WASHINGTON – The Senate on Wednesday rejected a move by Democrats to stop the Pentagon from using cluster bombs near civilian targets and to cut off sales unless purchasers abide by the same rules.
On a 70-30 vote, the Senate defeated an amendment to a Pentagon budget bill to block use of the deadly munitions near populated areas. The vote came after the State Department announced last month that it is investigating whether Israel misused American-made cluster bombs in civilian areas of Lebanon.
Unexploded cluster bombs — anti-personnel weapons that spray bomblets over a wide area — litter homes, gardens and highways in south Lebanon after Israel's 34-day war with Hezbollah militants.
Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Patrick Leahy have long sought to keep cluster bombs from being used near concentrated areas of civilians. They say that as many as 40 percent of the munitions fail to detonate on impact — they can still can explode later — leaving innocent civilians and children vulnerable to injury or death long after hostilities have ceased.
Relief organizations and the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Center reported finding evidence that Israel used three types of U.S.-made cluster bombs during the war with Hezbollah militants. Israel also manufactures its own cluster munitions.
"For too long, innocent civilians, not enemy combatants, have suffered the majority of casualties from cluster munitions," Leahy said. "The recent experience in Lebanon is only the latest example of the appalling human toll of injury and death. Strict rules of engagement are long overdue."
But Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, "The rules of engagement properly belong with the Department of Defense and the commander in chief."
Stevens argued that the amendment would restrict "the ability of our military to use these munitions to protect our people."