Can Ted Lieu Round Up Enough Congressmembers To Stop The Carnage In Yemen?
I've never been to Yemen and, as much as I'd like to see the ancient mudbrick skyscrapers of Shibam in northwest Yemen and other sites in that off-the-beaten path country between Saudi Arabia and Sonalia, I'm more cognizant these days of how dangerous it is to travel to a place like that than I was when I was running around places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar in my younger days. There's no survey of the world's most dangerous p;laces to visit that doesn't include Yemen. And more so now than ever. Two month ago, the U.S. State Department had a curt warning on its website: "We urge U.S. citizens to defer travel to Yemen and for those U.S. citizens currently living in or visiting Yemen to depart." The State Department warned "U.S. citizens against all travel to Yemen because of the high security threat level posed by ongoing conflict and terrorist activities" and noted that the Embassy had closed down in February of 2015.
The level of instability and ongoing threats, including the threat of kidnapping, in Yemen is severe. In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition initiated an air campaign in support of the exiled Yemeni government. While a nationwide cessation of hostilities has largely held since April 10, pockets of violence persist and the country remains deeply insecure. Periodic armed conflict and shelling continues in certain areas across the country. There are reports of land mines being placed in areas vacated by withdrawing forces. The military conflict has also significantly damaged infrastructure, limiting the availability of electricity, clean water, and medical care, and causing travel by internal roads to be dangerous. This instability often hampers the ability of humanitarian organizations to deliver critically needed food, medicine, and water.Thursday, reporting for the NY Times from DC, not Yemen, Mark Mazzetti. wrote about a Saudi jet-- Saudi now, American-made though-- bombing a hospital in remote northern Yemen, killing 19 and wounding "dozens" more.
Doctors Without Borders announced in the days after the Aug. 15 strike that it was pulling out of six medical facilities in northern Yemen, the latest turn in a war that has further devastated one of the Arab world’s poorest countries and has bogged down a Saudi military ill-prepared for the conflict.The State Department approved the $1.15 billion arms sale August 9 and Congress has just 30 days to clock the sale. But Congress is on vacation and there is nothing-- not Zika outbreaks in Florida and Texas nor dead children in remote Yemen-- that's going to get Paul Ryan to bring the House back from holiday.
For the Obama administration, it was another public reminder of the spiraling violence of a war in which it has played a direct role. American officials have publicly condemned the hospital bombing-- and the bombing of a school two days earlier-- but the Pentagon has given steady support to the coalition led by Saudi Arabia, with targeting intelligence and fuel for the Saudi planes involved in the air campaign.
Anger over the Saudi-led campaign and the United States role in the war is growing in Congress. On Wednesday, it prompted a group of lawmakers to circulate a letter that asks President Obama to withdraw his request for Congressional approval for a $1.15 billion sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, until Congress can have a broader debate about American military support for the Saudis.
The past three weeks have seen an escalation in the conflict in Yemen-- and in reports of civilian casualties-- after peace talks among the warring sides broke down and Saudi Arabia resumed a blistering air assault in areas surrounding Yemen’s capital, Sana. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday with the aim of brokering a new peace deal, although there is little optimism about a lasting cease-fire in the near future.
...This month, a Saudi-led investigation into eight separate episodes in Yemen that had killed hundreds of civilians-- including previous strikes that hit Doctors Without Borders facilities-- largely absolved the coalition of the deaths.
The investigation concluded that faulty intelligence was to blame in only one of the eight episodes, and said that aid groups, such as Doctors Without Borders, should not station medical facilities near Houthi encampments.
But a spokesman for the investigation, Mansour bin Ahmed Mansour, said in an interview that investigators did not travel to Yemen and had no personnel on the ground there to collect evidence. “The circumstances do not allow the team to go on the ground,” he said.
Speaking of an episode late last year, when a coalition airstrike bombed a Doctors Without Borders clinic near the Yemeni city of Taiz, Mr. Mansour said that the coalition had hit a “legitimate military target,” and that the aid group “should keep these tents away from the locations where there are militias.”
According to United States Central Command, American military tankers have flown nearly 1,200 sorties since the war began and refueled more than 5,600 coalition aircraft-- support that is drawing increasing protest from Congress.
Senator Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Obama administration’s support for the campaign in Yemen had caused anger to be directed at the United States from inside the war-racked country.
“We try to maintain some distance from this, but that doesn’t sell inside Yemen,” he said. “I’m petrified about the long-term prospects of a Yemeni population that is radicalized against the United States.”
The Saudi-led bombing campaign resumed this month after a monthslong pause for the unsuccessful attempt to draft a peace agreement. On Aug. 7, more than a dozen civilians were killed in an airstrike that hit a small marketplace near the village of Al Madeed, approximately 35 miles northeast of Sana.
Sada al-Othari, a witness who owns a drugstore in the village, said that two of his customers were killed in the bombing and that there was no military target in the area.
He gave a graphic account of victims burned beyond recognition and panicked locals who were reluctant to provide help, fearing a second airstrike would hit the rescuers-- a tactic that the coalition has used during the campaign.
On Aug. 13 an airstrike in Hayden District hit a religious school, killing 10 students and wounding dozens. A representative of Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, in Yemen decried the bombing. Wounded children were brought to another medical facility run by Doctors Without Borders.
The day after that attack, a Saudi military spokesman denied that the airstrike had hit a school, saying the target was a Houthi training camp. The spokesman, Gen. Ahmed Asiri, said in a statement to Agence France-Presse that the dead children were just evidence that the Houthis were recruiting children as guards and fighters.
“We would have hoped,” General Asiri said, that Doctors Without Borders “would take measures to stop the recruitment of children to fight in wars instead of crying over them in the media.”
Ted Lieu, L.A. area congressman and full Air Force Reserves colonel, is leading the uphill bipartisan battle to block the arms sale. "I taught the law of war when I was on active duty," he told The Intercept. "You can’t kill children, newlyweds, doctors and patients-- those are exempt targets under the law of war, and the coalition has been repeatedly striking civilians. So it is very disturbing to me. It is even worse that the U.S. is aiding this coalition... Many in Congress have been hesitant to criticize the Saudis’ operational conduct in Yemen... [The bombing is] actually creating more terrorists by killing all these civilians." Lieu introduced a Joint Resolution expressing "the sense of Congress that no transfer to Saudi Arabia of U.S. air-to-ground munitions should occur until the President certifies that Saudi Arabia: (1) demonstrates an ongoing effort to combat the mutual threat our nations face from foreign terrorist organizations, and (2) takes all feasible precautions to reduce the risk of civilian harm in the course of military actions," in late April but Ryan has it rotting away in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. That committee is chaired by bloodthirsty Republican warmonger and small-minded partisan hack Ed Royce, whose district is just a few miles east of Lieu's, and who the DCCC has adamantly refused to target.
Lieu penned a letter to President Obama, along with Ted Yoho (R-FL), John Conyers (D-MI) and Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), urging him to postpone the sale:
Dear President Obama,As of today there were 50 signers: Justin Amash (R-MI), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Don Beyer (D-VA), Julia Brownley (D-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Steve Cohen (D-TN), John Conyers (D-MI), Danny Davis (D-IL), Pete DeFazio (D-OR), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Donna Edwards (D-MD), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Alan Grayson (D-FL), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Mike Honda (D-CA), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Walter Jones (D-NC), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), John Lewis (D-GA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Richard Neal (D-MA), Eleanor Norton-Holmes (D-DC), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Frank Payne Jr. (D-NJ), Collin Peterson (D-MN), Chelli Pingree (D-ME), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), John Yarmuth (D-KY), and Ted Yoho (R-FL).
On August 8, your administration notified Congress of intent to sell $1.15 billion of weapons to Saudi Arabia, including tanks which would replace tanks destroyed in Saudi Arabia's war against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
We respectfully urge you to postpone this plan and withdraw the notification for the following reasons.
Past Congressional concerns about Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen have not been addressed. In October, Members of Congress wrote to you urging greater efforts to avoid civilian casualties in Yemen and achieve a diplomatic solution to the conflict. In June, 204 Members of the House, including 40 Republicans and all but 16 Democrats, voted to block the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia after reports of their use in civilian areas in Yemen. Yet, just in the last several days, a Saudi airstrike on a school in Yemen killed 10 children-- some as young as 6-years-old-- and a Saudi airstrike on an MSF hospital in Yemen killed 11 people.
Indeed, Amnesty International has documented at least 33 unlawful airstrikes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition across Yemen that appear to have deliberately targeted civilians and civilian facilities, such as hospitals, schools, markets, and places of worship. These attacks may amount to war crimes.
This military campaign has had a deeply troubling impact on civilians. According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 3,704 civilians, including 1,121 children have been killed during the conflict. 2.8 million Yemenis have been internally displaced by the fighting, with 83 percent of the population now dependent on humanitarian assistance for survival. Any decision to sell more arms to Saudi Arabia should be given adequate time for full deliberation by Congress.
We are concerned, however, that the timing of this notification during the August Congressional recess could be interpreted to mean that Congress has little time to consider the arms deal when it returns from recess within the 30 day window established by law. We are not aware of any compelling reason why Congressional approval of the sale could not be postponed to allow for meaningful Congressional debate on this issue that has major implications for both civilians in Yemen as well as our national security.
In announcing your decision to seek Congressional authorization for the use of force against the Syrian government in 2013, you stated that: "I've long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people." We strongly agree. We urge you to delay this proposed arms deal so that the people's representatives in Congress can give these issues the full deliberation that they deserve.
Thank you kindly for your attention to this matter.
By the way, don't look for Patrick Murphy's name on that list. His career has been largely financed by one of the most powerful Saudi families, the al-Rashids. Nasser al-Rashid is one of the king's top advisors and he's funneled immense sums into Murphy's career, much of it surreptitiously and illegally, having his sons give money to their girl friend's random relatives in Pennsylvania to max-out to Murphy and to their housekeeper to max-out to Murphy, even giving Harry Reid a $100,000 bribe for his SuperPAC to use against Grayson. (After one of the al-Rashids was publicly exposed for beating his wife (an employee of Murphy's) within an inch of her life-- a tradition in that family-- Reid was forced to return the money.) But al-Rashid's 4 sons, Ibrahim (the wife beater), Ramzi, Salman and Mohammed (who contributes money to Murphy and his cronies under the name "Moose al-Rashid" to throw off investigators) have funneled a non-stop flow of Saudi money into Murphy's campaign committees and SuperPACs. And what do they get? It's not just about Murphy not signing a letter like this. Murphy is on the House Intelligence Committee where the joke was that he is the only person dumber than Michele Bachmann to serve on the committee. But at least she wasn't feeding top secret information to any foreign governments.
A week ago, the NY Times editorial board wrote that the U.S. is complicit in the carnage in Yemen. They should have said war crimes. The U.S. "has enabled the coalition in many ways, including selling arms to the Saudis to mollify them after the nuclear deal with Iran. Congress should put the arms sales on hold and President Obama should quietly inform Riyadh that the United States will withdraw crucial assistance if the Saudis do not stop targeting civilians and agree to negotiate peace."
Obama agreed to support the Yemen intervention-- without formal authorization from Congress-- and sell the Saudis even more weapons in part to appease Riyadh’s anger over the Iran nuclear deal. All told, since taking office, Mr. Obama has sold the Saudis $110 billion in arms, including Apache helicopters and missiles.
Mr. Obama has also supplied the coalition such indispensable assistance as intelligence, in-flight refueling of aircraft and help in identifying appropriate targets. Experts say the coalition would be grounded if Washington withheld its support. Instead, the State Department last week approved the potential sale of $1.15 billion more in tanks and other equipment to Saudi Arabia to replace items destroyed in the war. Congress has the power to block this sale; Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, says he is discussing that possibility with other lawmakers. But the chances are slim, in part because of the politics.
Given the civilian casualties, further American support for this war is indefensible. As Mr. Murphy told CNN on Tuesday: “There’s an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Yemen.”
UPDATE: More Congressmembers Sign On
There are over 60 Members now who have signed Ted' letter to President Obama. The latest members to sign are Karen Bass (D-CA), Lois Capps (D-CA), Mike Capuano (D-MA), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Joe Crowley (D-NY), Bill Keating (D-MA), Dave Loebsack (D-IA), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), Jared Polis (D-CO), David Price (D-NC), Niki Tsongas (D-MA) and Frederica Wilson (D-FL). Still no Patrick Murphy of course, who would never go against his Saudi financiers.