Fox News reports that American drones are scouring an area the size of West Virginia in search of the nearly 300 school girls held by an Islamist warlord. The search and any subsequent rescue attempt obviously will be difficult. But an obscure law called the Leahy Amendment makes the project more difficult than it should be.
The Leahy Amendment, passed in 1997 thanks to the persistence of Sen. Patrick Leahy, bars U.S. forces from working with militaries, or units within them, accused of chronic human rights violations. It appears to have been adopted through procedural maneuvering, rather via a free-standing up-or-down vote. It was also adopted during the innocent era predating 9/11.
According to Fox, State Department officials are complaining that this restriction limits what forces on the ground can do to help find the children. Specifically, one official tells Fox that the U.S. cannot work with a particular Nigerian counter-terrorism unit.
It would be nice to be able to combat foreign terrorists and criminals, not to mention rescue innocent girls, without one hand tied beyond our back. But the Leahy Law too often interferes.
The Leahy Law was well-intentioned, but dreadfully naive. Nigeria’s crack counter-terrorism unit isn’t the Boy Scouts. But whatever their “human rights abuses,” they pale in comparison to those of Boko Haram. Plus, this unit isn’t our sworn enemy. That used to count for something.
Sometimes we must fight fire with fire. Indeed, in the world where human rights violations are most persistent, we must typically fight it that way.
This imperative should have trumped Senator Leahy’s desire to feel good about himself. Because that didn’t happen, it may well be more difficult to “bring back our girls.”