State Department Working to Kill Sanctions on Terrorist Use of Human Shields

New bipartisan legislation receives opposition from Trump administration

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo / Getty Images
July 26, 2018

The Trump administration's State Department is working to quash new legislation that would sanction international terror groups for using human shields, a battlefield tactic employed Hezbollah and Hamas, according to multiple U.S. officials familiar with the administration's behind-the-scenes effort to nix the legislation.

A bipartisan team of lawmakers, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), recently introduced new legislation that would enable the United States to impose harsh sanctions on any foreign person or group caught using human shields during combat. The bill is the first of its kind to be introduced in the United States.

Human shields, which are routinely used by terror groups, enable terrorists to inflate the number of civilian casualties and avoid military reprisals from more conventional forces. The U.S. and Israeli governments are one of a number of countries who have been dealing with the use of human shields by these terror groups for years.

While the new legislative effort to target terrorists who force civilians into dangerous combat zones quickly won bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, the Trump administration's State Department has quietly been working for months to kill the bill and prevent lawmakers from moving the legislation, multiple U.S. officials told to the Washington Free Beacon.

The State Department is said to be opposed to the legislation due to its hesitance to sanction groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, where the United States continues to provide massive amounts of military aid that has repeatedly made its way to Hezbollah forces.

U.S. officials in the State Department ignored formal requests from lawmakers for months as they tried to mount the new legislative effort, sources said, and tensions are said to have boiled over earlier this week as the State Department continued efforts to block the bill.

The State Department objected to the public dissemination of the number of rockets Hezbollah currently has aimed at Israel, according to U.S. officials who spoke to the Free Beacon. Findings in the bill say the rockets number around 150,000.

U.S. officials familiar with the situation expressed outrage over the State Department's behind-the-scenes effort to kill the legislation, particularly in light of President Donald Trump's tough rhetoric on terrorists and efforts to thwart the regional groups.

"The list of grievances is so haphazard and random, it feels like they just flipped through the bill looking for things to object to," one U.S. official familiar with the State Department effort told the Free Beacon. The source would only speak on background about the sensitive and ongoing situation.

"So when you read their concerns, at the top are these huge things about the structure of the bill itself, then a random bullet point where they say we shouldn't tell people how many missiles Hezbollah has because that's scary, then back to saying that the whole bill is impossible," the source explained.

A second U.S. official familiar with the matter confirmed the State Department's opposition to the legislation, telling the Free Beacon that officials in the department's legislative affairs office should have done a better job at responding to lawmakers' repeated requests pertaining to the bill.

Other sources familiar with the State Department's efforts against the bill wondered if bureaucrats are working to undermine Secretary Mike Pompeo, whom they view as a likely supporter of the effort.

The State Department's opposition is similar to separate efforts to suppress the publication of a major report on the number of Palestinian refugees that is believed to be a potential game changer in how the United States allocates millions in funding in the region.

Pro-Israel organizations and prominent advocacy organizations have already thrown their support behind the human shields legislation.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the nation's leading pro-Israel group, is one of numerous groups backing the bill.

"This legislation is needed because terrorist groups—including Hamas, Hezbollah, and ISIS—are blatantly violating international law by placing their terrorist infrastructure amongst civilian populations and hiding behind innocent civilians as they carry out armed attacks," an AIPAC spokesperson told the Free Beacon.

Christians United for Israel, or CUFI, another large pro-Israel group, has been lobbying in favor of the bill as it holds its annual conference this week in Washington, D.C.

Scores of CUFI activists recently took to Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers to back the bill.

The State Department declined Free Beacon requests for comment, saying that it is the department's official policy not to comment on pending legislation.

Cruz's bill—which is already backed by Sens. Joe Donnelly (D., Ind.), John Cornyn (R., Tex.), Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.), and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), among others—outlines how regional terror groups continue to employ human shields in a bid to inflate the number of civilian casualties.

In addition to Hamas and Hezbollah, the bill would target companies that work with these terror groups to build facilities where they store munitions. Any international terror group would be subject to sanctions under the bill if caught employing human shields.

"America, Israel, and our other allies are engaged in a fight against radical Islamic terrorist organizations, from Hamas and Hezbollah to al Qaeda and ISIS, who cynically use human shields against us," Cruz said in a statement when the legislation was introduced.

"Unfortunately, organizations like the United Nations incentivize this barbaric tactic by blaming civilized countries, who do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties, for whatever civilian casualties that do occur," Cruz said. "The United States should hold accountable the monsters who commit these war crimes. This bill will impose consequences on those who enable and facilitate the use of human shields."