The current civil war in Yemen between Houthi rebels and a coalition led by Saudi Arabia is one of the worst humanitarian crises on Earth. Air strikes by Saudi Arabia, helped along by U.S. intelligence, weapons, and troops, have killed more than 5,000 civilians since the war began in 2015, and the resulting famine has killed 50,000. Last year, broken sewage systems in the country caused over a million cases of cholera, and thousands of deaths. Many of these atrocities occurred under the Obama administration, though the Trump administration has expanded our support of the Saudi coalition.
Yet despite this immense suffering, the war in Yemen, and US support for it, has barely made a dent in our news cycle. Even supposedly liberal networks like MSNBC have barely mentioned the crisis, and never made it clear that our country is one of the major forces fueling it.
Now, there’s finally a Yemen-related news story that some in the West are motivated to follow. On August 9th, Saudi Arabia bombed a bus of children on a field trip, killing 54 people, 44 of them children. A fin from a 500-pound bomb made by American defense company General Dynamics was found nearby.
The New York Times describes the scene:
Ali Abdullah Hamlah, a local bakery owner, said he heard the explosion and saw a huge cloud billow from the site before seeing a young man covered in blood dragging himself away. Mr. Hamlah approached and saw the bodies of seven children scattered around.
“In some cases, only the upper bodies of the kids were found,” he said. The mangled body of one child was found on the roof of a building, propelled by the force of the blast.
Videos shot in the aftermath show the demolished bus with the lifeless bodies of two boys on the floor. Other boys are on the ground nearby. Some struggle to move. Others are dead and eviscerated, their remains mixed up in the street with the detritus from the explosion.
“It was the first time in my life that I have seen such a horrific massacre,” Mr. Hamlah said.
Saudi Arabia said that the bombing was attacking a “legitimate military target” in retribution for a Houthi missile that injured 11 and killed one in southern Saudi Arabia. “All of the elements that were in the bus were targeted,” the Saudi coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki said, according to the Times. Saudi Arabia later reversed its story, saying that they were investigating reports that “a bus was subject to collateral damage.”
The Trump administration and the Pentagon claim America has no responsibility for what happened. From the Times:
Trump administration officials say they have no control over the bombs that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates buy commercially from American or other Western defense contractors. Pentagon officials say they have repeatedly offered assistance to both countries on creating “no strike” lists, but they are not involved in picking targets and do not know the missions of the coalition warplanes that the United States refuels.
However, there are some signs that the some in American government are getting concerned about how our involvement in the war is perceived. The $717 billion defense bill signed by Trump this week “included a bipartisan provision that requires Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to certify that Saudi Arabia and its close ally the United Arab Emirates—the two countries leading the coalition—are taking steps to prevent civilian deaths,” the Times writes. “If Mr. Pompeo cannot provide the certification, the legislation prohibits the American refueling of coalition jets.”
Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have enquired about the bombing, according to the Times.
Mr. Pompeo raised the bus attack by phone this week with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, the kingdom’s defense minister. And Defense Secretary Jim Mattis dispatched a three-star general to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, to press the Saudis to investigate the bus bombing.
Senator Elizabeth Warren sent a letter this week to to General Joseph L. Votel, Commander of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) asking for clarification on what level of control we have over the targets of Sauid attacks. “When asked by Senator Warren whether CENTCOM has the ability to track the purpose, mission, and results of airstrikes in Yemen supported by the United States, General Votel replied that CENTCOM ‘does not’ have the ability to do so,” Warren’s press release said.
This seems to not be true. From Warren’s release:
[R]eports from as early as March 2018 revealed that the United States was providing intelligence to support coalition airstrikes and providing advisors for at least one Saudi-run operations center. Additionally, a recent report in The Intercept indicated that U.S. analysts were present for and provided a “minute by minute” accounting of a botched Saudi strike that nearly killed a Yemeni family using U.S.-supplied precision-guided munition.
Warren is asking for a response to her letter by August 30th.
In addition, Congressman Ted Lieu sent a letter to Glenn A. Fine, the Department of Defense’s Acting Inspector General, asking to investigate whether U.S. military personnel could be held legally responsible for the acts of Saudi coalition forces in Yemen, including for possible war crimes.
Though it’s encouraging to see some action from Congress on the catastrophic humanitarian criss we’ve helped create in Yemen, the silence from our government and media on the war is still deafening. Without sustained public outcry over our involvement in the war, these children’s deaths, and the many others who came before them, will be forgotten.