Sen. Warren Wants Review of Defense Department’s Civilian Casualty Reporting

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In full transparency, the following is a media release from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office. She was elected by voters in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to serve the state in Washington DC in the US Senate. She is a Democrat.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), and Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a Member of the House Armed Services and Oversight and Reform Committees, sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin, III, regarding the Department of Defense’s (DoD) June 2021 “Annual Report on Civilian Casualties In Connection With United States Military Operations in 2020.

In the letter, the lawmakers urge Secretary Austin to review why significant undercounts of civilian casualties persist and why DoD made zero ex gratia payments to grieving civilians last year despite authorization and funding from Congress. 

“As a first step, we request that you review why these significant discrepancies in civilian casualty counts persist, and take steps to ensure that U.S. military investigations into civilian casualties give greater weight to external sources of information rather than relying solely on its own internal records and sources when assessing third party reports of civilian harm,” wrote the lawmakers. 

In June 2021, the Defense Department submitted its “Annual Report on Civilian Casualties In Connection With United States Military Operations in 2020” to Congress. As in past years, the report significantly undercounted civilian casualties. For example, DoD reported 23 civilians killed and 10 civilians injured as a result of U.S. military operations last year, but estimates from credible civilian casualty monitors and the United Nations suggest that number is almost as likely five times higher. The report also revealed that the Department made zero ex gratia payments to grieving civilians last year despite authorization and funding from Congress and the feasibility of reaching survivors in most cases. 

“We need to openly consider all the costs, benefits, and consequences of military action, and that includes doing everything we can to prevent and respond to civilian harm. Strengthening investigations, accurately and transparently reporting on civilian harm, expressing condolences for harm when it happens, and learning from these incidents to prevent harm in the future are all essential steps that reinforce the importance of protecting civilians as a national security priority and as a moral and ethical imperative,” continued the lawmakers. 

In June 2020, Senator Warren and Representative Ro Khanna introduced the Protection of Civilians in Military Operations Act, bicameral legislation that would enhance reporting on civilian casualties resulting from U.S. military operations, improve investigations into civilian casualties, and strengthen resources for the Department’s policies and practices relating to civilian casualty prevention and responses.

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