The map below shows the locations of the vetted recipient units from Colombia’s army, navy and air force.
The so-called "Leahy Law" is a provision that has appeared in the U.S. foreign aid bill every year since 1997. Named for its principal proponent, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), its purpose is straightforward. It states that if a foreign military unit includes people who have committed gross human-rights violations, and they are not being credibly investigated, tried or punished, then that unit cannot receive U.S. assistance.
The Leahy Law is not frequently invoked, though it has on occasion forced the U.S. government to refuse aid to army units in Colombia, or to cut off aid to units already receiving it (as happened in January 2003, when an air force command saw its aid cut off for non-cooperation with authorities investigating the 1998 Santo Domingo massacre).
In order to comply with the Leahy Law, the U.S. embassy in Colombia (and, presumably, in every country that gets military aid) must keep a database of individual military personnel who face credible allegations of human rights abuse, and must ensure that none of these names appear on the roster of a military unit being considered for U.S. assistance. This process is called "vetting" the unit.
We had never seen a list of which units had been vetted and approved for U.S. aid – until now. Thanks to the efforts of the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Colombia Program, we now have recent lists of all Colombian military and police units:
A few quick notes about these lists:
- If a unit does not appear on the list of approved units, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the U.S. government has refused aid for human-rights reasons. It does mean, however, that the unit is not getting U.S. aid.
- When the aid in question is training (as opposed to weapons, equipment or intelligence), the definition of "unit" becomes much more flexible. The U.S. government only considers the human-rights background of the individual who has been proposed for training. The individual is the "unit." It is conceivable, then, that an individual from a notoriously abusive unit can receive training, as long as his name does not appear in the vetting database.
- It was surprising to see the 11th Brigade listed. This unit is based in Montería, Córdoba, and its area of responsibility is one of the paramilitaries’ principal historic strongholds. Yet the 11th Brigade has almost no record of combating the paramilitary groups that operate in its midst.
- For the most part, other units that operate in paramilitary-heavy areas – the 17th (Urabá), the 4th (Antioquia), the 5th (Magdalena Medio and Catatumbo), the 14th (Magdalena Medio), and the 10th (Cesar) – do not receive assistance. Exceptions include the above-mentioned 11th Brigade, the 16th Brigade (Casanare), and naval units in Sucre.
- Many recipient army units are concentrated in the southern Colombian zone where the "Plan Patriota" offensive has been occurring (Caquetá, Meta and Guaviare departments, including the former demilitarized zone where peace talks with the FARC took place between 1998 and 2002). Another zone of concentration are the oil-producing departments of Arauca and Casanare. (In 2002, the U.S. Congress approved a Bush administration request for $100 million in military aid to protect an oil pipeline in Arauca.)
- Surprisingly, none of the military units in the department of Putumayo – where Plan Colombia began in 2000 – is receiving aid, with the exception of the Navy Riverine Battalion and an Army Counter-Narcotics Brigade that only spends some of its time in Putumayo.
- In the list of units cleared to use helicopters, "TF Omega" is the task force involved in the Plan Patriota offensive. "PCHP" stands for "Plan Colombia Helicopter Program."