The United States was partially responsible for the Aug. 9 airstrike that killed 40 children and 11 adults in Yemen.
An American company, Lockheed Martin, manufactured the 500-pound bomb which Saudi Arabian-led coalition forces used to destroy a school bus. The laser-guided explosive was among the weapons and military equipment that the U.S. State Department sold to the Middle Eastern monarchy last year. President Trump signed a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudi king during his May 2017 visit to the country.
Witnesses to the airstrike and its aftermath were horrified by what they saw. “They came to the hospital in cars and ambulances; dozens of children with an array of grisly wounds,” an International Red Cross nurse, Marta Rivas, told the Guardian. “Some were screaming, some were scared, many went straight to the morgue.”
Many believe U.S. officials should be charged under international law with “aiding and abetting a war crime.” Truthout explained that the Fourth Geneva Convention defined war crimes as “the willful killing and the targeting of civilians.”
The Saudis deny that the bus bombing, at a crowded street market, met that description. They called the airstrike “a legitimate military action”; and claimed that “Houthi leaders were responsible for recruiting and training young children, and then sending them to battlefields.” The Houthi rebels are engaged in a civil war against Yemen's Saudi-backed government.
The tragedy was not the first time a U.S.-made bomb created carnage in Yemen. In October 2016, the same kind of explosive was used to kill 155 people attending a funeral. Then-President Obama responded by discontinuing sales of laser-guided missiles to the Saudis due to what he called “human rights concerns.” Trump rescinded the ban shortly before he traveled to Riyadh.
This year alone, the coalition reportedly has targeted civilian vehicles in more than 50 airstrikes. Amnesty International alleges that many of the bombings qualified as war crimes. On April 23, the Saudis used cluster bombs made by the U.S. firm Raytheon to kill 22 people at a wedding in Yemen. The Convention on Cluster Munitions has banned such weapons.
The Saudis have been able to continue their assaults on the Yemeni people because of assistance from the United States and United Kingdom, according to an expert on the region, Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution. U.S. support includes in-air refueling of airplanes, logistical aid and military intelligence. There also has been evidence of U.S. troops being directly involved. Green Berets were spotted on the Saudi-Yemeni border in late 2017.
The civil war has taken the lives of 6,385 civilians and injured 10,000 others. More than 60 percent of the deaths resulted from airstrikes. About 22.2 million residents are in need of humanitarian assistance, and more than a million of them have cholera. Yet, the coalition is limiting shipments of food and medicine.
Some U.S. lawmakers have tried to end their country's complicity in the crisis. In November 2017, the House of Representatives unanimously approved a non-binding resolution demanding that American troops not take part in “unauthorized hostilities” in Yemen. The resolution, which pointed out that Congress had not voted to support the coalition, called for “increase(d) efforts to adopt all necessary and appropriate measures to prevent civilian casualties and increase humanitarian access.”
A section of a recently passed $717 billion military appropriations bill ordered the Defense Department to conduct an investigation of possible violations of U.S. or international law by U.S. or Saudi forces. However, Trump effectively nullified the provision when he signed the legislation, by attaching a signing statement affirming “the president's constitutional authorities as commander in chief and as the sole representative of the nation in foreign affairs.”
António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, has requested an independent probe of the bus bombing. Saudi Arabia claims it is doing its own inquiry, and U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has offered to send a three-star general to help look into the matter.
“What Yemenis need is really an independent investigation, which has been put forward in the U.N. twice already and has been rejected by the Saudi-led coalition,” Shireen al-Adeimi, a Yemeni activist and assistant professor at Michigan State University, told Democracy Now! He noted that “the U.S., unfortunately, has provided cover for the Saudi-led coalition at the U.N.”
Thirty Democratic members of the House wrote to Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, citing their “deepening concern regarding the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.” The lawmakers asked the officials to brief the entire House “on the policy objectives of the United States with respect to Yemen.”
Rep. Ted Lieu, in his own letter to the Defense Department, requested an investigation of whether the coalition is breaking U.S. or international laws. The California Democrat wrote that he was “deeply concerned that continued U.S. refueling, operational support functions and weapons transfers could qualify as aiding and abetting these potential war crimes.”