for thoughtfully taking the time to log in and comment – I’m glad you’re still keeping an eye on FDL, however intermittently. Do take care of yourself.

    • powwow says:

      Thanks for the heads-up, harpie. Here’s the link to EW’s “The Boys of War.”

      Your WH Memorandum link @ 18 (to a WH press office URL, which I guess is why I skipped that earlier and will again for the moment) may be what emptywheel was quoting from in the post. At any rate, on closer examination, the paragraph at issue isn’t language from a presidential memo (as implied by me @ 19) drafted by the State Department, so I’ll just leave it that I don’t know what EW’s linked source for that quote is without further research.

      I’m sorry to hear (per you @ 5) that the commenting threads in the archived reader diaries have been reformatted (or left unformatted thus far in whatever is going on behind the scenes) so as to make that resource too confusing to easily reference/decipher, at least for the moment – especially after all the work I remember you did to clearly format your comments/quotes in my Yemen diary thread. Because you really seem to have put your finger on something when you posted there earlier this month about this child soldier law, making those comments/excerpts very much on-point background to this discussion. Thanks for redoing the formatting and bringing some of that material forward into these EW threads so that it’s legible.

      Importantly, as I believe I noted late in that thread, the FY 2011 Defense Authorization bill is pending on the Senate Calendar, and has thus not yet been addressed by the Senate (aside from the Armed Services Committee, which reported it out). So an easy test of the seriousness of the anonymous Senate aide claim in Rogin’s latest article will be which amendments, if any, Senators propose to that bill and adopt on the Senate floor on this issue, when Carl Levin gets that bill in front of the Senate in the next month or two. That authorization bill is the vehicle for such matters of Congressional policy surrounding defense appropriations.

        • powwow says:

          Ahhh, mystery solved! Thank you, harpie, for finishing that research for me – there was a third (excellent) article by Josh Rogin, posted early today, that I hadn’t seen – that must be the first link that EW intended in this post. [What a fitting photograph Rogin found to use with that article…]

          And lookee here:

          The 2008 Child Soldier Prevention Act was originally sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and wrapped into a larger bill sponsored by then Sen. Joe Biden. Durbin’s office was not able to comment by deadline and Biden’s office deferred to the White House.

          Music to my ears – direct media inquiries on this subject to some of the responsible (current and former) Congressional parties, who are so accustomed to getting away with hiding in the shadows…

          A bit more context courtesy of Rogin’s article:

          “This is the first year it’s being enacted, so to waive everyone right out of the gate sends exactly the wrong message,” said Jo Becker, advocacy director for the children’s rights division at Human Rights Watch. “By providing a blanket waiver, the U.S. is really giving up all of its leverage to force them to change their approach to using child soldiers.”

          She also criticized the official’s contention that the abusive countries needed more time to become aware of the law, which was signed in December 2008. It became operative in June 2009 but couldn’t go into effect until violator countries were identified in the State Department’s 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, which came out in June [2010].

          • harpie says:

            Ha! It sure seemed like those august Congresscritters were scurrying for cover, didn’t it? Good on Rogin!

            And it’s ggod to hear the Human Rights organizations be really vocal about their disappointment. I read the Yemen section of that report. It’s not a pretty picture. Also, the Human Rights Watch letter I linked to @5 has a lot of detail about what’s really going on there…what we are supporting, in the name of counterterrorism. I kept thinking about how similar it all sounded to our adventures in Pakistan.

            • powwow says:

              There are indeed ominous parallels to Pakistan all over the place in what “we are supporting in the name of counterterrorism” in Yemen – against a nebulous “enemy” that the U.S. military is fighting a (dubiously-authorized) “war” against in the midst of a civilian population. An “enemy” force that the sovereign, partly-U.S.-funded governments/nations of Yemen and Pakistan are evidently defining as one or more criminal organizations, rather than joining us as formal allies in a no-holds-barred “war” against a dramatically-outgunned, minimally-equipped enemy “force” composed, at its core, of a native population with nowhere else to call home.

        • powwow says:

          Yes, a very sobering eye-opener that has definitely lingered in my mind. Levin’s list, just a thin, 1% veneer of the total requested defense budget for one year (though apparently comprising the only part of the massive administration request that Congress has exerted any meaningful will or direction over), started to help put the enormity of those budget numbers into some (stupefying) perspective and context for me, which the budgetary totals standing alone often fail to do in a memorable way.

  13. harpie says:

    Another thing I found interesting is the debate about this between the two departments at State. I’ll try to look into this a little tomorrow, fi I get a chance. I’ve been following the Khadr hearing fairly closely, as much as that’s possible. Tomorrow should be the final day. I wonder if Khadr will speak again.

    It’s been good to “see” you again, powwow. Have a good rest of the evening!

  14. ondelette says:

    I read the comments transferred over to UT, but didn’t realize the discussion was still going on over here. Late to the party here, I’m afraid. I don’t understand why this is happening with respect to the DRC and the Sudan especially.

    The president of the Sudan is under indictment from the ICC for genocide with an arrest warrant issued, and the referral was made by the Security Council with the U.S. participating. It’s bad enough that another Security Council permanent member, China, is supplying 80% of the small arms to the Janjaweed there without the U.S. supplying weapons that will go to child soldiery in the South in time for the referendum.

    In the DRC, all truly interested parties agree that the most practiceable solution is to strengthen the central government, but there is plenty available, even in the loopholes of this law, to do so without supplying weapons into child soldiery. The children in the DRC are already battered enough without this, and what message does this send on the heels of the Conflict Minerals Prevention legislation passed with the Dodd-Frank reforms just last July? This is absolutely sickening.

    Sorry to bring up Africa, but the consequences of these actions are far greater there, and this is just absolutely abominable. Circumstances being what they’ve been, the mother of all horrible reports was just released on the reprisals in the Congo after the Rwandan Genocide and continuing up until pretty much the present. With the elbowing and shoving leading up to its release, it quickly became apparent that millions of people may have died just because nobody wanted to talk about who was killing who and why. To claim that there is a U.S. national interest that requires feeding guns to children there is beyond a horror show. If the need is so immediate, rather just shut down Apple, Intel, Research In Motion, and Motorola for a year and go back to 1954 issue black Bakelite phones. It’s harder to walk into phone poles using them anyway.

    • powwow says:

      Your additional informed perspective is very helpful, ondelette. Don’t be “sorry” about bringing up Africa – you make good points, and I appreciate your moral judgements on this issue all the more given your evident familiarity (at least compared to my relative ignorance) with the present state of affairs in the affected countries.

      There’s more about this issue today from the administration’s perspective, because Josh Rogin has done it again – he has a scoop out this evening reporting on a private conference call (which someone helpfully provided him with a recording of) that the administration held with NGOs and Congressional staffers Friday afternoon to discuss Obama’s decision to invoke the child soldier waiver:

      Cable exclusive: The secret White House conference call on child soldiers

      Posted By Josh Rogin Friday, October 29, 2010 – 6:31 PM

      The White House spent an hour Friday afternoon trying to convince angry Hill staffers and human rights activists that “naming and shaming” governments that recruit child soldiers, rather than imposing Congressionally-mandated sanctions on them, will better address the problem.


      Advocates on the call did acknowledge Chad’s efforts on child soldier demobilization, but lamented that little or no progress has been seen in the DRC or with South Sudan’s Southern People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). But they wanted to know: If the administration believes that the threat of the sanctions has caused progress, then how does removing that threat keep the pressure on?

      “Why remove that leverage now when we’ve seen it’s been so valuable?” asked Scott Stedjan, senior policy advisor at Oxfam America

      Jesse Eaves, policy advisor for children in crisis at World Vision, was one of several on the call to wonder why the administration decided to waive all sanctions, rather than using a part of the law that allows the continuation of military assistance to violator countries, [as long] as that assistance goes toward military professionalization.


      “I think it’s unfortunate that the NGO community and those in Congress who wrote the law were not involved in its implementation,” said Kody Kness, an aide to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), one of the lead sponsors of the law. “I think that’s a missed opportunity.”

  15. Uzza says:

    Can someone explain this? Obama waived section 404(a). The previous Emptywheel post quoted 403(a), which concerns funding, but misidentified it as 404(a).

    404(a) in its entirety, reads:
    “Investigation of Allegations Regarding Child Soldiers- United States missions abroad shall thoroughly investigate reports of the use of child soldiers.”

    • powwow says:

      Uzza, in my reading of the Government Printing Office version (scroll to the end) of Public Law 110-457 (H.R. 7311) – of which the new Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 was Title IV, as part of a bill signed into law after Obama was elected President but before he took office – Section 404(a) is just as emptywheel excerpted it in her preceding post on this waiver (see the first two links in this post).

      The language you cite @ 35 as Section 404(a) appears as Section 405(a) in the GPO version.

      Obama simply took advantage of the gaping loophole that Congress wrote into this law, in Section 404(c), which reads as follows:

      (c) National Interest Waiver.–

      (1) Waiver.–The President may waive the application to a
      country of the prohibition in subsection (a) if the President
      determines that such waiver is in the national interest of the
      United States.

      (2) Publication and notification.–Not later than 45 days after each waiver is granted under paragraph (1), the President shall notify the appropriate congressional committees of the waiver and the justification for granting such waiver.

      Thereby waiving all of the purported prohibition(s) of Title IV, Section 404(a), as quoted by emptywheel. It’s unclear whether 10/25/10 was the date that Obama actually granted these waivers to Chad, the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen, or whether 10/25 was 45 days or less after the granting of waivers, as subsequently revealed by Obama’s required “publication and notification” released last week, attached to a “memorandum of justification” for Congress.

      Note the definitions that the law contains, as regards our treatment of the then-15-year-old Omar Khadr:

      (2) Child soldier.–Consistent with the provisions of the
      Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of the Child,
      the term “child soldier”

      (A) means

      (i) any person under 18 years of age who takes
      a direct part in hostilities as a member of
      governmental armed forces;

      (ii) any person under 18 years of age who has
      been compulsorily recruited into governmental
      armed forces;

      (iii) any person under 15 years of age who has
      been voluntarily recruited into governmental armed
      forces; or

      (iv) any person under 18 years of age who has
      been recruited or used in hostilities by armed
      forces distinct from the armed forces of a state;

      (B) includes any person described in clauses (ii),
      (iii), or (iv) of subparagraph (A) who is serving in any
      capacity, including in a support role such as a cook,
      porter, messenger, medic, guard, or sex slave.

      And this is the section of the law [404(e)] that Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy reported Jesse Eaves of World Vision (among others) asking about in Friday’s conference call with Samantha Power of the National Security Council:

      (e) Exception for Programs Directly Related To Addressing the Problem of Child Soldiers or Professionalization of the Military.

      (1) In general.–The President may provide assistance to a
      country for international military education, training, and
      nonlethal supplies (as defined in section 2557(d)(1)(B) of title
      10, United States Code) otherwise prohibited under subsection
      (a) upon certifying to the appropriate congressional committees

      (A) the government of such country is taking
      reasonable steps to implement effective measures to
      demobilize child soldiers in its forces or in
      government-supported paramilitaries and is taking
      reasonable steps within the context of its national
      resources to provide demobilization, rehabilitation, and
      reintegration assistance to those former child soldiers;

      (B) the assistance provided by the United States
      Government to the government of such country will go to
      programs that will directly support professionalization
      of the military.

      (2) Limitation.–The exception under paragraph (1) may not
      remain in effect for a country for more than 5 years.