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Reading this U.S. Officials Fear American Guns Ordered by Israel Could Fuel West Bank Violence

If the State Department approved the order and it was later proven that these weapons were used by civilians, could the State Department be in violation of any laws and potentially face prosecution?

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    Do you mean "used against civilians"? It is hard to see how letting civilians use American guns would violate any law in the U.S. where civilians can buy the same weapons if they wish legally.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 22:48
  • The difference is the US is selling these weapons to a government to be used by their official force not to their civilians.
    – Mocas
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 8:26

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Reading this U.S. Officials Fear American Guns Ordered by Israel Could Fuel West Bank Violence

If the State Department approved the order and it was later proven that these weapons were used by civilians, could the State Department be in violation of any laws and potentially face prosecution?

No. This doesn't violate any U.S. laws (indeed, these weapons can be lawfully sold to U.S. civilians). There is no treaty banning the international sale of assault rifles to governments or civilians (at least that is applicable in this case). And, Israel is free to enact its own gun control laws as it sees fit.

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Who uses the weapons doesn't matter as much as on whom it is used - if these weapons are abused to commit human rights violations, then yes, the State Department could be sued by the victims and put in a tough spot.

All US arm sales have to adhere to the guidelines in "The Memorandum on United States Conventional Arms Transfer Policy", some of which require due diligence and care from the State Department:

The United States CAT Policy supports the following United States foreign policy and national security objectives: ...

  • Prevent arms transfers that risk facilitating or otherwise contributing to violations of human rights or international humanitarian law;

  • Strengthen ally and partner capacity to respect their obligations under international law and reduce the risk of civilian harm, including through arms transfers, as well as appropriate tools, training, advising, and institutional capacity-building efforts;

.... All decisions on potential arms transfers will be made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the following considerations: ...

  • The risk that the recipient may use the arms transfer to contribute to a violation of human rights or international humanitarian law, based on an assessment of the available information and relevant circumstances, including the capacity and intention of the recipient to respect international obligations and commitments;

  • The risk of diversion and the recipient’s ability and willingness to protect sensitive equipment and technology, including its history of compliance with end‑use requirements and whether the end-use country maintains strong export controls and nonproliferation practices ...;

... no arms transfer will be authorized where the United States assesses that it is more likely than not that the arms to be transferred will be used by the recipient to commit, facilitate the recipients’ commission of, or to aggravate risks that the recipient will commit: genocide; crimes against humanity; grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, including attacks intentionally directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such; or other serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law, including serious acts of gender‑based violence or serious acts of violence against children.

Apart from this, the Biden administration has also rolled out a new system to track and investigate incidents where American-made weapons are used by foreign governments to injure or kill civilians.

The policy, known as Civilian Harm Incident Response Guidance (CHIRG), compels State Department officials to investigate and potentially penalize reported abuses of U.S. weapons abroad. Under this system, U.S. government officials will examine allegations of abuse reported by diplomatic or intelligence officials, the United Nations, international media, or civil society groups. If investigators deem a report valid, they will recommend a course of action that could include intensifying military training and education to shore up issues, curbing future arms sales until the recipient addresses its human rights problems, or other authorized diplomatic responses.

Then there's the Leahy Laws that discourages (actually it "prohibits", but that hasn't stopped US administrations from finding loopholes around it, so discourages is a more apt term) the US from selling weapons to organisations that have committed gross human right violations. This law has been used in the past to scrutinise human rights violation claims against some Israeli military units:

"Under the law the State Department is responsible for evaluations and enforcement decisions and over the years Senator Leahy has pressed for faithful and consistent application of the law.” ... Tragically, the prospect of Israel misusing these U.S. weapons to kill Palestinian civilians has been borne out too frequently. According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, from September 2000-December 2009, the Israeli military killed 2,969 Palestinians who took no part in hostilities, including 1,128 children.

References:

  1. Tort Claims Against the U.S. Department of State

  2. Memorandum on United States Conventional Arms Transfer Policy -

  3. Biden administration to formalise investigating civilian deaths by US arms

  4. New tracking system for US weapons use overseas could be erased in a heartbeat

  5. Hold Israel accountable with Leahy law (2011)

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  • Who is "the recipient" in that policy? I presume it's the foreign government and their military. If a civilian gets hold of the weapon, are they included? And I notice that the list of disallowed actions doesn't include simple murder -- the underlying assumption seems to be that they're talking about military-style activities.
    – Barmar
    Commented Nov 8, 2023 at 23:19
  • @Barmar Depends on the "end user" clause. Sometimes the US even prohibits reselling weapons and asks that it be destroyed once it reaches EOL. But these kinds of small arms are a lower priority. And the US can't really do on-site monitoring everywhere, especially during a conflict, and US weapons from Afghanistan, Syria and Ukraine are suspected to have been provided to Hamas, Hezbolla, Iran, African mercenaries etc. That is why the CHIRG policy was created to track where US weapons ends up. And yes, the US only cares if the weapons are used for some war crime-like human rights violations.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 11:20
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    Of course. We don't do much to prevent civilian violence with military-style weapons at home, why would we care about it in some foreign country?
    – Barmar
    Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 15:51
  • The State Department isn't even a party that can sue or be sued. The U.S. government has sovereign immunity. And the U.S. government is only requires to follow a process, not to have civil liability for it. There also isn't a plausible legal claim against the individuals. The Memorandum indeed, is probably not even a self-executing enforceable in court legal obligation.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 17:32
  • @ohwilleke It's debatable - The FTCA waives sovereign immunity and allows US government officials to be sued, but does have a waiver for "acts committed in foreign countries". On the other hand, 18 U.S.C. 1091 makes Genocide a Federal crime. "There is Federal jurisdiction if the offense is committed within the United States. There is also Federal extraterritorial jurisdiction when the offender is a national of the United States."
    – sfxedit
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 20:58

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