Flout­ing Congress and the ev­i­dence

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion vouches for its Saudi friends as civil­ians die in Ye­men.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

LAST SUN­DAY, forces backed by the United Arab Emi­rates and Saudi Ara­bia launched a new of­fen­sive around Ye­men’s port of Hodeida, through which flows 70 per­cent of the sup­plies for 8 mil­lion peo­ple in dan­ger of star­va­tion. On Wed­nes­day, the Saudi-UAE coali­tion claimed to have blocked two key sup­ply routes into the city, which is held by Houthi rebels who form one side in Ye­men’s civil war. The fight­ing re­news the risk that the hunger and epic cholera epi­demic stalk­ing Ye­men will spi­ral out of con­trol — a threat the United Na­tions has re­peat­edly cited in call­ing for a cease­fire.

It was, there­fore, re­mark­able that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on Tues­day cer­ti­fied to Congress that the Saudis and their al­lies are “mak­ing ev­ery ef­fort to re­duce the risk of civil­ian ca­su­al­ties” and fa­cil­i­tate hu­man­i­tar­ian aid de­liv­er­ies in Ye­men. The of­fi­cial no­tice was re­quired for the Pen­tagon to con­tinue sup­port­ing Saudi and UAE op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing bomb­ing that has killed thou­sands of civil­ians. It flies in the face of the con­clu­sions of vir­tu­ally all other ob­servers of the Ye­men war, as well as the on­go­ing fight­ing on the ground.

Congress passed the Ye­men aid re­stric­tions last month in re­sponse to se­rial atroc­i­ties by the SaudiUAE forces that a U.N. panel of ex­perts said may amount to war crimes. Among them was the Aug. 9 airstrike on a bus packed with young boys that killed at least 51, in­clud­ing 40 chil­dren. CNN later re­ported that the bomb that de­stroyed the bus had been supplied by the United States, which also pro­vides re­fu­el­ing sup­port to coali­tion planes. Congress mem­bers such as Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) raised the le­git­i­mate con­cern that U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel could be seen as aid­ing and abet­ting such crimes.

Af­ter the leg­is­la­tion passed, and with this week’s dead­line for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion loom­ing, the Saudi-UAE coali­tion is­sued a state­ment Sept. 1 call­ing the bus attack — which it pre­vi­ously had strongly de­fended — un­jus­ti­fied.The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, in turn, seized on that to­ken ges­ture to jus­tify its cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

In­de­pen­dent in­ter­na­tional ob­servers dis­agree. “There is lit­tle ev­i­dence of any at­tempt by the par­ties to the con­flict to min­i­mize civil­ian ca­su­al­ties,” the head of the U.N. in­ves­ti­ga­tion team said an Aug. 28 state­ment ac­com­pa­ny­ing its re­port, which found that Saudi-UAE bomb­ing was re­spon­si­ble for most of the civil­ian deaths in the three-year-old war. A re­port by Hu­man Rights Watch said the “woe­fully in­ad­e­quate” in­ves­ti­ga­tions by the Saudi-UAE coali­tion of civil­ian ca­su­al­ties were lit­tle more than coverups of likely war crimes.

It be­came clear long ago that the only so­lu­tion to the Ye­men war is a U.N.-bro­kered peace set­tle­ment, which the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion claims to sup­port. But a re­cent at­tempt to start the process in Geneva failed when Houthi lead­ers did not ar­rive; they said they had not been given safe travel guar­an­tees by the Saudis, who con­trol Ye­men’s airspace. The new Saudi-UAE of­fen­sive be­gan days later, rais­ing the ob­vi­ous ques­tion of whether the Gulf al­lies were ever se­ri­ous about the peace process.

The same could be said of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. In cer­ti­fy­ing the coali­tion’s be­hav­ior even as the as­sault on Hodeida went for­ward, the ad­min­is­tra­tion flouted Congress’s re­stric­tions. Leg­is­la­tors should not let that stand.

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