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The Bogus ‘Emergency’ and the War on Yemen

At each step, Pompeo & Company have sought to avoid oversight and accountability.

The State Department attempted to spin the results of the Inspector General investigation into the bogus emergency that Pompeo declared to expedite arms sales to the Saudis and the UAE last year, but the full report included some damning details about Pompeo’s disregard for civilian life in Yemen:

The State Department did not fully consider the risk of civilian casualties when it approved more than $8 billion in arms sales to Middle Eastern countries last year, according to a redacted inspector general report released Tuesday.

An unredacted version of the report, obtained by POLITICO, also raised questions about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s assertions that an emergency situation existed, allowing him to greenlight the sales over congressional objections.

The risk to civilians from the weapons that the U.S. has been selling the Saudis and the UAE is the main reason why these arms sales have encountered such strong resistance from Congress. It is not surprising that Pompeo’s State Department did not weigh this risk seriously, because their priority has been to get the weapons to the Saudi coalition no matter what the coalition does with them. That is why Pompeo previously certified that the Saudi coalition was seeking to reduce harm to civilians when all of the evidence and the majority of his own officials said the opposite: he wanted to protect current and future arms sales at any cost. The purpose of abusing the emergency declaration last year was to avoid Congressional scrutiny, because it is undeniable that the Saudis and the UAE have been and would be using these weapons to commit war crimes against innocent people in Yemen. Because the Trump administration could not defend its indefensible Yemen policy, they sought to go around Congress by abusing this provision in the law governing arms exports.

It is significant that the IG report does not give an evaluation of Pompeo’s decision to declare an emergency, so the report does not and cannot exonerate Pompeo on the most important question. The Post reports:

Because the Arms Export Control Act does not define the word “emergency,” the report said, the IG did not evaluate whether Pompeo’s stated reason — aggression from Iran — constituted one. But in making the emergency declaration, it said, the State Department did not meet other requirements to “fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns associated with the transfer of” precision-guided munitions.

The declaration itself was technically executed as it was supposed to be, but that’s beside the point. The report makes no determination as to whether the reason for making that declaration was valid. Pompeo is hiding behind a technicality and hoping that no one notices the truth. The truth is that Pompeo put fueling the war on Yemen and arming the Saudis and the UAE over protecting the lives of civilians in Yemen. That is presumably why the most damning findings in the report were not part of the public release:

But details of the IG’s findings and the department’s response to the civilian casualty concerns were not part of the public release. They were instead part of a classified annex to the report, following a claim of “executive branch confidentiality interests, including executive privilege,” according to a cover letter signed by acting inspector general Diana R. Shaw.

Some parts of the annex, provided to Congress, were “inappropriately redacted,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) said in a Tuesday letter to committee members. He said he would seek a reversal of the blackouts.

Other details in the report show that most of the weapons hadn’t been delivered yet and some wouldn’t be for a year or more, so they could have nothing to do with an emergency situation:

Other redactions deal with when the weapons were actually provided. According to blacked-out portions of the report, at the time of the IG review last fall only four of 22 arms transfers included in the emergency had been transferred. “Precision-guided munitions were among the first items delivered,” one redaction said.

Delivery of 11 of the 22 was scheduled to begin before the end of 2019, and five “would not begin delivery until 2020 or later,” according to redacted portions. In a letter to the inspector general, attached to the report, Cooper said that “the Certification itself was perhaps the most major ‘deliverable,’” apparently as a reflection of administration support for the Saudis.

At each step, Pompeo and the administration have sought to avoid oversight, accountability, and transparency when it comes to their support for the war on Yemen. First, Pompeo lied to Congress in 2018 that the Saudis and their allies were trying to reduce harm to civilians. That bogus certification came just weeks after the massacre of 40 schoolboys at Dahyan carried out by coalition jets using U.S.-made weapons. Then last spring the administration used the bogus emergency declaration to get around Congressional opposition to additional arms sales, and then when there is an investigation into that abuse the department tries to cover up the embarrassing details by redacting things that shouldn’t be concealed.

An unredacted copy of the report shows that they were discussing using an emergency declaration for weeks before Pompeo claimed that there was an emergency:

Parts of the publicly released report were also blacked out, including those related to the timing of Pompeo’s emergency declaration. According to an unredacted copy obtained by The Washington Post, State Department staff first proposed the use of the emergency authority to bypass congressional restrictions on April 3, 2019, nearly two months before Pompeo, on May 24, told Congress that emergency action was required.

Obviously the administration was looking for a way to skirt Congress, and abusing the emergency provision in the law was their way of doing that. They then cooked up the bogus emergency, citing threats from Iran in keeping with their general obsession with that country, and pushed through arms sales that would have been rejected if they had come before Congress.

This is still very much a live issue. The war has not ended, and U.S. arms sales continue. The administration’s determination to aid and abet war criminals has not wavered. The Saudi coalition continues to use the weapons they buy from the U.S. and others to bomb Yemen and kill civilians. Just last week, an airstrike on a group of civilians traveling by road killed 9 children. That latest slaughter of civilians occurred just a few weeks after the U.N. shamefully removed Saudi Arabia from its blacklist of governments that kill children in wartime. Congress must keep pressing the administration to cut off support for the Saudi coalition, and the public must demand that our government end its despicable backing for this indefensible war.

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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