June 10, 2020

Senator Warren and Rep. Khanna Introduce the Protection of Civilians in Military Operations Act

Bicameral legislation strengthens investigations, reporting, and resources related to the prevention of civilian casualties in U.S. military operations conducted overseas; Second bill introduced by Senator Warren to prevent civilian casualties

Bill Text (PDF) | Section by Section (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member for the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), and Congressman Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) 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 of Defense (DoD) policies and practices relating to civilian casualty prevention and responses.

"In order to uphold our nation's core values and advance our interests overseas, we need to openly consider all of the costs and benefits and the consequences of military action -- and that includes doing everything we can to prevent civilian deaths," Senator Warren said. "The Protection of Civilians in Military Operations Act strengthens investigations, reporting, and resources related to preventing and reducing civilian casualties, reinforcing the importance of protecting civilians as a national security priority and a moral and ethical imperative."

"We must take rigorous steps to improve civilian casualties reporting, investigations, and resourcing," said Rep. Khanna. "Proud to introduce this legislation with Senator Warren to ensure that the Pentagon provides accurate data not only on civilians killed in direct U.S. military operations, but also on civilians killed by U.S. partner forces, such as the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. This bill also takes the essential step of requiring the Pentagon to establish a publicly accessible database of its investigations into civilian casualties. Maximizing transparency will prevent further loss of life."

The Protection of Civilians in Military Operations Act would do the following:

  • Improve the Annual Report on Civilian Casualties in Connection with U.S. Military Operations: Requires DoD to include in its annual civilian casualties report a list of each advise, assist, accompany, and enable (A3E) mission during which civilian casualties or human rights abuses by foreign partner forces were observed or later reported, as well as any measures in place for preventing, mitigating, and responding to civilian deaths or injuries that occur during these missions conducted with U.S. military personnel; and requires an unclassified version of the annual civilian casualties report to be made available on DoD's website at the same time it is submitted to Congress.
  • Ensure Integrity of Civilian Casualty Investigations: Requires U.S. military commanders to select an officer from outside their unit or chain of command to conduct an investigation into civilian casualties arising from that unit's or command's military operations; and requires personnel involved in civilian casualty investigations to be separate from those who are directly involved in military operations.
  • Require Combatant Commands to Coordinate with the State Department on Civilian Casualty Matters: Requires each commander of a geographic combatant command to establish an uninterrupted line of communication between his or her command and the Chief of Mission (or the Chief's designee) in any country in which a command is conducting military operations, in order to field and coordinate reports of civilian casualties resulting from U.S. military operations undertaken by a command in a given country.
  • Establish a Public Database on Reports of Civilian Casualty Investigations: Requires the Defense Secretary to establish, and annually update, a central, searchable, and publicly accessible database for all DoD reports of investigations into the civilian casualties resulting from U.S. military operations, and the results of such investigations.
  • Provide Resources to Implement New Defense Department Policy on Civilian Casualties: Requires the establishment in 7 of the 11 combatant commands (Central Command, Africa Command, Special Operations Command, European Command, Southern Command, Indo-Pacific Command, and Northern Command ) of at least two personnel charged with issuing guidance on and overseeing civilian casualty prevention and responses; and authorizes a maximum of $5 million annually from DoD's existing funds in each of fiscal years 2021, 2022, and 2023 for the Department to conduct training on civilian casualty prevention and responses, to implement the DoD-wide civilian casualties policy, and to establish and maintain the civilian casualty investigation reports database.

The Protection of Civilians in Military Operations Act is supported by the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), Human Rights First, Common Defense, Human Rights Watch, Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), and Amnesty International USA.

In her work on SASC, Senator Warren has prioritized the prevention of civilian deaths as the result of U.S. military operations:

  • In the FY 2018 NDAA, Senator Warren successfully secured the inclusion of a new required annual report by DoD to Congress on civilian casualties in connection with U.S. military operations, and concurrently introduced the Preventing Civilian Casualties in Military Operations Act.
  • In the FY 2019 NDAA, she introduced amendments that contributed to the inclusion of a provision that improved the annual civilian casualties report through more specific information on civilian casualty incidents and greater transparency, and one that required a DoD-wide policy for civilian casualty prevention, investigation, and response and the appointment of a senior DoD official to carry out this policy.
  • In the FY 2020 NDAA, Senator Warren introduced amendments that contributed to the inclusion of a provision that extended the annual civilian casualties report by an additional two years through December 2024, required more detailed explanations of DoD's process for investigating allegations of civilian casualties and any discrepancies between DoD civilian casualty reports and those of non-governmental organizations, and required the documentation of any condolence payments made to civilians or families of civilians for harm caused by U.S. military operations.