by William D. Hartung
The Saudi intervention in Yemen—carried out with U.S support—ranks alongside the war in Syria as the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. Without concerted action by Congress, things will get worse before they get better.
The people of Yemen have already been subjected to unimaginable suffering by a war that pits a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against forces composed of anti-government Houthi rebels and their allies.
The Saudi coalition—aided by U.S.-supplied weapons and refueling assistance—has bombed and killed thousands of civilians in Yemen. One recent strike destroyed a school bus, killing 40 children. Fragments of a Lockheed Martin laser-guided bomb were found near the scene of the attack. And a recent CNN report—based on its own reporting and on-the-ground research by the Yemen-based Mwatana Organization for Human Rights—documents the presence of fragments of U.S.-made bombs at the sites of a series of strikes on civilian targets, including homes, a factory, a civilian vehicle, and a wedding.
The bombings mentioned above are not isolated incidents. Saudi air strikes have also targeted hospitals, water treatment plants, and even a funeral. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) has argued that “Either the Pentagon should be 100 percent certain that U.S. weapons and funding aren’t being used to commit war crimes in Yemen, or we should cut off U.S. support right now.” Unfortunately, earlier this month the Trump administration ignored this plea when it—falsely—certified that the Saudis were taking due care to avoid killing civilians. The certification was a blatant evasion of a congressional requirement that the United States end its support for the Saudi/UAE-backed war in Yemen if it was determined that the coalition was engaging in the indiscriminate killing of civilians.
Members of Congress from both parties were quick to denounce the Trump administration’s decision. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) said that “Pompeo’s ‘certification’ is a farce. The Saudis deliberately bombed a bus full of children. There is only one moral answer, and that is to end our support for their intervention in Yemen.” Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) stated simply that “This war in Yemen is unconscionable, and the United States should not be a party to it.”
The U.S.-supported Saudi bombings are part of a larger pattern of neglect of human life that includes a blockade that has slowed the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance. The blockade has put millions of Yemenis at risk of starvation, and attacks on civilian infrastructure have sparked the largest cholera outbreak in living memory. Meanwhile, a Saudi/UAE effort to wrest control of the port of Hodeidah from the Houthis threatens to dramatically worsen an already horrific toll of civilian suffering, according to private aid groups and UN officials. Both sides of the war have committed heinous human right abuses—all the more reason to press for peace.
The challenges now are first, to end the indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and second, to end the war. The Trump administration and key members of Congress have both expressed support for the efforts of UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths to bring the warring parties together for peace talks, but discussions set for earlier this month fell apart as both sides maneuvered for position rather than negotiating in good faith.
Congress has shown growing concern for the humanitarian and security consequences of the Yemen war. In March, 44 Senators backed a move by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi/UAE war on the grounds that it has never been authorized by Congress. Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA), Adam Smith (D-WA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Mark Pocan (D-WI) are poised to put forward similar legislation in the House. Ending U.S. support for the Saudi/UAE intervention will dramatically reduce civilian harm.
The best way to bring the suffering in Yemen to an end is for Congress to reassert its war powers and end U.S. refueling of Saudi aircraft and other support for this brutal war, and to block a proposed sale of guided bombs to Saudi Arabia and the UAE scheduled to be formally notified to Congress later this year. Senior Democrats like Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, have stepped forward to take firm action to end U.S. involvement in the Yemen war. Menendez is putting a hold on the proposed bomb sale, and Smith is co-sponsoring the upcoming move to end illegal U.S. support for the Saudi/UAE coalition.
Other leaders in both parties should follow suit. Rarely does Congress have an opportunity make a difference in the lives of millions of people. This is one such chance, and the time to act is now.