Human Rights Law and Military Aid Delivery: A Case Study of the Leahy Law



Explicitly prohibiting US military counternarcotics assistance to foreign military units facing credible allegations of abuses, Leahy Law creation and implementation illuminates the epistemological challenges of knowledge production about violence in the policy process. First passed in 1997, the law emerged from strategic alliances between elite NGO advocates, grassroots activists, and critically located Congressional aides in response to the perceived inability of Congress to act on human rights information. I explore the resulting transformation of aid delivery; rather than suspend aid when no “clean” units could be found, US officials convinced their Colombian allies to create new units consisting of vetted soldiers. I use the implementation of the law in Colombia to explore how the vetting process exposed the knowledge practices inherent in policy implementation, the social production of credibility, and ways in which some forms of political violence were made visible while others were erased.