GOP and Military Join Forces to Block Vote to Ban Yemen War

March 16th, 2018 - by admin

Jason Ditz / & Zaid Jilani / The Intercept – 2018-03-16 00:04:37

GOP Leaders Want to Delay Yemen War Powers Vote

GOP Leaders Want to Delay Yemen War Powers Vote
Leaders say it needs close study in committee

Jason Ditz /

WASHINGTON, DC (March 15, 2018) – Expectations are that the Senate War Powers vote on the Yemen War, SJ Res 54, will come up for debate and a vote next week. That may not happen if the Republican leadership gets its way, however, as many are opposed to the bill, and are trying to stall a vote.

Some leaders are arguing the issue is too “divisive,” and that the matter should be sent back to a committee for closer study. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), by contrast, endorsed the Pentagon’s argument, saying the US does so much military engagement around the world that it would be dangerous to think the War Powers Act could apply to all of it.

But of course the whole point of the War Powers Act is that it does apply to any commitment of US forces overseas. It’s just that in recent years, presidents have relied on catch-all authorizations with vague limits to join some wars, and other times simply assumed Congress wouldn’t mind, as they generally have not minded.

SJ Res 54, pushed by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Chris Murphy (D-CT), is indeed the first time the US Senate has ever faced a War Powers challenge. Administration officials have conceded the main point, that they don’t have a Congressional authorization to justify their involvement in the Saudi invasion of Yemen.

That and the wording of the law ought to make the vote a relatively simple process. Administration officials, however, argue the US has sold so many weapons to Saudi Arabia that support contracts for those sales implies direct US military involvement in the war.

That argument won’t convince anybody. That’s why the Pentagon is mostly appealing to hawkish Senate leaders who are comfortable with unauthorized wars, and are more than happy to look for procedural loopholes to derail the vote.

Those wishing to contact their senators to urge them to support SJ Res. 54 should call 1 (202) 899-8938. Tentatively, the vote is still expected to happen next week.

Military Brass Tells Congress It Has No Idea
What Saudi Arabia Is Doing With US Bombs in Yemen

Zaid Jilani / The Intercept

(Marcg 14, 2018) — In a surprising admission on Tuesday, the head of US Central Command — which oversees US forces in the Middle East and Central Asia — admitted that the Pentagon doesn’t know a whole lot about the Saudi airstrikes in Yemen that the United States is supporting through intelligence, munitions, and refueling.

US CENTCOM Cmdr. Gen. Joseph Votel made the admission in response to questions from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“General Votel, does CENTCOM track the purpose of the missions it is refueling? In other words, where a US-refueled aircraft is going, what targets it strikes, and the result of the mission?” Warren asked.

“Senator, we do not,” Votel replied.

Warren followed up by describing an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition that struck civilians in February. The attack, in the northern Yemen town of Saada, killed five civilians. Medical staff who rushed in to help survivors were hit in a follow-up attack, Warren noted. (This is known as a “double-tap” airstrike.)

“General Votel, when you receive reports like this from credible media organizations or outside observers, is CENTCOM able to tell if US fuel or US munitions were used in that strike?”

“No, senator, I don’t believe we are,” he replied.

Since the Yemen war started three years ago, the Saudi-led coalition has killed thousands of civilians, including in strikes on hospitals and civilian centers. US tankers refuel planes from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other coalition members, raising questions about American culpability in war crimes.

Last month, Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Chris Murphy, D-Conn.; and Mike Lee, R-Utah introduced a resolution designed to end US involvement in the war. In response to Votel’s answers, Warren said the lack of clarity about the specific role of the US military in the conflict is one of the reasons she is backing the Sanders-Lee proposal.

The Massachusetts senator pointed out that Iran also plays a role in fueling the conflict, but said US support for Saudi Arabia makes it subject to more scrutiny.

“We need to be clear about this: Saudi Arabia’s the one receiving American weapons and American support. And that means we bear some responsibility here. And that means we need to hold our partners and our allies accountable for how those resources are used,” she said.

Votel’s stunning admissions come after The Intercept reported last year that CENTCOM doesn’t know how much fuel it offloads specifically for the Saudi-led coalition. Responding to questions from The Intercept, CENTCOM said that it lumps together refueling data for the coalition with data for US planes in the area, joint US-Emirati missions, and possibly other operations. The database that tracks refueling include the refueling of all aircraft, including American ones, in the “Horn of Africa” area.

The Sanders-Lee proposal would invoke the War Powers Act to force a debate on limiting US involvement in Yemen to missions that combat Al Qaeda. Crucially, it would withdraw support for the Saudi-led war.

Since March 2015, the Saudi-led coalition has been at war with the Houthi rebels, who are supported by Iran and are opponents of Al Qaeda. The United States supports the Saudi coalition with intelligence, munitions, and refueling for aircraft.

In 2016, The Intercept interviewed half a dozen former senior US diplomats who served in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and all of them decried the Saudi-led war as unwinnable. They called on the US to consider withdrawing support for the conflict to get the Saudi Arabian government to commit to peace.

Nearly two years after we published this piece, the war continues with no end in sight.

Mattis Tells Senators to Defeat Yemen War Powers Challenge
Proponents hope for vote early next week

Jason Ditz /

(March 14, 2018) — Senate Joint Resolution 54, which would force the end of the US involvement in the Saudi War in Yemen, continues to face mounting opposition from the administration. Defense Secretary James Mattis is the latest to express opposition to the bill, in a letter to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Mattis’ letter

Mattis argues that the US support for Saudi Arabia is “non-combat support,” and that without it, Saudi Arabia would kill even more civilians in their airstrikes. This is a bold prediction given the outrageous number of civilians the Saudis are killing already.

Mattis further claims that the Saudis are engaged in a “legitimate exercise of self-defense,” another outrageous claim that other administration officials have made. This is based on the Shi’ite Houhis firing missiles at the Saudis, though presenting this as a pretext for a war of self-defense is preposterous, since the missiles were fired years after the Saudi invasion began.

Mattis does concede the point in his letter that there is no legal authorization for US involvement in the Yemen War, but insists Congress should “not impose restrictions” based on the war’s plain illegality under the War Powers Act.

Exact timing for the vote on S.J. Res 54 is still not certain, though proponents of the bill are hopeful that the vote will come early next week. Those wishing to contact their senators to urge them to support SJ Res. 54 should call 1 (202) 899-8938.

The US War Powers Act requires that Congress authorize any US military operations of the sort being carried out in Yemen. Since 2015, the US has conducted mid-air refueling for Saudi warplanes, and committed warships to the naval blockade, which is fueling starvation across Yemen.

Video of 2-hour Congressional Hearing

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