Our Complicity in the Crime of Mass Starvation in Yemen
Nick Kristof has written an extensive report on his recent visit to Yemen. I recommend reading it in full, but there were a few points that deserved emphasis:
After witnessing the human toll and interviewing officials on both sides, including the president of the Houthi rebels who control much of Yemen, I find the American and Saudi role in this conflict to be unconscionable. The Houthis are repressive and untrustworthy, but this is not a reason to bomb and starve Yemeni children.
What is most infuriating is that the hunger is caused not by drought or extreme weather, but by cynical and failed policies in Riyadh and Washington. The starvation does not seem to be an accidental byproduct of war, but rather a weapon in it [bold mine-DL]. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, backed by the United States, are trying to inflict pain to gain leverage over and destabilize the Houthi rebels. The reason: The Houthis are allied with Iran.
There is no question that the Saudi coalition has been using starvation as a weapon in its war on Yemen, and that by itself should give us a good enough reason to cut off all support to their war effort. It shouldn’t matter whether we consider the Saudis and Emiratis to be our “allies” (they’re not) or whether Iran is significantly involved in the conflict (it isn’t). It should be taken as a given that our government shouldn’t be party to or complicit in crimes against humanity, but each day that the U.S. continues support for this war that is exactly what is happening. When the Senate debates whether U.S. participation in the war should continue, it is also debating whether the U.S. should continue to participate in these crimes against the people of Yemen. The answer is an obvious no, and it is a national disgrace that the debate wasn’t settled long ago.
The report is very well done. Kristof acknowledges the abuses and war crimes of all parties, including the Houthi recruitment of child soldiers and arbitrary detention and torture of critics. His reporting confirms what I have read in the accounts of Yemeni activists, aid workers, and U.N. officials, and it backs up what I have been saying about the war and the humanitarian crisis for a long time. All of this makes clear that our government’s support for and involvement in this war is indefensible, and it ought to end at once. More important, the report talks about the victims of the Saudi coalition’s crime of mass starvation and tells some of their stories that are almost never heard outside the country. This is one of those victims:
He is an eight-year-old boy who is starving and has limbs like sticks, but Yaqoob Walid doesn’t cry or complain. He gazes stolidly ahead, tuning out everything, for in late stages of starvation the human body focuses every calorie simply on keeping the organs functioning.
Yaqoob arrived unconscious at Al Sadaqa Hospital here, weighing just over 30 pounds. He has suffered complications, and doctors say that it is unclear he will survive and that if he does he may suffer permanent brain damage.
The war has already done long-term damage to the health and development of an entire generation of Yemeni children. Beyond the danger of massive loss of life from famine, Yemen will be living with the wounds of this war for years and decades to come. Kristof makes clear that most of the civilian deaths come from Saudi coalition bombings and the effects of their blockade and economic war:
Still, the civilian loss of life has overwhelmingly been caused not by the Houthis but by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and America, through both bombings and starvation.
The Saudi coalition backed by our government has done the most damage to the country and it bears the greatest responsibility for the humanitarian crisis. The U.S. shares in that responsibility because our government has aided the coalition in its war and covers for their crimes. That was the message that the heads of five major humanitarian organizations delivered last week, and it is a message that every member of Congress and every American needs to hear as often as possible until it finally sinks in.