Yemen is our hidden war.
For over a year, the U.S. has been supporting a Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen’s civil war, a war that has so far claimed the lives of at least 3,200 civilians. In January, we wrote about the U.S. role in this war, and in March, we covered the one year anniversary of the intervention and the growing awareness of and opposition to U.S. support for the war. April 2016 however may be remembered as a turning point.
On April 13, Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced a joint resolution (S.J.Res.32) that aims to block transfers of air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia until the President certifies that Saudi Arabia isn’t funding terrorism, is taking significant steps to reduce civilian casualties, is facilitating the flow of humanitarian aid, and is going after ISIS and Al Qaeda in Yemen. Last week, Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Ted Yoho (R-FL) introduced a companion bill in the House (H.J.Res.90).
It’s an open question right now how many Senators and Representatives will support this effort. So far, just five lawmakers have sponsored the resolutions, although a surrogate for Bernie Sanders said he believed the Senator would support the legislation, and other lawmakers have voiced similar concerns about Saudi Arabia’s conduct in recent months. Given the billions of dollars at stake, the arms industry and its network of lobbyists will likely throw a tantrum if a sizeable block of Congress gets behind these resolutions, so here are some reasons to support the legislation that lawmakers won’t hear from lobbyists for Lockheed Martin.
The Saudi-led coalition has killed thousands of civilians since March 2015, many of whom were killed by bombs purchased from the United States. In late September, 2015, a UN report found that the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for nearly two-thirds of the civilian deaths in the war, and nearly two-thirds of the damaged or destroyed civilian buildings. Shortly thereafter, a coalition airstrike hit a wedding party, killing upwards of 80 people. Since then, the U.S.-backed coalition has continued killing civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure in numbers that point to a scorched earth policy that considers schools, hospitals, markets, and refugee camps “legitimate military targets”. Perhaps the most compelling evidence of Saudi Arabia’s unwillingness to differentiate between military and civilian targets is its use of cluster bombs over civilian areas including areas in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital. The administration’s willingness to allow the sale of the those cluster bombs exemplifies its complicity. Murphy and Lieu’s legislation would put strict conditions on transfers of air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia, including cluster munitions.
Indirect effects of the bombing campaign have also been extremely troubling. According to Chris Murphy, “Yemenis will tell you that this isn’t a Saudi bombing campaign, this is a U.S.-Saudi bombing campaign.” That may shed some light on why a recent survey found that 82 percent of Yemenis between the ages of 18 to 24 consider the U.S. an enemy. It may also help explain how terrorist groups have successfully taken advantage of the situation. The civil war and the coalition’s focus on targeting Houthi rebels has allowed affiliates of ISIS and Al Qaeda in Yemen to significantly expand their territories.
Sadly, the administration has not done enough to get Saudi Arabia to change its practices. In addition to actually facilitating its behavior with intelligence and logistical support and $20 billion in arms sales since the war began, the administration has done its part to keep the Kingdom’s unseemly practices out of the spotlight. In October, the U.S. opposed a UN Security Council proposal that would have called on both sides of the conflict “to respect and uphold international humanitarian law and human rights law.” Earlier this month, the State Department released its annual report on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. The report cited a Human Rights Watch Report which attributed 13 civilian deaths to the Saudi coalition from April through mid-July 2015. HRW’s Yemen Researcher, Belkis Wille, rebuked the State Department report, saying it “suggests that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accused the Saudis of only 13 civilian deaths during the fighting… The U.S. is presenting a small bite of the apple.” Thankfully, Congress has the power to pressure Saudi Arabia where the administration and its State Department will not.
Despite the mainstream media’s astonishing lack of coverage of the war in Yemen, opposition to U.S. support for the war has been steadily building. At the same time, growing concern with Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations, its funding of Wahhabism, and unanswered questions about its possible involvement in the 9/11 attacks have all added momentum to a new push to rethink our relationship with the monarchy. Whatever this new relationship brings, Congress can and should be part of making sure that it doesn’t further implicate the U.S. in war crimes and human rights violations.
Please call your Senators and ask them to co-sponsor S.J.Res.32. Then call your representative and ask them to co-sponsor H.J.Res.90. Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.