Lawmakers launch bipartisan effort to restrict U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, citing war crimes in Yemen

April 28, 2016
In The News

By BEN NORTON 

Salon 

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and both chambers of Congress are concerned about the U.S. government’s support for the Saudi war in Yemen, and have introduced legislation in hopes of protecting human rights. Congressmen Ted Lieu and Ted Yoho have introduced a joint bill in the House that would bar the sale of certain U.S. weapons to Saudi Arabia. H.J. Res 90 would put limit the transfer of air-to-ground munitions to the Saudi monarchy, until the kingdom can demonstrate that it is taking “all feasible precautions” not to harm civilians and making “demonstrable efforts to facilitate the flow of critical humanitarian aid.” The legislation is the House companion to S.J. Res. 32, which was introduced by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Rand Paul (R-KY).

Lieu, who served on active duty in the U.S. Air Force and taught the law of armed conflict, says he is pushing for legislative action because his other attempts at voicing concern about U.S. support for the war in Yemen fell on deaf ears. “Since last year, I have been asking the administration about the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen and the dropping of bombs on civilians nowhere near military targets,” Lieu explained in an interview with Salon. “I have been given answers that turned out, apparently, not to be true,” he said. “We see a continuation of the bombing in Yemen of civilians, including the use of cluster bombs, by the Saudi-led coalition. And these are provided by the United States.”

A coalition of countries led by Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, since March 2015. The coalition, which is armed and supported by the U.S. and the U.K., is fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels and militants loyal to formal President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Human rights organizations have accused both sides of committing war crimes, but the coalition is responsible for approximately two-thirds of civilian casualties and property damage, according to the U.N. Saudi-led forces have brutally bombed civilian areas, including hospitals, schools, residential neighborhoods, refugee camps and an Oxfam aid warehouse.

Lieu, a Democrat representing Los Angeles, has been one of the few U.S. politicians to publicly raise concerns about U.S. support for the ongoing war. In March, he sent a letter Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, requesting that the Departments of State and Defense “provide an assessment as to whether the indiscriminate nature of the coalition’s operations and the targeting of civilians have significantly changed since October 2015.” Lieu says he has not received a response. Salon inquired in March as well, and did not receive a reply. “It’s not as if I asked a long and complicated series of questions,” Lieu said in frustration. “They were fairly straightforward questions.” In September, Lieu sent another letter to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, expressing concerns about the heavy civilian toll of coalition airstrike and requesting that the U.S. “cease aiding coalition airstrikes in Yemen until the coalition demonstrates that they will institute proper safeguards to prevent civilian deaths.”