Lawmaker urges Saudi arms sales halt, cites possible Yemen "war crimes"

October 12, 2016
In The News

WASHINGTON, Oct 12 (Reuters) - A U.S. lawmaker called on the Obama administration to suspend cooperation with a Saudi-led coalition conducting airstrikes in Yemen, saying in a letter released on Wednesday that civilian casualties from the strikes "appear to be the result of war crimes."

Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, wrote in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday that the coalition has conducted more than 70 "unlawful airstrikes" in Yemen.

"It appears that either the Saudi coalition is intentionally targeting civilians or they are not distinguishing between civilians and military targets. Both would be war crimes," Lieu wrote.

Lieu taught classes on the law of war as a lawyer in the U.S. Air Force. His letter increases pressure on the White House about Yemen after the administration announced Saturday it is reviewing support to the Saudi-led coalition after an air strike killed 140 mourners at a funeral.

Lieu also cited a Reuters article published on Monday, which reported that the Obama administration went ahead with arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite some officials' fears that Washington could be implicated in war crimes for supporting the Saudi-led air campaign.

The Saudi-led coalition has said it takes its responsibilities under international humanitarian law seriously, and is committed to the protection of civilians in Yemen.

Several recent efforts in the U.S. Congress to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia have failed.

But the White House on Saturday announced it was initiating an "immediate review" of U.S. support to the Saudi-led coalition after the apparent coalition air strike on the funeral.

Saudi Arabia has said it will investigate the circumstances of that strike.

U.S. arms sales to Riyadh and other support to the coalition should be halted until the White House review is completed, Lieu wrote.

The State Department had no immediate response to his letter. (Reporting by Warren Strobel; Editing by Alistair Bell)