GAO Faults State Dept., Pentagon on Human Rights Background Checks

U.S. government investigators found the Defense and State departments trained and equipped hundreds of security personnel of North African allies without ensuring that people involved had not engaged in human rights abuses.

The study released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office covered U.S. security aid to Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, which amounted to $146.6 million in the budget years 2002 to 2005. The State Department's annual human rights report characterized the records of Morocco and Tunisia as poor and Algeria's as improved but with problems remaining.

Only about $5 million of the total went to Algeria, 85 percent of it in military or anti-terror training. Most of the outlays to the other two countries were in equipment, in Tunisia's case mostly decades-old surplus U.S. military materiel.

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Legislation known as the Leahy Amendment after its sponsor, Sen. Patrick Leahy, has required such background checks since 1998 of organizations and individuals that receive U.S. security aid.

The GAO found similar lapses last year in an audit of vetting procedures in Southeast Asia.

As it did last year, the GAO recommended that State, in consultation with Defense, establish a systematic monitoring system to ensure compliance by each post that requires human rights vetting.

The State Department concurred with its findings and said it was rectifying the shortcomings, the GAO said, but the Defense Department did not comment.