US Leaders Aid And War Crimes In Yemen



By:  Marjorie Cohn

US leaders who provided military support to the Saudi-led coalition that bombed civilians in Yemen this August could be charged with aiding and abetting the commission of war crimes under customary international law, which is part of US law.

The 500-pound laser-guided MK 82 bomb, which the coalition dropped on August 9, killed 51 people, including 40 children. The bombing constituted a war crime.

“They came to the hospital in cars and ambulances. Dozens of children with an array of grisly wounds,” Marta Rivas Blanco, a nurse from the International Committee of the Red Cross who works at the Al Talh hospital, wrote in the Guardian. “Some were screaming, some were scared, many went straight to the morgue.”

Lockheed Martin, one of the leading US defense contractors, manufactured the bomb, which was part of a US-Saudi arms deal last year.

Aiding and Abetting a War Crime,

According to customary international law, aiding and abetting a war crime requires three elements: 1) a person or entity committed a war crime; 2) another actor committed an act that had a substantial effect on the commission of the war crime; and 3) the other actor knew that the act would assist, or have a substantial likelihood of assisting, the commission of the war crime. All three of those elements were present in the August 9 bombing.

First, the coalition committed a war crime. Willful killing and the targeting of civilians constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The US War Crimes Act defines grave breaches of Geneva as war crimes.

Targeting a busload of children in a busy marketplace is a war crime. The Saudi government called it “a legitimate military action,” claiming to have targeted “Houthi leaders who were responsible for recruiting and training young children, and then sending them to battlefields.”

Second, US leaders provided the means to commit the war crime. The purchase of the bomb was part of an arms deal with Saudi Arabia that the US State Department sanctioned. In May 2017, on his first stop abroad after taking office, Trump signed a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudi king in Riyadh.

Third, the US military knew that supplying the bomb to the coalition was likely to result in the commission of a war crime. A similar bomb killed 155 people in a funeral hall in Yemen in October 2016.

After the 2016 bombing, the Obama administration, citing “human rights concerns,” banned the sale to Saudi Arabia of precision-guided military technology. That ban was reversed the same month Trump made his deal in Riyadh, and the US government reauthorized the provision of Paveway laser-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia.

US Assistance Facilitates More War Crimes,

The August 9 school bus bombing was one of over 50 airstrikes on civilian vehicles by the coalition so far in 2018. Amnesty International has documented 36 coalition airstrikes, many of which may constitute war crimes.

On April 23, 2018, Saudi aircraft dropped cluster bombs made by Raytheon on a wedding in Yemen, killing 22 people, including children. When they explode, cluster bombs scatter tiny bomblets. Some remain unexploded and detonate when people accidentally step on them or children pick them up off the ground. These weapons are banned by the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions.

The Saudi war on Yemen could not continue without support from the United States and the United Kingdom, according to Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution.

US military assistance to the coalition includes in-air refueling of Saudi and United Arab Emirates aircraft, logistical support and intelligence sharing. But US involvement in the war escalated late last year when a team of Green Berets secretly arrived at the border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

At least 6,385 civilians have been killed and 10,000 injured since the war began. Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition account for over 60 percent of the civilian casualties.

Yemen has one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises. At least 22.2 million people — and nearly all Yemeni children — need humanitarian aid, and it is suspected that more than 1 million people have cholera. Nevertheless, the coalition restricts aid and imports of food, medicine and fuel.

On March 15, 2018, the UN Security Council issued a Presidential Statement calling for full humanitarian and commercial access and all parties to comply with their international humanitarian law obligations.

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