“The U.S. government claims that it’s not engaged in hostilities unless U.S. troops are on the ground being shot at by the enemy…. It stretches the imagination, and it stretches the English language beyond its breaking point, to suggest the U.S. military is not engaged in hostilities in Yemen.” Senator Mike Lee, Utah Republican, Senate floor March 13

he Pentagon, having spent three years creating famine and spreading cholera on an unprecedented scale in one of the poorest countries in the world, Yemen, now lies, baldly but with lawyerly gracelessness, that the American bombs guided by American officers to targets as often as not civilian is somehow “noncombat.” Effectively, the Pentagon argues that when US military forces only enable genocide, it’s not combat. Strictly speaking, the Pentagon is only following orders to commit ongoing war crimes.

In late March 2015, with US blessing from the Obama administration, Saudi Arabia and its allies started bombing Yemen more or less indiscriminately, making as many as 200 sorties a day. Yemen, with no air force and few air defenses, was helpless. From the start this was an illegal war of aggression, a nexus of war crimes in all its particulars, and so it will be until it ends. Without US approval and participation, it’s highly unlikely Yemen would have become the world’s most serious humanitarian crisis, regardless of the crimes of others.

The gross criminality of US enabling of and participation in the genocidal war on Yemen is not part of the official discussion of the horror our country perpetuates on a daily basis. From the beginning, US military has engaged in the war by providing tactical advice on bombing, offering intelligence, maintaining warplanes, re-fueling Saudi warplanes in mid-air, providing cluster bombs and smart bombs, and generally offering military support for a bombing campaign as vicious as any since the US dropped more explosives on Vietnam than were used in all of World War II.

This is the official view of the scope of US involvement in the Saudi war on Yemen, along with a perverse insistence on calling it a “civil war,” when there is only one outside aggressor: the Saudi coalition and its supporters. Even Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, accepts this demonstrably false framing, as she did at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 13. She even accepts as gospel the alleged Iranian involvement in Yemen for which there is scant evidence and less precise definition. That has been a chronic Saudi-American lie about Yemen from the beginning, pretending that a local territorial dispute between the Houthis and the Saudis was some sort of grand geopolitical last stand. It wasn’t true when Obama green-lighted the killing, and it’s not true now as Trump keeps the slaughter going, but it will continue to be accepted as official truth until people like Warren challenge it. But Warren is also the Senator from Raytheon, the defense contractor that sells billions of dollars worth of precision-guided munitions to the Saudi coalition. Euphemistically, Raytheon says it helps the Saudis “meet their security needs,” even though there is no serious threat to anyone from the Houthis in Yemen, and the Saudi war is less about security then aggression.

The Pentagon says what it is doing with the Saudi war is “limited US military support,” in the words of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis before the Senate on March 13. Mattis did not acknowledge that the Saudi war could not continue without US support, since the Pentagon position is that the US provides “noncombat assistance.” None of the US senators present asked about this big elephant taking a dump in the middle of the room. There was only the slightest objection when the Pentagon Central Command head who runs the American part of the war, General Joseph Votel, told senators with a straight face: “We’re not parties to this conflict.”

According to General Votel, the US is not party to the conflict even though it chooses targets, programs smart bombs, and re-fuels bombers that have now killed something like 10,000 civilians and an unknown number of combatants. General Votel claims US noncombatant status mainly because once the bombs go up, the US pays no official attention to where they come down.

In late February, three senators introduced Joint Resolution 54, designed to put some Congressional check on US war-making in Yemen and elsewhere. The Pentagon’s official response was that Congress has no right to tell the Pentagon what it can and cannot do under presidential authority. This view is spelled out in a February 27 letter from the general counsel of the Department of Defense, opposing Joint Resolution 54 and explaining why all the war-making activities of US forces in Yemen have nothing to do with “hostilities” (even though they do in any honestly rational world). The letter even refers obliquely to actual “hostilities” that are mostly ignored, “the October 2016 strikes against radar facilities in Houthi-controlled territory in defense of US Navy ships in international waters.” That’s the whole reference, but even as it confirms the US firing weapons at Houthis, it then defends this engagement as an exception that somehow doesn’t count as “hostilities.” Navy Times lists the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden region off Yemen as one of the “Navy’s 5 most dangerous at-sea deployments.” Navy Times frames the issue with a clear statement of the hostilities and a hilarious version of the geopolitical history:

The fact that sailors have already had full-on missile battles with Yemeni rebels near this global choke-point makes the Bab-el-Mandeb, or the BAM, an obvious pick for the most dangerous place in the world where sailors are deploying.

The Gate of Tears is the maritime equivalent of the Wild West. Yemen is a failed state in the grip of a bloody civil war that has roped in both Saudi Arabia and to a lesser degree, the United States. But spillover from the conflict, as well as meddling from Iran, has made the waters around Yemen extremely dangerous.

This is all duplicitous kabuki on both sides, Pentagon and Senate. They are arguing within a falsely framed reality to perpetuate deceit they all own. Even if the US role were actually limited to merely supporting the aerial attacks, everyone lies by omission by failing to acknowledge (much less object to) the air campaign’s role in blockading Yemen, thereby directly causing famine and disease and toxic drinking water for more than half the population. This biological warfare is also a war crime.

The blockade of Yemen is also a land blockade along the Saudi-Yemeni border in the north. To the east, the blockade relies on the desert and the presence of al Qaeda and ISIS forces, also at war with the Houthis. US Special Forces were operating in Yemen for years with the blessing of Yemen’s internationally-imposed “legitimate” government headed by a Saudi puppet. When the Houthis, long a rebellious, independence-minded minority, overthrew the imposed government in 2014, US forces withdrew for awhile. Now the US operates in Yemen on a contingency basis, if not continuously.

As is well established in international law, a blockade is an act of war. The “noncombatant” US admittedly participates in the aerial blockade of Yemen. The US does not admit its much greater participation in the naval blockade of Yemen. The US-Saudi naval blockade depends on the US Navy, which has enforced the blockade since 2015. Yemen has needed to import food to survive for decades. The US-Saudi blockade cut off food to Yemen, as well as medical supplies, fuel, and all the other things needed to support a normal civil society. The US-Saudi blockade has led directly to starvation and famine. The US-Saudi blockade has led directly to the spread of cholera and other diseases. The US-Saudi blockade is a war crime of stunning enormity. And no one talks about it.

When President Bashar al Assad engages in similar tactics in Syria, as in Ghouta of late, the world hears about it, but doesn’t do much. When the US and its allies in the war on terror terrorize and destroy places like Raqqa, the world hears much less about it and does nothing. When the US, Saudi Arabia, and its allies spend three years in Yemen committing war crimes that have yet to end, the world hears little about it, humanitarian agencies and the United Nations raise objections, but nothing humane is accomplished. The US in Yemen is morally indistinguishable from Bashar al Assad.


Original at Reader Supported News: