One of Mattis’ other statements about U.S. support for the Saudi coalition from earlier today deserves additional comment:
Mattis said U.S. support for the Saudi mission in Yemen is conditioned on Saudi doing everything possible to prevent the loss of innocent life.
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) August 28, 2018
Mattis’ statement is impossible to take seriously. If U.S. support were conditional on the Saudi coalition doing “everything possible” to prevent loss of civilian life, it would have ended years ago. If the Saudis were doing “everything possible” to prevent loss of innocent life, they would not bomb schools, hospitals, cholera treatment centers, markets, houses, weddings, funerals, civilian vehicles, camps of displaced people, farms, and fishing boats. Of course, they have done and continue to do these things with regularity while relying on U.S. military assistance. These are not simply mistakes, but even if they were they would still constitute outrageous war crimes. The Saudi coalition is a gang of war criminals, and the U.S. is their leading accomplice.
According to a panel of U.N. experts, the Saudis, the UAE, and the “legitimate” Yemeni government all stand credibly accused of committing many such crimes in Yemen:
The main cause of civilian casualties in the war, the report says, has been airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition. It estimates there have been 18,000 such strikes in little more than three years, inflicting a level of damage on civilian infrastructure that “certainly contributed to Yemen’s dire economic and humanitarian situation.” [bold mine-DL]
The report’s findings, to be delivered to the United Nations Human Rights Council next month, chime with mounting anger after a coalition strike this month that killed 40 children on a school bus.
The panel’s findings just confirm what we have already seen over the last three years, but they provide important documentation to hold these governments accountable for their crimes against Yemeni civilians. The report’s point about damage to civilian infrastructure is an important one. The coalition has systematically attacked vital infrastructure in the form of roads, bridges, water systems, sewage treatment plants, the Sanaa airport, and the Hodeidah port’s cranes. All of these attacks have been part of a campaign to devastate the country’s economy and starve it of basic necessities, and by striking at the country’s infrastructure the coalition has put millions of lives at risk in addition to the civilians that they kill outright with airstrikes.
The experts found that the coalition’s Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) was deeply flawed, which confirms the findings of the recent Human Rights Watch report:
The experts particularly faulted the coalition’s Joint Incidents Assessment Team, which is supposed to investigate claims of military abuse but which rights groups say was set up to deflect pressure for an international inquiry into the war.
The assessment team’s work lacked transparency, its investigations lacked legal analysis, and its findings regularly ignored civilian casualties and were often substantially altered by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the experts said.
The panel also found that the coalition blockade was a major factor in causing the disastrous humanitarian conditions in the country:
Further harm resulted from the coalition’s arbitrary restrictions on shipping and air travel. Screening of ships coming into Al Hudaydah — ostensibly to prevent arms from entering the country — had had “a chilling effect on commercial shipping supplies of fuel and food needed to fend off starvation, even though United Nations searches of shipping had found no weapons,” the experts said.
“No possible military advantage could justify such sustained and extreme suffering of millions of people [bold mine-DL],” they added.
The Saudi coalition is putting millions of lives at risk as a matter of deliberate policy. As long as the U.S. indulges them with continued support, conditions in the country will continue to deteriorate.