During the latest hours of Wednesday, October 12th, the United States took its first direct military action against Iran-backed Houthi forces in Yemen.This attack, has been overshadowed in mainstream media by coverage of topics such as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s alleged history of sexual assault and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s gains in the polls. Jake Tibbetts offers reasons why we can’s afford to stay silent about the role of the U.S. in Yemeni suffering much longer.
Though the United States only recently launched its first direct attack against Houthi forces in Yemen, we have long been a key player in the Saudi-Yemeni conflict through our many arms deals with Saudi Arabia since 2009. As it becomes clearer that the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for attacks on civilian populations, it is essential that Americans stand up to their government for its role in what some classify as war crimes.
The U.S.’s “First” Strike Against Houthi Forces Is Far From Our First
During the latest hours of Wednesday, October 12th, the United States took its first direct military action against Iran-backed Houthi forces in Yemen. The U.S. launched cruise missile attacks on three coastal radar sites in areas controlled by Houthi forces as an act of retaliation following failed missile attacks on a U.S. Navy destroyer. Despite accusations from U.S. intelligence services about the matter, the Houthi rebels have dismissed such allegations as attempts to “escalate aggression and cover up crimes committed against the Yemeni people.”
This attack, which has been overshadowed in mainstream media by coverage of topics such as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s alleged history of sexual assault and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s gains in the polls, is far from America’s first contribution to the Yemeni conflict; we have previously exerted great influence in the region through our ties to Saudi Arabia’s government.
Since Barack Obama took office in 2009, we have provided Saudi Arabia with over $110 billion in arms deals in order to fight Houthi rebels. The U.S. Senate recently cleared the way for a $1.15 billion arms deal that will provide the Saudi-led coalition with 130 battle tanks, 20 armored recovery vehicles, and other weaponry provided by General Dynamics Corp.
Last Week’s Assault on a Sana’a Funeral is the Most Damning Evidence of the U.S.’s Role in Yemeni Suffering
This American proxy involvement was most materially evident (and most damning) following last week’s tragedy in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital city. On October 8th, aircraft from the Saudi-led coalition launched strikes on a community hall in Sana’a that, at the time, was hosting a large funeral for a well-known sheikh. 140 people were killed, and an additional 525 people were injured. Bomb fragments at the scene all but confirm the use of MK-82 guided bombs, 500-pound explosives produced only in the United States.
The code “96214,” which appears on many of the fragments, indicates that these bombs were produced by Raytheon, which is America’s third largest defense contractor. This all, unsurprisingly, begins to add up when one considers that, last November, the State Department approved the sale of 8,020 MK-82 bombs to Saudi Arabia as part of a $1.29 billion weapons transfer.
Human Rights Groups are Correct in Implicating America For Its Role In This Conflict
This unbridled militarism hasn’t gone unnoticed. Last week, Human Rights Watch called the October 8 attack an “apparent war crime,” writing that “while military personnel and civilian officials involved in the war effort were attending the ceremony, the clear presence of several hundred civilians strongly suggests that the attack was unlawfully disproportionate.”
Sunjeev Bery, advocacy director for Middle East and North Africa issues for Amnesty International USA, described the problem quite succinctly during an interview in August: “The bottom line is that the U.S. government considers to arm the government of Saudi Arabia with precisely the kinds of weapons that Saudi Arabia and its coalition have used to attack civilian communities in Yemen. That’s the fundamental problem. Nobody should be putting more bombs or weapons in the hands of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.”
These rights groups are wholly correct in pointing out the disturbing nature of the United States’ role in the Saudi-led assault on Yemen, the poorest country in Southwest Asia. According to the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, roughly 4,000 civilians have been killed since the Saudi campaign began in March 2015. This violence has pushed 14.4 million Yemeni citizens into a state of food insecurity, has caused roughly 19 million Yemeni citizens to lose access to clean water, has allowed groups like al-Qaeda to “seize the opportunity of the disorder there and the collapse of the central government,” and has caused four-fifths of the Yemeni population to enter what the UN has called a state of “humanitarian catastrophe.”
The U.S. Government Knows Very Well the Magnitude Of Its Role
Nothing evidently, is sacred during a time of war. Using the $110 billion dollars in military aid that we have provided, Saudi Arabia has launched air campaigns in Yemen that have targeted funerals, weddings, hospitals, schools, markets, homes, factories, and religious sites. As Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America writes in an October 2016 Time Magazine editorial, “the jeopardy civilians are facing is marked with a deep American imprint.” Recently unearthed documents leaked by Reuters note that State Department officials felt hesitant about Obama’s $1.3 billion arms sale to Yemen in 2015, worrying that such a sale could make the US a “co-belligerent” in war crimes in Yemen. One email between officials released by Reuters made direct reference to the 2013 case of former Liberian president Charles Taylor; in this case, it was determined that “practical assistance, encouragement or moral support” constituted co-belligerence. Despite the hesitance displayed by State Department officials, the United States went through with the sale anyway.
We Can’t Afford to Stay Silent Much Longer
Our role in Yemen didn’t begin with Wednesday night’s retaliatory strikes against coastal radar sites in Yemen. Rather, we have, since President Obama came to power in 2009, given hundreds of billions of dollars to Saudi Arabia, an oppressive, theocratic regime pledged to the extreme Islamist philosophy of Wahhabism, in order to eliminate perceived threats in Yemen brought forth by the Shia-led fundamentalist Houthi group.
Our activity, or, more accurately, the activity that we have directly funded and tacitly encouraged, has come under scrutiny from groups ranging from Human Rights Watch to Amnesty International to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for possibly constituting war crimes under international law.
We have willingly funded, with our tax dollars, a regime that cares little about whether its bombs (which, by the way, are often illegal U.S.-made cluster bombs) are used against extremist militants or against innocent civilians.
We have willingly allowed our nation, which has seen the devastating effects of intervention in recent years in nations ranging from Afghanistan to Iraq and from Libya to Syria, to become embroiled in yet another fight in which we have no place, as evidenced by our first “official” act of war against Houthi forces last week. It is time for those of us who so loudly opposed our aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan under President Bush to rise up and hold our Democratic administration (which has been guilty of just as many crimes as the Republican Bush administration) accountable for its crimes against humanity.
Though our nation is far from the only aggressor in this conflict, our blind, problematic allegiance to one side has implicated our nation in attacks on civilians that cannot be excused.