Commentary

Washington Warlord: Hillary Clinton’s Child Soldiers

“Let us render the tyrant no aid; let us not hold the light by which he can trace the footprints of our flying brother.” — Frederick Douglass

If there is one policy issue that most Americans can agree upon, even in our hyperpartisan political times, it is that child slavery should not be tolerated. President Barack Obama gave voice to this principle in a 2012 speech before the Clinton Global Initiative.

“When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery,” Obama told the audience, which included his then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.”

Later that week, Clinton’s State Department implemented “national interest” sanction waivers that authorized millions in military assistance, training and arms sales to countries that allow the use of child soldiers in their armed forces or allied militias. It was the third year in a row that the administration had waived sanctions imposed by the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 (CSPA).

Josh Rogin, writing for Foreign Policy in 2010, described a conference call between Samantha Power, then a senior National Security Council aide, and a group of human rights NGO officials who were outraged by the issuance of the first child soldier sanction waivers earlier that year. Rogin, who heard a recording of the call, said Powers “promised that if these countries don’t shape up, the administration will take a tougher line when re-evaluating the sanctions next year.”

However, the administration didn’t take a tougher line the next year, or the year after that.

Jo Becker, advocacy director for the children’s rights division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Rogin in 2011 that “the White House said last year that they were putting these countries on notice, but now it’s a year later and the U.S. is still handing over taxpayer money to countries that use child soldiers with no strings attached.”

In 2012, Becker told Rogin that in “South Sudan, Libya and Yemen, the U.S. continues to squander its leverage by giving military aid with no conditions.”

Jesse Eaves, then-senior policy advisor for child protection at World Vision, told Rogin at the time: “The intent in this law was to use this waiver authority only in extreme circumstances, yet (the annual sanction waiver) has … become the default of this administration.”

Two years later, Eaves was still condemning the Obama administration for the robotic issuance of sanction waivers to nations who permitted the enslavement of child soldiers with impunity.

“We must ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars do not contribute to … increasing the use and suffering of child soldiers,” Eaves said in a 2014 World Vision press release. “The bottom line is the use of these waivers is dangerous for children.”

HRW’s Becker and Rachel Stohl, of the nonpartisan think tank Stimson Center, wrote a September 2015 op-ed for CNN.com in which they released the results of a joint study on the administration’s use of child soldier sanction waivers.

According to Becker and Stohl, “during the five years the (CSPA) law has been in effect, President Obama has invoked ‘national interest’ waivers to authorize nearly $1 billion in military assistance and arms sales for countries that are still using child soldiers.”

They said that their analysis “found that only $35 million in military assistance and arms sales — a mere 4 percent of what was sanctionable under the law — was actually withheld from these abusive governments.”

Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia and one of the most infamous warlords in Africa, was convicted in 2012 by a U.N.-backed tribunal of aiding and abetting the recruitment and use of child soldiers by rebel forces in Sierra Leone. Taylor was never charged with directly recruiting or using child soldiers. Instead, Taylor’s indictment charged him with giving “financial support, military training, personnel, arms ammunition and other support and encouragement.”

Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, the original sponsor of the CSPA, has described the administration’s “national interest” sanction waivers as an “assault on human dignity.” He told Foreign Policy that “(g)ood citizens of this country who do not want to be complicit in this grave human rights abuse must challenge this administration.”

Hillary Clinton did not challenge the administration’s child soldier sanction waivers. Instead, she embraced the policy; just as she embraced the administration’s child-killing drone program, the U.S. military surge in Afghanistan (which doubled the number of child casualties from 2010 to 2011), and an immigration policy that has left thousands of undocumented children in detention facilities and thousands more children with U.S. citizenship in foster care after their undocumented parents were deported with little warning or due process.

Anyone who cares about social justice and still supports Hillary Clinton must ask themselves the following question. If Clinton did not stand up and fight to protect the victims of child slavery when it was her job to do so, why should they expect her to stand up and fight for anyone else once she no longer needs their votes?

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow. Nick Hentoff is a criminal defense and civil liberties attorney in New York City.