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Congress Must Hold Pompeo Accountable for the Bogus Yemen Certification

Secretary Pompeo is flouting the law and lying to the public and Congress about Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Mike Pompeo was annoyed when Andrea Mitchell had the temerity to ask him about his decision to lie to Congress to protect arms sales to the Saudis and Emiratis:

QUESTION: On Yemen, you have indicated continued backing of the war in Yemen even after the killing of 40 schoolchildren by a Saudi airstrike, a school bus. A lot of people in this State Department believe that we should not be continuing this support, and the argument is that you and the administration are doing it because of the $2 billion in arms sales, to avoid jeopardizing those arms sales to the Saudis and to the others in the region.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I find that suggestion offensive. The reason we’re continuing to work in Yemen is to try and resolve that situation through the UN-directed peace operation. We support that effort. We’ve continued to support that effort. The killing of the children is tragic. The Saudis have taken responsibility for that [bold mine-DL]. Secretary Mattis and myself have both worked closely with the entire Saudi-led coalition to reduce the risk of civilian casualties and collateral damage. We’re all imperfect, but we’re working hard towards that end. Peace in Yemen is important, and if Iran would cease arming the Houthis and firing missiles out of Yemen into the Gulf states, we’d be a lot closer to that peace.

Pompeo’s feigned outrage routine has become as tedious as it is unconvincing. The “suggestion” that he finds so offensive wasn’t made up by Mitchell or by anyone outside the administration, but comes from officials inside his own department. The WSJ report that revealed this information was relying on evidence contained in a classified department memo:

Mr. Pompeo overruled concerns from most of the State Department specialists involved in the debate who were worried about the rising civilian death toll in Yemen. Those who objected included specialists in the region and in military affairs. He sided with his legislative affairs team after they argued that suspending support could undercut plans to sell more than 120,000 precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to a classified State Department memo and people familiar with the debate.

It would have been good to corner Pompeo about this and force him to confront the claims being made by his own officials, but that didn’t happen. It would have been even more instructive to see Pompeo’s reaction when asked about the ties between the head of the State Department’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs and Raytheon. Alex Emmons and Lee Fang reported on Friday about the role of a former Raytheon lobbyist in the decision to certify Saudi coalition conduct:

The legislative affairs staff, according to the Wall Street Journal, argued that restricting U.S. support would endanger billions of dollars in future weapons sales, including a massive sale of precision-guided munitions between Raytheon, a U.S. weapons manufacturer, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

That staff — the legislative affairs team at the State Department — is led by a former Raytheon lobbyist.

Before his presidential appointment last June, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Charles Faulkner was paid handsomely by Raytheon to lobby lawmakers on defense procurement issues, ethics records show.

Isn’t it convenient that the official whose side Pompeo took in the internal department debate used to work for a company that stands to profit from pending and future arms sales to the governments in question? That “suggestion” might really bother Pompeo.

Pompeo goes on to claim that “the Saudis have taken responsibility” for the killing of children in their airstrikes in Yemen. This isn’t true of the Aug. 9 massacre in Saada, and it isn’t how the coalition has conducted itself so far. Even when the coalition admits some error in a strike, they will usually insist on blaming the victims or shifting the blame to the Houthis. As Human Rights Watch has documented, the coalition assessment team almost never finds coalition forces to be at fault, and even when they acknowledge some mistakes they often ignore the most serious crimes that their forces have committed. As Larry Lewis pointed out last week in his PBS NewsHour interview, the Saudi coalition admitted to an error of timing in the Aug. 9 massacre, but they insisted that they were right to attack the school bus.

The Saudi coalition isn’t taking responsibility for any of this, and they are working overtime to make sure that the U.N. experts that detailed the numerous war crimes they have committed in Yemen do not get a new mandate:

Mona Sabella, an international advocacy officer at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, said independent investigations like those led by the experts were important for the credibility of the council. She said failure to renew or strengthen such mandates would “empower repressive governments that want to destroy the U.N. human rights system.”

“The choice is clear for U.N. member states: Support the renewal of independent and international investigations into war crimes in Yemen, or bow to Saudi threats and allow these investigations to be quashed,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Nothing would make Saudi Arabia and the UAE happier than to do away with independent investigations into war crimes in Yemen.”

As ever, the Saudis and Emiratis abhor independent investigations that can properly document their crimes and hold them accountable for them. They have never been interested in taking responsibility for the crimes they commit against Yemeni civilians, and this administration is doing everything it can to help them evade responsibility. Pompeo’s desperate attempt to use Iran as a distraction at the end of his answer is typical for an administration that is aiding and abetting some of the biggest war criminals in Yemen.

It is unfortunate that Pompeo was able to get away with another lie to cover for his bogus certification, but he may not able to get away with it for much longer. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, one of the co-sponsors of the certification measure that Pompeo brazenly abused, issued a statement that called out the Secretary of State for his obvious bad faith:

“It’s abundantly clear that this certification was bogus when it was announced and the reporting on this internal memo further confirms that the administration has clearly violated the law that I authored with Senator Young,” said Shaheen. “The administration should immediately begin taking steps to achieve compliance with the law and submit a certification that actually reflects the facts on the ground. The Saudi-led coalition’s indiscriminate bombing campaigns are taking scores of innocent lives and it’s time to hold the coalition accountable.”

The senator is right that the Saudi coalition needs to be held accountable for its crimes, and the same goes for the administration officials, including Secretary Pompeo, who are flouting the law and lying to the public and Congress about this extremely important issue.



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