The U.S. is complicit in war crimes in Yemen
Since Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March 2015, the United States gave its full support to a relentless air campaign where Saudi warplanes and bombs hit thousands of targets, including civilian sites and infrastructure, with impunity.
When challenged over why the United States has continued to assist Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Arab nations in a bombing campaign that has killed thousands of civilians in Yemen, Trump administration officials have often responded that American involvement is helping to hold down unnecessary casualties by advising the Saudis and their allies on targeting and rules of engagement.
But this was a lie meant to obscure one of the least understood aspects of US support for Saudi Arabia and its allies in Yemen: it’s not that Saudi-led forces don’t know how to use American-made weapons or need help in choosing targets. They have deliberately targeted civilians and Yemen’s infrastructure since the war’s early days – and US officials have recognized this since at least 2016 and done little to stop it.
With infants, mothers, the elderly and other noncombatants continuing to die under a rain of American-made bombs, the administration’s rationale is fraying and becoming a new election-season political flash point. A growing group of lawmakers from both parties and current and former administration officials, as well as former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, say American involvement must end. They assert that rather than helping halt the killing of civilians, the United States is getting its hands bloodier in the quagmire.
Last September, a team of United Nations investigators, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, presented a devastating report in Geneva detailing how the US, along with Britain and France, are likely complicit in war crimes in Yemen because of continued weapons sales and intelligence support to the Saudis and their allies, especially the United Arab Emirates.
The most recent report by the United Nations Group of Eminent and International Regional Experts on Yemen described “an acute accountability gap” and recommended that the UN Security Council refer the situation in Yemen to the International Criminal Court.
The US is looking the other way while its allies commit war crimes and avoid responsibility for instigating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Yet rather than taking steps to address the legal issues, State Department leaders have gone to great lengths to conceal them. Even after a State Department inspector general investigation this year revealed that the department had failed to address the legal risks of selling bombs to the Saudis, agency officials ensured that details of the finding were put in a classified part of the public report released in August, and then so heavily redacted that lawmakers with security clearances could not see them.
The risk is growing that American officials could be charged with war crimes by a foreign court or an international tribunal. Even back in November 2015, less than a year into the conflict, Human Rights Watch warned that the U.S. might be liable for laws-of-war violations in Yemen. Nearly six years later, the Armed Conflict and Event Data Project estimates that 112,000 people have died from the hostilities, including 12,000 civilians. Millions more suffer, or have perished, from hunger caused by the Saudi-led coalition’s blockade and the Houthis’ massive restrictions on aid delivery, a situation that’s been exacerbated in recent months by COVID-19.
The U.S. government should be seeking to hold to account those directly responsible for targeting civilians, torturing detainees, enforced disappearances, and other crimes detailed in the Group of Experts report.