State Department did not consider civilian casualties when sending arms to the Middle East, report finds

The State Department did not fully consider the risk of civilian casualties when it approved more than $8 billion in arms sales to Middle Eastern countries last year, according to an inspector general report released Tuesday.

Lawmakers asked the IG to investigate the transfer of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in May 2019 cited threats from Iran when using emergency authorities to transfer the weapons. The move short-circuited lawmakers, who had blocked some of the transfers for more than a year over concerns that the U.S.-made equipment could be used to kill civilians.

The IG determined that Pompeo carried out his use of emergency authorities properly. Yet it also said the department “did not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns” surrounding the transfer of precision guided munitions to the three countries. The inspector general provided additional details about this failure, as well as a recommendation, in a classified annex of the report.

The 22 transfers included the sale of 120mm mortar rounds to Saudi Arabia and Javelin anti-tank guided missiles to the UAE, along with the transfer of laser-guided bombs from the UAE to Jordan.

Of those 22 cases, lawmakers had placed holds on 15, the report said.

The Conventional Arms Transfer Policy prohibits the U.S. from approving arms transfers if it knows those weapons will be used against civilians.

The report has been heavily anticipated in part because Pompeo recently engineered the firing of Steve Linick, the inspector general under whom the investigation began. Linick also was looking into whether Pompeo and his wife, Susan, had improperly used State Department resources for personal reasons, a probe that remains underway.

Pompeo has denied that the investigations had anything to do with his decision to ask President Donald Trump to fire Linick in mid-May. Pompeo has alleged that Linick was a “bad actor” who was undermining the mission of the department. Linick, who had held the post since 2013, has said he was shocked to be fired.

Pompeo resisted sitting down for an interview for the report on the arms sales, one reason its release was delayed for so long. He instead answered questions in writing. The department also demanded an array of redactions, some of which are sure to receive scrutiny on Capitol Hill. A congressional aide told POLITICO that lawmakers want to make sure that the department didn’t classify portions merely to cover up embarrassing actions.

On Monday, the State Department held a background briefing with reporters to highlight the finding that Pompeo appropriately carried out the emergency declaration. The department did not release the report at the time, and did not mention the determination regarding civilian casualties.

The department’s effort to pre-spin the report’s findings before it was released infuriated leading Democrats. House Foreign Affairs Chair Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) compared it to Attorney General Bill Barr’s efforts to put an early spin on the findings of then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia election interference investigation.

“The people briefing the press were the subjects of the IG’s probe, not the report’s authors,” Engel said in a statement. “This obvious pre-spin of the findings reeks of an attempt to distract and mislead. Mike Pompeo is pulling directly from the Bill Barr playbook.”

After Linick’s firing, the inspector general’s office was briefly led on an acting basis by Stephen Akard, an ally of Vice President Mike Pence who also held another position at the State Department. But he left the job last week. The IG’s office is now being temporarily led by Diana Shaw, who had been serving as Akard’s deputy.


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