Document Type


Publication Date



Colby College. Anthropology Dept.


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 erased.


Original publication:

PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review
November 2011
Vol. 34, Number 2, pp 337-354



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.