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Group Of U.S. Elected Officials Renews Efforts To Challenge Pentagon As War Intensifies In Yemen

While a Saudi Arabia coalition enabled by the United States military bombs the city of Hodeida, Yemen, which is the main entry for shipments of food, senators demand the Pentagon end its secrecy around the scope of involvement by U.S. forces.

The New York Times reported in May that a “team of about a dozen Green Berets” are helping to “locate and destroy caches of ballistic missiles and launch sites that Houthi rebels are using to attack Riyadh and other Saudi cities”—a revelation that contradicts Pentagon claims that U.S. military assistance is “limited to aircraft refueling, logistics, and general intelligence sharing.”

Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis, “We are concerned that in the midst of a Senate effort to exercise its constitutional authority to end unauthorized hostilities—including U.S. targeting and refueling assistance for Saudi-led airstrikes against Yemen’s Houthis—the Pentagon may have concealed key information from members of Congress regarding the full extent of on-the-ground U.S. military participation in the Saudi coalition-led war.”

“We call on you to immediately disclose the full extent of the U.S. military role in the Saudi-led war against Yemen’s Houthis, including the use of special operations forces; disclose any role that the Pentagon is currently performing, has been asked to perform, or is considering performing regarding an attack on the port of Hodeida; and issue a public declaration opposing this impending assault and restating the administration’s position that Saudi Arabia and other parties to the conflict should accept an immediate ceasefire and move toward a political settlement to resolve the conflict.”

The letter, sent on June 15, came two days after an offensive on Hodeida was launched. It was widely condemned as an assault on one of the last remaining lifelines for Yemenis already suffering from one of the worst famines in the world.

Similarly, U.S. Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI), Justin Amash (R-MI), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Walter Jones (R-NC), and Ted Lieu (D-CA) sent a nearly identical letter on June 13 that urged Mattis to stop the coalition’s assault on Hodeida.

Demanding a briefing from President Donald Trump’s administration, the representatives requested “clarification on whether the administration is pursuing an immediate end to the violence by advocating multilateral negotiations—as we may infer from your comments—or if it is the case, as press reports seem to indicate, that the White House is ‘sympathetic’ to the view that further ‘military pressure can force the Houthis to return to the bargaining table.'”

“We also seek urgent answers regarding the Saudi leafleting of Hodeida, and whether this prelude to an attack was performed after securing U.S. approval and assistance for an assault. In light of previous reporting of administration deliberations, any Saudi operation to seize Hodeida would be perceived as a U.S. effort,” the representatives added.

At least 55 representatives in the House, led by Pocan, have demanded to know the White House’s “legal justification” for “escalating U.S. involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen—a war that’s never been authorized by Congress.”

The Office of Legal Counsel and White House has apparently never provided members of Congress with any basis for why U.S. participation in the war in Yemen is authorized. It certainly is not covered by the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force that applies to al Qaida.

The War Powers Act gives Congress the authority to force debate and a floor vote to withdraw U.S. military forces from “unauthorized hostilities.”  Sanders, Lee, and Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) led an effort in March to force a vote, but ten Senate Democrats helped the Republican majority shield the Trump administration from a debate on withdrawing U.S. military forces.

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was livid that a handful of senators would attempt to challenge the Trump administration’s abuse of power in a manner that circumvented the committee he chairs. Yet, so far, the committee has offered little to no oversight of military operations launched under President Barack Obama and expanded by Trump.

“The lack of humanitarian assistance, following suspension of aid programs and with limited NGO staff on the ground while a military offensive is ongoing, will have severe consequences on a region already facing restrictions on the import and internal transportation of vital supplies, including medicines, food and fuel,” explained Frederic Pelat, the head of Doctors Without Borders’ Yemen mission.

Recent fighting in the areas in and around Hodeida have displaced at least 25,000 people.

On June 13, it was reported by Doctors Without Borders that a new cholera treatment facility was bombed by coalition forces. No one was in the facility for treatment yet, but the attack was still outrageous.

The Saudi government claimed not to have the coordinates for the new facility. But Murphy noted, “Saudis watched the construction, could have raised questions to [Doctors Without Borders] about the building.” Coordinates were shared 12 times since April. The Saudi government acknowledged they had the coordinates 9 times.

“What did the Saudis think they were bombing? The entire compound is used by humanitarian groups! Looks like evidence that the Saudi/UAE/U.S. coalition is still targeting civilian sites,” Murphy added.

Shireen al-Adeimi, a Yemeni student who has contributed multiple pieces to In These Times on the conflict and crisis in Yemen, appeared on “Democracy Now!” on June 18 to address a “worst-case scenario” unfolding in her home country.

“Over the last three years, since this attack began on Yemen, Hodeida was the one—you know, if there were any red lines drawn, that would have been Hodeida, because any kind of disruption to the aid that’s coming in through the port of Hodeida means the starvation of millions of Yemenis,” al-Adeimi stated. “Eight-point-four million, like you said, depend on—are on the verge of starvation, and another 22 million people, 80 percent of the population, are relying on humanitarian aid that is coming in through this port of Hodeida.”

“So while the Houthis control the city of Hodeida, the ports and the waters have been patrolled by the Saudi-led coalition, and they’ve been controlling what comes in and out of the country through that port. And, you know, their attack on the city right now, led by the United Arab Emirates, shows that there are just no more red lines in Yemen, that civilian lives no longer matter. There’s not even a pretense of civilian lives being, you know, of importance in Yemen,” al-Adeimi contended.

The Trump administration’s support for expanding the U.S. role in the war in Yemen, including the bombing of Hodeida, is largely an example of its adversarial position toward Iran.

While in Riyadh, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo proclaimed earlier in the spring, “Iran destabilizes this entire region. It supports proxy militias and terrorist groups. It is an arms dealer to the Houthi rebels in Yemen.”

Unsubstantiated allegations that Iran is using Hodeida for smuggling weapons have swirled around in the press for years. The allegations have persisted, even though there is an air, land, and sea blockade, according to al-Adeimi, that makes it highly unlikely any missiles from Iran are getting through.

On top of the attacks on a port that Yemenis depend upon for basic human needs, Just Security reported “Radhya Almutawakel and Abdulrasheed Alfaqih, the founders of the NGO Mwatana for Human Rights, were detained at Seyoun airport by Saudi-led coalition forces.”

“Almutawakel and Alfaqih’s organization has conducted some of the most important independent reporting about abuses in Yemen, raising awareness about harms by all sides to the conflict. They have also authored numerous posts on Just Security, including about a letter Mwatana sent to U.S. business leaders regarding Saudi abuses, the need for an international inquiry into abuses in Yemen, and about flaws in U.S. investigation processes. They have been outspoken advocates for accountability, and have appeared frequently in the press (for example, the Guardian and Democracy Now!),” wrote Ryan Goodman and Sarah Knuckey in a statement at Just Security.

“In 2017, Almutawakel was invited to address the UN Security Council, where she briefed states on the war in Yemen and the civilian impacts.”

The human rights advocates were scheduled to travel to Europe to participate in meetings on the conflict. They were subsequently released by the Saudi-led coalition.

When Lee, Murphy, and Sanders attempted to force debate and a vote on U.S. support for the war in Yemen, the vote was 55-44, as close as any vote on U.S. military authority in recent history.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."