Despite promising to pursue a peace settlement, Saudi Arabia has continued its destructive bombing campaign in Yemen. At home, Saudi authorities last week executed 37 people
in one day on ambiguous charges.
Since March 26, airstrikes by the coalition it leads blasted a hospital in the district of Kitaf and a school in Sanaa, the capital. At least 21 civilians were reported killed in those strikes, at least 12 of them children. That adds to a toll of thousands of civilians killed in the past four years by Saudi-led airstrikes; a United Nations investigation found last year that the repeated indiscriminate attacks may amount to war crimes.
US President Donald Trump ignored this record last week when he vetoed a congressional resolution that would have ended U.S. involvement in the Yemen war under the War Powers Act. The president claimed that the resolution would weaken his constitutional authority as commander in chief and was “unnecessary,” since “there are no United States military personnel in Yemen commanding, participating in or accompanying military forces of the Saudi-led coalition.” He contended that the logistical and intelligence support the administration is supplying Saudi Arabia does not amount to engaging in hostilities.
In reality, the Saudi bombing campaign would be unsustainable without that U.S. support, or the continuing sale of bombs and other materiel. That makes the Trump administration complicit in the continuing atrocities, such as the latest school and hospital bombings. It also means that Congress must look for other ways to force a change in U.S. policy toward the regime led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose record of extraordinary recklessness in foreign policy has been matched by unprecedented domestic repression.
The ideal approach would be to address both, because they are intertwined. That is the strategy of a bipartisan Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, along with Republicans Todd C. Young (Ind.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Susan Collins (Maine). In addition to suspending arms transfers to the kingdom until it ends bombing and other offensive activity in Yemen, it seeks to force accountability for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by mandating sanctions on any person who was complicit in his death. The bill would appear to have a good chance of passing, but the Republican leadership, including committee Chairman James E. Risch (Idaho), has not yet allowed a vote.
We’re told Mr. Risch is working on his own bill with the aim of attracting wide support, including from Mr. Trump. That could mean legislation that restricts visas or applies other pressure to Saudis until political prisoners — such as the women jailed for advocating greater rights — are released. It could also impose sanctions on those who block humanitarian aid in Yemen. However, a bill acceptable to Mr. Trump probably would have to exclude any punishment of Mohammed bin Salman for the Khashoggi murder or a ban on arms deliveries.
Mr. Risch, who is new to his post, is right to make the effort. But handing a free pass to the crown prince after U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded he was responsible for the Khashoggi murder would be an invitation to further atrocities. Republicans such as Mr. Graham who have insisted on accountability for the crown prince should not back down.
UN rights chief condemns ‘shocking’ Saudi mass executions
On the other hand, the U.N.’s human rights chief has called Saudi Arabia’s mass execution of 37 men, including three who were sentenced as minors, “shocking” and “abhorrent.”
Michelle Bachelet’s office said last Wednesday the beheadings in six cities across Saudi Arabia were carried out Tuesday despite repeated warnings from rights officials about lack of due process.
The men mostly belonged to the minority Shiite branch of Islam and had been convicted of terrorism-related crimes. The body and severed head of a convicted Sunni extremist were pinned to a pole as a public warning.
Bachelet said it was “particularly abhorrent that at least three of those killed were minors at the time of their sentencing.”
She urged Saudi Arabia to review its counterterror legislation, expressly prohibit the death penalty for minors and halt pending executions.
Amid the US administration’s continued limitless support of Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi government despite the atrocities they have committed and are still committing both at home and abroad, the question remains: Is Trump administration considered complicit in these atrocities?