Lawmakers Push to Invoke War Powers Act to End U.S. Complicity in Yemen War

Interview with Paul Kawika Martin, senior director for policy and political affairs with Peace Action, conducted by Scott Harris

As violence, famine and a deadly cholera epidemic claim ever more lives in the three-year war in Yemen, the United Nations has weighed in with a report accusing Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) of committing acts that may be war crimes. UN investigators said the Saudi- led military coalition has killed thousands of civilians in airstrikes, tortured detainees, raped civilians and used child soldiers as young as 8 years old.
The UN blamed coalition airstrikes for causing most of the civilian casualties in Yemen, citing credible reports that Saudi and UAE aircraft had targeted residential neighborhoods, weddings, medical facilities, markets, funerals and jails. The report also accused the Houthi rebels, who the Saudis are trying to oust from territory they control in northern Yemen, of shelling civilians, torturing detainees and recruiting child soldiers.
What many Americans don’t know is that the U.S. government has been playing an active role in the Yemen war on the side of Saudis and UAE, supplying weapons, logistical and intelligence support and re-mid-air fueling of military aircraft, some of which have been involved in targeting civilians. Now, several members of Congress are backing the idea of invoking the 1973 War Powers Act in an attempt to end U.S. complicity in the Yemen War. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris  spoke with Paul Kawika Martin, senior director for policy and political affairs with Peace Action, who summarizes the UN’s recent human rights report and efforts in Congress to prevent the Trump administration from continuing to supply military assistance to Saudi-led forces in Yemen.

PAUL KAWIKA MARTIN: Well, the UN has been warning over several years, not only about the humanitarian disaster. There is a refugee and internally displaced disaster when people are either fleeing Yemen or have had to flee various parts of Yemen and leave their homes. And they’ve been talking about these issues for a long time.

But they did put together a big group of very eminent experts, most of them with significant law experience to put a very formal report together. And in that report, they showed Saudi airstrikes causing most of the civilian casualties. Now that’s the war casualties, not counting the casualties on the humanitarian side of the disaster caused by lack of medicine and food, water, the cholera epidemic. As we speak, you know, one child is dying every 10 minutes of either starvation or some easily fixed medical condition. So the UN definitely said that there were war crimes that are happening, and they were focused primarily on what was happening inside the country.

It didn’t really talk a lot about the U.S. role unfortunately. But we’re clearly complicit if we are a supporting country. They did point out UAE; they did point out Saudi Arabia. It did point out the Houthis. And we are funding (war crimes). So I feel like we are complicit by support even if the United Nations hasn’t specifically said that we are complicit.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Paul, run down for us who are the Congress (members) that are working toward reining in the United States involvement in the war in Yemen. Explain a little bit about the War Powers Act, how it was invoked during the latter days of the Vietnam War and how it really has just been put on the shelf and not used by members of Congress in all these years since the Vietnam War and during the course of many conflicts our nation has been involved with.

PAUL KAWIKA MARTIN: Over a year ago, there was an attempt to actually block sales of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia. It’s actually never happened in the history of arms sales that the Congress has voted to block – that was led by Sen. Chris Murphy. And that vote came very close. It was 44, needing 51. That surprised a lot of people and did put some pressure on Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. And then, there was an attempt by freshman Congressman Ro Khanna of California to do the War Powers Resolution last year. And he didn’t get very much support, definitely no support from the Republican-led House, but even some within the leadership in the Democratic Party was not very supportive of it moving forward. So it ended up turning into rather than get a vote on that, they got to vote on another resolution that did spell out there’s not been an authorization of war.

So all of this aid that we’re doing is considered hostilities being part of the war in Yemen that is supposed to be declared by Congress. Congress has never voted for a war in Yemen. While certainly one could argue that some work on terrorism that may or may not be going on there is covered under the 2001 AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force), but certainly not the support of the Yemen civil war – it’s not covered by any law.

And that is why during the Vietnam War – which was another war that didn’t have a declaration of war – after that war ended, groups like Peace Action and others worked to get the War Powers Resolution passed and it was passed over the veto of President Nixon. And that made a lot of different things at the presidential (level), that branch of government needs to do if it sends in troops. So, that is letting Congress know after a certain amount of time, and if there isn’t any kind of declaration of war, then those troops are actually supposed to come out after 60 days.

And you’re right, it hasn’t been used a lot. There’s been several times where members of Congress did try to use it for Libya and Iraq and others had been blocked, but it is a way to force a vote. So, once again, Rep. Ro Khanna now (with the) backing of the House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith and a whole host of other champions are behind this effort. They have not introduced the bill yet and it’s unclear if they’re going to be able to get a vote or some parliamentarian tricks that can be used to try to stop it, but if they’re able to introduce it before this week’s out, then we might see some sort of a vote before they recess for Congress by the end of the month.

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