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The Saudi Coalition’s War Crime Denialism

CNN reports on the latest pathetic excuse from the Saudi coalition about the Aug. 9 school bus massacre in Dahyan:

A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition has denied that a vehicle targeted in an airstrike last month in Yemen was a school bus full of children, despite much evidence to the contrary [bold mine-DL].

His remarks followed a statement from Human Rights Watch on Sunday that called the attack an “apparent war crime.”

The bus attacked on August 9 was “a legitimate target,” Colonel Turki al-Maliki, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, said in an interview with CNN.

The coalition’s “investigation” of the massacre concluded that their mistake was in attacking the bus while it was in the market, but they are sticking with the outrageous claim that the bus was a “legitimate” target. They are now going further in claiming that the children that they murdered weren’t even there: “We never observed any kids on the bus.”

If coalition forces never observed any kids on the bus, they were blind or negligent. Regardless, nothing excuses the blatant disregard for innocent life shown in this attack. The coalition’s denials are not credible, and these denials show that their “investigation” into the attack was never going to hold coalition forces accountable for this war crime. If the coalition can’t even acknowledge the identity of the victims killed by their attack, they clearly have no interest in an honest accounting of what happened.

The coalition’s continued insistence that there was nothing wrong with targeting the bus makes a mockery of the U.S. position that our military assistance improves their targeting and reduces harm to civilians. The U.S. may be making the coalition more precise in blowing up civilian vehicles, but it isn’t making them less likely to attack them. As we can see in this case, the coalition admits that it was deliberately targeting a civilian vehicle, and now they are pretending that the bus passengers weren’t the children that were obviously on board.

Human Rights Watch reported that witnesses said there were no armed men on the bus or anywhere in the vicinity of the bus when the massacre took place:

Under the laws of war, parties must do everything feasible to verify that targets are valid military objectives. Witnesses said there were no armed men in the market or on the bus, and videos taken on the bus before the attack do not show any fighters or weapons. Human Rights Watch could not confirm the absence of a Houthi military target in the vicinity of the attack, but even if it were present, the use of a weapon with wide area effects in a crowded market would have been unlawfully indiscriminate or expected to cause disproportionate civilian loss.

The Aug. 9 massacre caught the attention of the outside world more than most other atrocities in this war because it caused the deaths of dozens of small boys while they were on a field trip. The senseless slaughter of schoolchildren forced the world to pay attention for a few days to what the Saudi coalition has been doing to Yemen’s civilian population for more than three years. The Saudi coalition response to the outrage over this massacre has been to defend the decision to blow up the bus with the most ridiculous and insulting claims possible.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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