PBS NewsHour interviewed Larry Lewis last night in a report on Yemen and Pompeo’s dishonest certification of Saudi coalition conduct. Lewis worked for the U.S. government to try to improve Saudi coalition targeting up through 2016, but stopped after that. He wrote an analysis of Pompeo’s claims earlier this week. During the interview, Lewis made an important point about the coalition’s supposed admission of error in the Aug. 9 school bus massacre that has been lost in a lot of the coverage:
So, it’s good that they admitted a mistake.
But, unfortunately, the details of the explanation don’t look right. So they talked about problems in the timing of the airstrike. But the common understanding of what happened was, the problem was actually the target selection. I mean, they struck a school bus with kids [bold mine-DL].
And the fundamental problem is, if they are not getting the details right of what went wrong, it’s unlikely that they will be able to put solutions in place to get better.
The Saudi coalition has never acknowledged that they were wrong to attack the school bus, and their spokesman said earlier this month that there were no children on the bus they destroyed. The coalition’s admission of error amounted to saying that they attacked the bus later than they should have. The Saudis and their allies have never acknowledged that they killed dozens of schoolchildren, and instead they continue to claim that the target was “legitimate.”
I bring this up once again because there is a widespread misunderstanding that the Saudi coalition made a meaningful admission of error in this case, and that misunderstanding has in turn helped Secretary Pompeo to issue a bogus certification that the coalition is making progress in reducing harm to civilians. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article mentions that the coalition’s shoddy investigation into the massacre probably played a role in the decision to give the coalition a pass:
U.S. officials say that a contrite and robust Saudi response to its bombing of the school bus on Aug. 9 may have helped tip the scales in Riyadh’s favor.
The problem here is that the Saudi response was neither contrite nor robust. It was a cynical and deceptive response that paid lip service to the idea that the coalition had made a mistake, but it showed no understanding or acknowledgement of the appalling crime that their forces had committed against dozens of children. Contrition would have meant acknowledging that the attack on the bus itself was wrong and admitting that they had wrongfully killed 40 kids, and that should have been followed by profuse apologies and offers of compensation. Obviously none of that has happened, and the Saudi coalition has been let off the hook by Washington once again after shedding a few crocodile tears while clinging to the lie that their murder of 40 small boys was a “legitimate” military action.
The good news is that the credibility of the coalition and the administration has been shredded in the weeks that followed this horrific attack. The coalition’s investigation into the massacre and the administration’s certification were both done in such obvious bad faith that they are practically begging Congress to cut off all U.S. military assistance and block all arms sales. That is exactly what Congress needs to do.