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Rep. Sara Jacobs Introduces Bill to Push DoD to Review and Make Amends for Past Cases of Civilian Harm

Following NPR’s investigation revealing flaws in the Department of Defense’s investigative processes on potential Syrian civilian casualties during the 2019 raid on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Rep. Sara Jacobs (CA-51), Co-Chair of the Protection of Civilians in Conflict (POCC) Caucus, introduced the Civilian Harm Review and Reassessment Act. The legislation would require the DoD to review and reinvestigate past cases of civilian harm since 2011, and make amends if necessary. Reps. Ro Khanna (CA-17) and Jason Crow (CO-06), Co-Chairs of the POCC Caucus, co-led the legislation.


Rep. Sara Jacobs said, “Justice should never have an expiration date – and yet, countless families still lack answers years after instances of civilian harm. That’s why I’m proud to introduce the Civilian Harm Review and Reassessment Act, which would require the Pentagon to review and reassess past cases of civilian harm and make amends if necessary. Any instance of civilian harm does damage to our values and gives our adversaries a powerful recruiting tool – so it’s critical that we acknowledge our mistakes, learn from them, and facilitate justice and healing.”


Annie Shiel, U.S. Advocacy Director, Center for Civilians in Conflict, said “As the Defense Department works to implement much-needed reforms to improve civilian harm investigations and response moving forward, it is also essential to reckon with the many cases of harm that have gone under-investigated and unacknowledged. Far too many families have experienced devastating harm and have been left waiting for answers from the U.S. government. This legislation could finally give them the recognition and accountability they deserve.”


Daphne Eviatar, Director, Security with Human Rights, Amnesty International USA, said, “ This bill is critical to addressing the ongoing suffering of so many civilians harmed by US military operations in recent years who have received no explanation, accountability or assistance. While the US military has said it will improve civilian protection and response going forward, looking back at past cases of civilian harm is crucial to making those efforts credible and meaningful.”


Lia Lindsey, Oxfam America Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor, said, “This legislation is an important step to ensuring transparency and oversight over potential harm to civilians at the hands of US armed forces. US forces should be kept to the highest standard for respecting the lives and rights of civilians and when it falls short, must be held accountable. This bill gives Congress another tool to do that.”


Sarah Yager, Human Rights Watch, said, “The Pentagon’s plan doesn’t include reviewing past instances of civilian harm that have gone unaddressed. There are too many victims still left waiting. Representative Jacobs' bill can get much needed attention to civilian harm that was incorrectly dismissed. We welcome this effort as an important step for civilians harmed by US operations and as essential for the US military to learn from past mistakes.”


“With the huge human toll of the war on terror, it’s beyond time for the Defense Department to face up to where it’s caused needless suffering,” said Sara Haghdoosti, executive director of Win Without War. “They owe too much to too many families, from Afghanistan to Nigeria to numerous places in between, to dodge accountability for past actions.”


The Civilian Harm Review and Reassessment Act would require the Department of Defense to:

  • Establish procedures for reviewing and investigating allegations of civilian harm that resulted from U.S. military operations that occurred between 2011 and 2023 and that may have been incorrectly dismissed due to investigation errors or incomplete information, in consultation with NGOs focused on civilian harm and human rights
  • Submit a report to Congress that describes errors identified during the review process, identifies any revised credibility assessments and findings, identifies steps taken in response to new credibility findings, and recommends steps to prevent similar errors in the future


The Civilian Harm Review and Reassessment Act is supported by the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, InterAction, Reprieve US, Win Without War, and OxFam America.


Full text of the bill is available here.