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The Obama Administration Should Be Found Guilty of War Crimes in Yemen

01/05/2016 09:49 am ET | Updated Jan 05, 2016
  • Dan Kovalik Human & Labor Rights Lawyer, Adjunct Professor of International Human Rights Law
SALEH AL-OBEIDI via Getty Images

Those of us who supported Barack Obama in 2008 in the hope that he was a man of peace must face the painful reality -- we were dead wrong. Nowhere is our folly better illustrated than in the ongoing human rights catastrophe now unfolding in Yemen with critical U.S. assistance.

For months, those who bother to care about Yemen -- one of the poorest countries on earth -- have been criticizing President Obama for aiding and abetting the Saudi Coalition assault on that country. As Foreign Policy reported back in October, Obama was already being accused of committing War Crimes through his logistical assistance to the brutal Saudi air offensive against Yemen.

Yet, undeterred, Obama doubled down on his crimes in November by approving the sale of $1.29 billion in smart bombs to Saudi Arabia -- a sale which, among other things, is intended to replenish Saudi Arabia's arsenal in attacking Yemen.

Of course, as always, the U.S. mainstream media, which is in the most sorry state I have ever witnessed it, has been ready to lend a hand to Obama's crimes by (1) barely reporting on Yemen; and (2) reporting Yemen as a more or less equal battle between Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition. To be clear, this is not a an equal fight, for it is the Saudis who are inflicting the disproportionate share of civilian casualties through a U.S.-backed air campaign against a country with no air defenses.

Thus, as News Week recently reported:

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights told the U.N. Security Council . . . that a Saudi-led coalition's military campaign in Yemen appeared to be responsible for a "disproportionate amount" of attacks on civilian areas.

Speaking at the council's first public meeting on Yemen since the Saudi-led bombing campaign began nine months ago, Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein said he had "observed with extreme concern" heavy shelling from the ground and air in civilian areas of Yemen including the destruction of hospitals and schools.

The toll on Yemen's civilian population from the U.S.-backed conflict is great, with Human Rights Watch reporting back in October:

The war, and particularly the numerous coalition airstrikes, has taken a terrible toll on civilians. As of late September, the U.N. had documented that the war had killed 2,355 civilians and wounded 4,862, the majority in coalition airstrikes. In the nearly two dozen strikes that we have investigated on the ground, we collected the names of more than 300 civilians who died, many of them children.

And the civilian deaths continue. In the last few weeks local authorities and activists in Yemen have reported that coalition aircraft bombed two wedding parties, killing dozens of civilians. While a proper investigation is needed to establish the facts, our research shows that many coalition airstrikes that have killed civilians violated the laws of war.

However, these numbers do not even begin to reflect the true extent of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen where literally millions of civilians are being brought to the brink of starvation by the conflict. As an obscure piece out of Australia entitled, "Yemen is the Crisis That the World Forgot," reports:

Yemen, which is just south of Saudi Arabia, is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East. Even before the current conflict, it depended on imports for 70 per cent of its fuel, 80 per cent of its food and 100 per cent of its medicine. With its ports and airports closed by a military blockade, very little of anything is available to civilians now. Before the war, more than 10 million Yemenis were going hungry but now many are facing severe food shortages.

Those numbers should be shocking. But the sad reality is they are easy to ignore in Australia and in other parts of the Western world. Yemen has a population of 24 million, roughly the same size as Australia.

Now consider the fact that in Yemen there are 21 million people who are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Yes, the Obama Administration is knowingly aiding and abetting the Saudis in murdering millions in Yemen. This is a fact. And, it is a fact which is quite ironic given that the current Obama-appointed U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. is Samantha Power -- an individual who came to prominence through her Pulitzer-winning book which condemned the West's failure to respond to genocide throughout the world. In the case of Yemen, however, the genocide is not happening due to the mere omissions of the West, and in particular the U.S. -- rather, it is taking place with the active support of the U.S., including Power's own intervention at the U.N. which prevented any independent investigation of the Saudi crimes in Yemen.

In other words, the Obama team, including Samantha Power herself, have become exactly what Power herself once condemned -- co-conspirators in genocide. Indeed, Power's treachery at the UN looks a lot like the maneuvers carried out by the Clinton Administration in 1994 (maneuvers condemned by Power in her book on genocide) which resulted in UN troops being drawn down in Rwanda at the very time they were needed to prevent genocide.

And again, the U.S. media bears great responsibility in all of this as well, for it is not true that the world has somehow "forgotten" about Yemen. Rather, the world has been shielded from the realities in Yemen by a media which has now become a mere mouthpiece for the U.S. State Department. Tragically, it is the poorest of the poor in Yemen who are paying the price for the immoral foreign policy of the White House and its compliant press.

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