60 Minutes Imagines A Different War In Yemen






The November 19 episode of the CBS News program 60 Minutes devoted its first segment to covering the humanitarian atrocity taking place in Yemen. Or rather, it devoted its first segment to covering a fictional crisis loosely based on the humanitarian atrocity taking place in Yemen. Any similarity between that crisis and what’s actually happening in Yemen was apparently coincidental.

The 60 Minutes segment focused entirely on Yemen’s hunger crisis, which is so acute that World Food Programme head David Beasley told the program that if his organization doesn’t get substantially more international assistance in the next few months, 125,000 children could starve to death. The reason for the urgency is quite simple: Saudi Arabia and its coalition allies have placed a total blockade on those parts of Yemen under rebel control.

The blockade was instituted in response to a rebel missile strike on Riyadh on November 4—a strike that Saudi missile defenses intercepted and that caused no casualties. The Saudis immediately announced a blockade on all points of entry into Yemen, but under international pressure they later modified the blockade to apply only to rebel-held areas. Of course, there is desperate need for humanitarian assistance in those rebel-held areas, and so the Saudi decision to “ease” the blockade—which was meant to make Riyadh seem reasonable—was in fact a largely meaningless gesture that has done little to really improve the situation in Yemen.

Despite the fact that Yemen’s starvation crisis is almost entirely the result of Saudi actions, Beasley was either unable or unwilling to say so. Here’s how he described Yemen’s hunger crisis to 60 Minutes:

Pelley and his team were ordered off a ship and then two planes headed to Yemen. The Saudis have heavily restricted reporters from the region; the country’s support of the government against the Houthi rebels includes bombing campaigns that have killed many civilians. The Saudis have also blockaded Yemen, preventing food as well as weapons from getting into the country. Beasley says holding up food is part of their strategy. “I don’t think there’s any question the Saudi-led coalition, along with the Houthis and all of those involved, are using food as a weapon.”

Perhaps Beasley feels constrained to avoid the appearance of bias, but with an estimated seven million Yemenis in or nearing famine conditions, it’s long past the point of trying to protect Riyadh’s delicate feelings. Regardless, it must be said loud and clear that “all of those involved” aren’t currently blockading Yemen from the air, land, and sea. “All of those involved” aren’t equally responsible for nearly a million Yemenis suffering from cholera without access to proper medical care. And “all of those involved” aren’t regularly conducting airstrikes that hit civilian targets in rebel-held northern Yemen.

But by far the most egregious part of the 60 Minutes coverage was its total failure to identify one key element of “all those involved,” namely the role that the United States and Britain have played in arming and sustaining the Saudi war effort. The United States has been intimately involved in the Saudi intervention in Yemen going back to the Obama administration, but Donald Trump, in his zeal for all things Saudi, has significantly intensified that involvement. According to Jack Detsch in al-Monitor:

Amid a worsening humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country, the US Department of Defense provided about 480,000 gallons of aviation fuel to the mission at a cost of more than $1 million in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, a 140% increase over the previous year. The disclosure comes as Yemen suffers the world’s worst cholera epidemic and the Saudis face international pressure to lift their blockade of the country’s ports…

This revelation should be a wake-up call to every policymaker and every American that this country is literally fueling the largest humanitarian crisis in the world and the worst cholera outbreak in recorded history,” said Kate Gould, a lobbyist with the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker group. “The [United States] is operating these gas stations in the sky to fuel Saudi and UAE bombers as they rain down terror on Yemeni water and other sanitation infrastructure — the last safeguards Yemen has against these disease outbreaks sweeping the country.”

It is no exaggeration to say that the Saudi operation in Yemen depends on this ongoing logistical support from the U.S. It also depends on arms, like American cluster bombs and British missiles, that U.S. and U.K. arms dealers eagerly sell to the Saudis. Which means that it’s within American and British power to end this atrocity, to end the starvation, to force the Saudis to reopen the entire country to humanitarian aid. But whether it’s because they believe Saudi propaganda about Iran or they’re simply too invested in maintaining their toxic but very lucrative relationships with the Saudi monarchy, neither Washington nor London has taken any substantive steps to end or even reduce their involvement in immiserating the Yemeni people.

Which somehow all seems to have escaped 60 Minutes, which devoted not so much as a single sentence of its Yemen segment to explaining how America and Britain are partly responsible for the many images of starving children their viewers were seeing on Sunday night. This is certainly not a new phenomenon in Western media, which has made a habit of downplaying or outright ignoring American and British involvement in Yemen. But it is still a stunning omission. The program’s American audience deserves to know that its own government in part created the atrocities that flashed by on the screen. In failing to inform them of that fact, 60 Minutes did its viewers, and the people of Yemen, a tremendous disservice.