Warren introducing legislation to address civilian harm from military operations

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is leading a new push to overhaul how the United States military investigates and mitigates civilian harm caused by its operations.

Warren plans to introduce two bills that would expand current civilian harm reporting and public transparency requirements, as well as moving investigations on civilian harm outside of the chain of command of the unit responsible for the strike.

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are joining Warren in the Senate effort.

Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Jason Crow (D-Colo.), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), and Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) will lead the effort in the House.

Warren, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been outspoken about how military strikes harm civilians. She has said she plans to prioritize the issue for the fiscal year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). 

The issue of civilian harm from military operations was thrusted into the spotlight last year when a U.S. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 29, 2021 killed ten civilians.

The Pentagon initially said that it struck a vehicle in Kabul that posed an “urgent ISIS-K” threat, but it later admitted that the driver of the vehicle was a worker for a U.S.-based aid group.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in January ordered his agency to develop a “Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan” to improve how it prevents civilian deaths and responds to claims of civilians harmed by military operations.

Warren’s Department of Defense Civilian Harm Transparency Act aims to strengthen the annual reporting requirements that were first passed in the fiscal year 2018 NDAA. Under that legislation, the Pentagon is required to submit to Congress an annual report on the civilian casualties that occurred during the prior year.

The bill would specify that the report should include explanations on why the strike occurred and how the Pentagon determined whether its targets were civilians participating in hostilities, among other requirements. Crow will lead the introduction of this legislation in the House.

Warren also plans to reintroduce the Protection of Civilians in Military Operations Act with Khanna. The pair first introduced the legislation in 2020, and it would require that investigations into civilian harm be conducted outside of the immediate chain of command on the unit responsible for the attack.

The bill would also establish a Center of Excellence for The Protection of Civilians within the Office of the Secretary of Defense that would advise the federal government on mitigating civilian harm.