In the wake of a US-backed Saudi air strike that killed 10 Yemeni schoolchildren, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) joined a small but growing bipartisan group of lawmakers calling on the Obama administration to stop assisting the fundamentalist monarchy with its bloody intervention in Yemen’s civil war.
“I have tried numerous times to work with the [Obama] Administration to stop the United States from assisting Saudi Arabia in their indiscriminate killing of civilians in Yemen, but when Saudi Arabia continues to kill civilians, and in this case children, enough is enough,” Lieu said in letters to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Lieu, who has also introduced a joint resolution in the House to limit the transfer of air-to-ground munitions from the United States to Saudi Arabia, continued:
“Having served on active duty, one of my responsibilities was to teach the Law of War. I am also a graduate of Air War College. The indiscriminate civilian killings by Saudi Arabia look like war crimes to me. In this case, children as young as 8 were killed by Saudi Arabian air strikes. By assisting Saudi Arabia, the United States is aiding and abetting what appears to be war crimes in Yemen. The Administration must stop enabling this madness now.”
Saturday’s school bombing occurred in Haydan, in northwestern Saada province, a stronghold of Houthi rebels who deposed the Saudi-backed government led by Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi last year. The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) said the children, ages 6 to 14, were studying in a school in the Juma’a Bin Fadil village in Haydan.
The New York Times reported a separate Saudi air strike in the village of Birken in the Razih District, near Yemen’s northern border with Saudi Arabia, struck the home of Ali Okri, a school principal, killing his wife and four of their children. A second so-called “double-tap” strike, often executed to target first responders, killed four more of Okri’s relatives who were trying to free victims from the rubble of the initial attack.
On Monday, at least 11 more civilians were killed and 19 more were injured when Saudi warplanes bombed a hospital supported by the medical aid charity Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in the Abs district of Hajjah governorate, in the northwest.
“This is the fourth attack against an MSF facility in less than 12 months,” Teresa Sancristóval, MSF desk manager for the Emergency Unit in Yemen, toldreporters. “Once again, today we witness the tragic consequences of the bombing of a hospital. Once again, a fully functional hospital full of patients and MSF national and international staff members, was bombed in a war that has shown no respect for medical facilities or patients.”
Last Tuesday, Saudi planes attacked a potato chip factory in the first air strikes following the collapse of a shaky cease-fire, killing 14 people, most of them women, in the capital Sana’a.
More than 1,100 children are among the thousands of civilians killed by the US-backed coalition since the bombing began last year, according to UNICEF.
Maj. Gen. Ahmed Asseri, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, denied bombing the school or the hospital.
“These criminal organizations… keep lying and saying that hospitals and schools are hit because they know the sensitivities of the international community,” he said.
For over a year, Saudi Arabia, backed by its Sunni Arab allies, the United States and Britain, has waged an intense bombing campaign to reinstate Hadi, who is currently living in exile in Riyadh. But as civilian casualties have mounted, there have been increasing calls by American lawmakers to suspend or at least more closely examine US aid to the Saudi regime, which has also been criticized as one of the world’s worst human rights violators and a supporter of Islamist terrorism.
Days after the Obama administration approved the sale of $1.15 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) announced he would work with lawmakers from both parties to block the deal, citing human rights violations and a growing regional arms race.
“I will work with a bipartisan coalition to explore forcing a vote on blocking this sale,” he said. “Saudi Arabia is an unreliable ally with a poor human rights record. We should not rush to sell them advanced arms and promote an arms race in the Middle East.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) has also been a longtime critic of US support for the Saudi war effort.
“If you talk to Yemeni Americans, they will tell you in Yemen this isn’t a Saudi bombing campaign, it’s a US bombing campaign,” Murphy said in June. “Every single civilian death inside Yemen is attributable to the United States. We accept that as a consequence of our participation.”
In a rare rebuke reflecting frustration at the mounting civilian death toll in Yemen, State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau on Tuesday condemned the latest MSF hospital bombing.
“Of course we condemn the attack,” Trudeau told reporters. “We’ve also encouraged [the Saudis] to do their utmost to protect entities protected by international law, such as hospitals.”
Saudi Arabia is ruled by one of the world’s most repressive authoritarian regimes, adherents of a medieval brand of Sunni Islamic fundamentalism known as Wahhabism. Arbitrary arrests and torture of reform advocates, religious minorities and innocent people are commonplace. The Saudi legal system often denies defendants legal counsel, with many people tortured into making false confessions. The country is among the world leaders in executions, which are often carried out by public beheading. Among the so-called “crimes” that have resulted in executions are apostasy (renouncing Islam), blasphemy, prostitution, witchcraft, homosexuality and adultery. Those who are executed are sometimes crucified as well. Lesser criminals often have their hands chopped off without anesthesia.
Women are particularly repressed. Even rape victims are subject to shocking barbarism. One woman who was kidnapped and gang-raped by seven men was sentenced to 90 lashes of the whip because she was in a vehicle with an unrelated man prior to her abduction. When she went to the media with her story, her punishment was increased to 200 lashes. In 2002, 15 schoolgirls needlessly died when officers of the morality police — the dreaded mutawas — locked them inside their burning school and stopped firefighters from saving them simply because they weren’t wearing headscarves and black robes.
Despite this atrocious human rights record, and despite its support for Islamist terrorism, the US considers the Saudi regime a valuable regional ally in the fight against terrorism and as a bulwark against an ascendant Iran. In 2010, the State Department under Hillary Clinton announced it would sell the Saudi regime $60 billion worth of military aircraft, alarming human rights advocates around the world. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency said the current proposed $1.15 billion arms sale “conveys US commitment to Saudi Arabia’s security and armed forces modernization.”
In June, the House of Representatives voted mostly along party lines — 200 Republicans and 16 Democrats — to narrowly defeat a measure that would have banned the sale of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia. President Barack Obama had urged lawmakers to support the transfer of the weapons, which disproportionately kill and maim children because unexploded bomblets resemble toys, and which were banned under a 2008 treaty signed by 116 nations. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), chairman of the House Committee on Defense Appropriations, argued against the effort to ban cluster bomb sales to Saudi Arabia, fearing such a move would “stigmatize” the weapon.
A 2006 Senate bill to ban the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas, supported by then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), was defeated. Then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) voted with Republicans to kill the measure.