Middle East Part Two- Yemen & Proxy war
The world caught a glimpse of the human tragedy unfolding in Yemen this week. The relentless Saudi Arabian-led (KSA) and American-supported air campaign in the region’s poorest nation have left thousands of women and children dead since its inception last year. Last weekend’s bombing ripped through a funeral home in the Yemeni capital city of Sana’a. Officials in the country said the airstrike killed at least 150 civilians and injured another 500.
As a result, a retaliatory missile attack aimed at US ships cruising the Arabian Sea forced the US military to employ evasive methods to avoid being struck. The Houthis denied the attack and claimed the reports were nothing more than a fabrication intended to distract attention from the massive air strike on civilians.
The Obama administration is fighting a proxy war for Saudi Arabia by providing logistic support, air surveillance, and naval patrols that enable the Saudis to indiscriminately kill Yemenis with munitions striking the targets supplied by the American taxpayer.
The latest $1.3 billion shipment of weapons from the Obama administration to KSA was approved even though there are multiple investigations underway from human rights’ groups concerned that war crimes are being committed by KSA as well as the US.
According to Reuters: “US government lawyers ultimately did not reach a conclusion on whether US support for the campaign would make the United States a ‘co-belligerent’ in the war under international law. That finding would have obligated Washington to investigate allegations of war crimes in Yemen and would have raised a legal risk that US military personnel could be subject to prosecution.”
Government officials in Washington warned Saudi Arabia that they would review Saudi military actions to “better align with US principles, values, and interests.”
However, documents dated mid-May 2015 to February 2016, highlighted that the US State Department senior staff reviewed and approved the purchase of precision munitions for KSA in order to replenish bombs they had been dropping in Yemen. Another document showed notes from a meeting between State Department and human rights’ groups that acknowledged the bombing campaign was killing high numbers of civilians.
“The strikes are not intentionally indiscriminate but rather result from a lack of Saudi experience with dropping munitions and firing missiles,” Reuters reported. “The lack of Saudi experience is compounded by the asymmetric situation on the ground where enemy militants are not wearing uniforms and are mixed with civilian populations. Weak intelligence likely further compounds the problem.”
The war in Yemen is yet another casualty of the Arab Spring. As the fever spread, KSA was reluctant to cede control in Yemen to the Houthi rebels, who are aligned with the Iranians. The Saudi’s began their air campaign in Yemen in March 2015 in an effort to reinstate President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after Iran-backed Houthi rebels forced him to flee his palace and abscond into KSA. Both factions have been fighting to install their dictator of choice, but the intense bombing campaign has lasted much longer than the US thought. In the meantime, the United Nations says, at least 3,800 civilians have died in strikes against hospitals, markets, and schools in Yemen.
As for the US government, in March of last year, the Pentagon authorized more than $22.2 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, including billions in precision munitions. The State Department (DoS) said the munitions were meant to replenish bombs already used in Yemen. Also part of the new weapons deal was US refueling and logistical support for KSA’ jets.
Reuters obtained information from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. (A selection of the documents can be viewed here: tmsnrt.rs/2dL4h6L; tmsnrt.rs/2dLbl2S; tmsnrt.rs/2dLb7Ji; tmsnrt.rs/2dLbbIX)
Included in the documents were emails that ironically stated, “the government had submitted the Taylor ruling to a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to bolster its case that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other al Qaeda detainees were complicit in the Sept 11, 2001, attacks.” That ruling found “practical assistance, encouragement or moral support” could be enough evidence to determine the liability of war crimes. “Prosecutors do not have to prove a defendant participated in a specific crime, the UN-backed court found,” Reuters said.
However, Reuters did not report whether the President signed an End User Certificate. If President Obama signed the document, there will be no war crime charges, if the weapons were used as specified. The document is required for all tier two-three countries (human rights violators) both Saudi Arabia and Yemen fall into that category. (Read this reporter’s award-winning article “Obama outpaces Bush in foreign weapon sales”).
In a statement, Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said: “Secretary Kerry spoke on October 9 to both His Royal Highness Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir regarding the situation in Yemen. Secretary Kerry reiterated our deep concern about the October 8 attack on the funeral hall in Yemen that resulted in a large number of civilian casualties. He welcomed the Deputy Crown Prince’s commitment to launch a thorough and immediate investigation of the strike and urged him to take urgent steps to ensure such an incident does not happen again. The Secretary also reiterated the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities, and the Deputy Crown Prince stated his desire to institute a renewable 72-hour cessation as soon as possible, provided the Houthis will agree.”
The Secretary also noted, “as part of the broader de-escalation effort, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s legitimate request that the Houthis pull back weapons from Saudi Arabia’s border and respect its territorial integrity. The Secretary expressed appreciation for the Deputy Crown Prince’s support for returning the Houthi/ Saleh negotiating delegation to Sana’a as soon as possible to facilitate the UN-led political process.”
Human rights’ activist shouldn’t hold their breath on charges against US officials, as the US is the chief sponsor of the United Nations. UN officials have been openly complaining about the lack of international probes for war crimes during the turbulent Arab Spring that some say has turned into the Arab Winter.
“In the law of war, you can be guilty for aiding and abetting war crimes and at some point the … evidence is going to continue to mount and I think the administration is now in an untenable situation,” Congressman and former military prosecutor Ted Lieu (D-CA) concluded.