by Michael Krieger, Liberty Blitzkrieg:
There’s an ongoing humanitarian disaster happening in one of the poorest countries on earth — Yemen. Yet you won’t hear much outrage about it from the media, and you won’t hear moderators asking questions about it during the debates. Why? Because close U.S. government ally and Clinton Foundation mega-donor Saudi Arabia is the one committing the atrocities, with American made weapons and assistance.
The Obama administration went ahead with a $1.3 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year despite warnings from some officials that the United States could be implicated in war crimes for supporting a Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians, according to government documents and the accounts of current and former officials.
State Department officials also were privately skeptical of the Saudi military’s ability to target Houthi militants without killing civilians and destroying “critical infrastructure” needed for Yemen to recover, according to the emails and other records obtained by Reuters and interviews with nearly a dozen officials with knowledge of those discussions.
U.S. government lawyers ultimately did not reach a conclusion on whether U.S. support for the campaign would make the United States a “co-belligerent” in the war under international law, four current and former officials said. That finding would have obligated Washington to investigate allegations of war crimes in Yemen and would have raised a legal risk that U.S. military personnel could be subject to prosecution, at least in theory.
For instance, one of the emails made a specific reference to a 2013 ruling from the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor that significantly widened the international legal definition of aiding and abetting such crimes.
The ruling found that “practical assistance, encouragement or moral support” is sufficient to determine liability for war crimes. Prosecutors do not have to prove a defendant participated in a specific crime, the U.N.-backed court found.
The documents, obtained by Reuters under the Freedom of Information Act, date from mid-May 2015 to February 2016, a period during which State Department officials reviewed and approved the sale of precision munitions to Saudi Arabia to replenish bombs dropped in Yemen. The documents were heavily redacted to withhold classified information and some details of meetings and discussion.
An air strike on a wake in Yemen on Saturday that killed more than 140 people renewed focus on the heavy civilian toll of the conflict. The Saudi-led coalition denied responsibility, but the attack drew the strongest rebuke yet from Washington, which said it would review its support for the campaign to “better align with U.S. principles, values and interests.”
State Department lawyers “had their hair on fire” as reports of civilian casualties in Yemen multiplied in 2015, and prominent human rights groups charged that Washington could be complicit in war crimes, one U.S. official said. That official and the others requested anonymity.
Since March 2015, Washington has authorized more than $22.2 billion in weapons sales to Riyadh, much of it yet to be delivered. That includes a $1.29 billion sale of precision munitions announced in November 2015 and specifically meant to replenish stocks used in Yemen.
Yet notice how U.S. politicians, fake journalists and pundits constantly reprimand Russia without ever heavily scrutinizing the policies of their own government. It’s a total betrayal of public trust and human decency.
In internal policy discussions, officials said, the Pentagon and the State Department’s Near East Affairs bureau leaned toward preserving good relations with Riyadh at a time when friction was increasing because of the nuclear deal with Iran.
On the other side, the State Department’s Office of the Legal Advisor, backed by government human rights specialists, expressed concern over U.S. complicity in possible Saudi violations of the laws of war, a former official said. Reuters could not determine the timing and form of that warning.
U.S. refueling and logistical support of Riyadh’s air force – even more than the arms sales – risked making the United States a party to the Yemen conflict under international law, three officials said.
About 3,800 civilians have died in Yemen, with Saudi-led airstrikes on markets, hospitals and schools accounting for 60 percent of the death toll, the United Nations human rights office said in August.
In late January 2016, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken chaired a meeting with officials across the department in part to discuss “Options to limit U.S. exposure to LOAC (Law of Armed Conflict) concerns,” according to a Blinken aide’s email.
After ceasefire talks collapsed in August and airstrikes resumed, coalition bombs destroyed the main bridge from the port of Hodeidah to the capital of Sanaa, a main supply route for humanitarian food aid, Oxfam International said.
Another U.S. official said the bridge was on a U.S. no-strike list. Reuters has not seen those lists.
More than 60 U.S. House of Representatives members are urging Obama to halt a new Saudi arms sale. An effort to block that sale failed in the U.S. Senate on Sept. 21.
Some critics say the administration’s approach has failed.
“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,” said Congressman Ted Lieu, a California Democrat and former military prosecutor.
Of course, all of the above shouldn’t really come as a surprise. As a result of its deep institutional and personal oligarch ties to the Saudis, the U.S. government lets it get away with anything, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks. If you need to get up to speed on that issue.
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