Home/Daniel Larison/The ‘Sham Investigations’ of Saudi Coalition War Crimes in Yemen

The ‘Sham Investigations’ of Saudi Coalition War Crimes in Yemen

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stands with Deputy Crown Price of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud before a bi-lateral meeting held at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Mar. 16, 2017. (DOD photo by Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

The New York Timesreports on growing frustration in the U.S. military with the Saudi coalition:

The top American air commander in the Middle East is urging the Saudi-led coalition of Arab nations to be more forthcoming about an investigation into an airstrike in northern Yemen earlier this month that struck a school bus, killing more than 40 children.

The comments by Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian reflected increasing exasperation by United States officials over the conflict that has spiraled into a humanitarian disaster.

“There’s a level of frustration we need to acknowledge,” General Harrigian said in a wide-ranging telephone interview last week. “They need to come out and say what occurred there.”

Any criticism of the Saudi coalition from our government is welcome, but this complaint misses the point. The coalition doesn’t just need to “say what occurred” in the August 9 Dahyan massacre that killed 40 schoolchildren and at least eleven others. We know what occurred, and we know who is responsible. What is needed is pressure to make the coalition stop their attacks on civilian targets, and the best way to do that is to cut off all military support that aids them in carrying out those attacks. Anything else amounts to dancing around the fact that the coalition is repeatedly and deliberately targeting and killing civilians in large numbers.

The problem with Saudi coalition investigations of their own war crimes isn’t that they are insufficiently transparent, but that they are all but certain to exonerate coalition forces of any wrongdoing. There needs to be an independent, international inquiry into this attack and into all war crimes committed by all parties in Yemen. The Saudi coalition, the U.S., Britain, and France have consistently opposed independent investigations because they know what these investigations will prove. The perpetrators want to cover up their crimes, and their accomplices have been helping them do just that.

Human Rights Watch analyzed the work of the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) and found that it routinely vindicated coalition forces and whitewashed their crimes:

“For more than two years, the coalition has claimed that JIAT was credibly investigating allegedly unlawful airstrikes, but the investigators were doing little more than covering up war crimes [bold mine-DL],” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments selling arms to Saudi Arabia should recognize that the coalition’s sham investigations do not protect them from being complicit in serious violations in Yemen.”

We would expect abusive authoritarian regimes to conduct sham investigations into their own war crimes, so it comes as no surprise that this is what the coalition has been doing. The coalition has created a process designed to pay lip service to concerns about their attacks on civilians, but they have no intention of holding coalition forces accountable for crimes against civilians and they appear to have no interest in reducing the number of civilians that they kill. Demanding that they make their meaningless investigations more “transparent” is just another way of avoiding a clash with the Saudis and their allies over their outrageous behavior.

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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