"Look like war crimes to me": Congressman raises concerns over U.S. support for Saudi war in Yemen

April 11, 2016
In The News

March 17, 2016



For almost a year, a Saudi-led coalition of Middle Eastern countries, backed and armed by the U.S. and U.K., has been bombing Yemen, the poorest country in the region. Saudi Arabia hopes to destroy Yemeni rebel groups such as the Houthis, and has bombed hospitals, homes, schools and even a refugee camp in the process.


Civilians have paid a heavy toll for the conflict. Thousands have been killed, and human rights groups have for months accused the coalition of committing war crimes.Less than three weeks ago, the Saudi-led coalition bombed a market near Yemen’s capital Sanaa, killing at least 40 people, most of whom were civilians. This week, the U.S.-backed coalition bombed another market, killing at least 41 civilians, wounding scores more.There has been little discussion of the war in the U.S. media, and American politicians have rarely acknowledged its existence.One congressman, however, has broken the silence. Rep. Ted Lieu is raising concerns about the ongoing atrocities.Lieu, a Democrat representing California and a member of the Subcommittee on National Security, sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on March 2. The letter, which was obtained by Salon, draws attention to the little-discussed war.


“I have serious questions about the coalition’s operational conduct, the U.S.’s involvement with the coalition, and the U.S. national security interests driving our actions in Yemen,” Lieu wrote to the secretaries. Lieu also cites United Nations reports, which indicate that more than 6,000 people have died in the war, close to half of whom are civilians, including hundreds of children.The U.N. has also reported for months that the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for approximately two-thirds of all civilian casualties Defense Secretary Carter has acknowledged that the U.S. is arming and resupplying the Saudi-led coalition. The Pentagon has also revealed that it is providing the coalition with intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and logistics information.Moreover, media reports have exposed that American military officials are physically in the command room with Saudi bombers, and have access to a list of targets.


Rep. Lieu, who served on active duty in the U.S. Air Force and attended Air War College, wrote in the letter that the “apparent indiscriminate airstrikes on civilian targets in Yemen seem to suggest that either the coalition is grossly negligent in its targeting or is intentionally targeting innocent civilians.”The congressman called on the Departments of State and Defense to “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.”This is not the first letter Rep. Lieu has written about the war. It cites an additional letter he sent to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, in September 2015, expressing concerns about the heavy civilian toll of coalition airstrikes.


The September letter posed a series of questions about the American support for the bombing, and requested that the U.S. “cease aiding coalition airstrikes in Yemen until the coalition demonstrates that they will institute proper safeguards to prevent civilian deaths.” In October, after the Saudi-led coalition bombed at least two weddings, killing more than 150 people, Lieu joined a dozen other congresspeople, including Keith Ellison, Debbie Dingell and more, in sending yet another letter to President Obama, calling for efforts to avoid civilian casualties in Yemen and to achieve a diplomatic solution to the war.Salon called and emailed the offices of sectaries Kerry and Carter, as well as the Departments of State and Defense, multiple times with requests for comment. No one from the State Department or from Kerry’s office replied.