Culpable in genocide: American involvement in Saudi war crimes

We need to get out of the war business:

American mechanics service the jet and carry out repairs on the ground. American technicians upgrade the targeting software and other classified technology, which Saudis are not allowed to touch. The pilot has likely been trained by the United States Air Force.

And at a flight operations room in the capital, Riyadh, Saudi commanders sit near American military officials who provide intelligence and tactical advice, mainly aimed at stopping the Saudis from killing Yemeni civilians.

It's likely readers found the above headline verging on hyperbole. I do not use the term "genocide" as freely as others do when discussing military conflicts, but here's another word that may help you understand why I arrived at that conclusion: "Knowingly." It is often used in war crimes trials to demonstrate the difference between intentional acts of brutality and collateral damage. War criminals *always* claim that latter occurred, and proving it's the former makes all the difference. Case in point:

In interviews, 10 current and former United States officials portrayed a troubled and fractious American response to regular reports of civilians killed in coalition airstrikes.

The Pentagon and State Department have denied knowing whether American bombs were used in the war’s most notorious airstrikes, which have struck weddings, mosques and funerals. However, a former senior State Department official said that the United States had access to records of every airstrike over Yemen since the early days of the war, including the warplane and munitions used.

At the same time, American efforts to advise the Saudis on how to protect civilians often came to naught. The Saudis whitewashed an American-sponsored initiative to investigate errant airstrikes and often ignored a voluminous no-strike list.

“In the end, we concluded that they were just not willing to listen,” said Tom Malinowski, a former assistant secretary of state and an incoming member of Congress from New Jersey. “They were given specific coordinates of targets that should not be struck and they continued to strike them. That struck me as a willful disregard of advice they were getting.”

Yet American military support for the airstrikes continued.

You've got two major takeaways there: 1) The Saudis intentionally targeted civilians, and 2) We were aware they were doing it but continued to help them. Both of which are arguably war crimes.

Extracted from the revised Hague Convention rules determining war crimes:

These violations of customary international law are listed as grave breaches in Additional Protocol I and as war crimes in the Statute of the International Criminal Court.[41] The wording varies slightly between these two instruments, but in essence they are the same violations as indicated in the Elements of Crimes for the International Criminal Court.

(i) Making the civilian population or individual civilians, not taking a direct part in hostilities, the object of attack. In addition to the practice mentioned above, there are numerous examples of national legislation which make it a criminal offence to direct attacks against civilians, including the legislation of States not, or not at the time, party to Additional Protocol I.[42] References to more practice can be found in the commentary to Rule 1.

(ii) Launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. In addition to the practice mentioned above, numerous States have adopted legislation making it an offence to carry out an attack which violates the principle of proportionality.[43] References to more practice can be found in the commentary to Rule 14.

Many Americans, even those who study military history and tactics, simply do not understand why someone would intentionally target civilian populations when there are military targets readily available. You can blame Hollywood for a lot of that, but the truth is: Insurgencies cannot survive for very long without some popular support. By attacking civilians, you may create more fighters, but the wealth and infrastructure of a disputed territory is destroyed. Which often leads to plague and famine. Sound familiar? Understand, it was included in the Hague Convention because it *does* work, not because it's bad tactics.

Back to the OP, and the height of irresponsibility:

For decades, the United States sold tens of billions of dollars in arms to Saudi Arabia on an unspoken premise: that they would rarely be used.

The Saudis amassed the world’s third-largest fleet of F-15 jets, after the United States and Israel, but their pilots almost never saw action. They shot down two Iranian jets over the Persian Gulf in 1984, two Iraqi warplanes during the 1991 gulf war and they conducted a handful of bombing raids along the border with Yemen in 2009.

The United States had similar expectations for its arms sales to other Persian Gulf countries.

“There was a belief that these countries wouldn’t end up using this equipment, and we were just selling them expensive paperweights,” said Andrew Miller, a former State Department official now with the Project on Middle East Democracy.

Weapons of war will find a way to be used. Maybe not by the original buyer, but when you've got billions in hardware lying around, and you want to get some new stuff, a few phone calls is all it takes for these weapons to end up in the hands of the next Pol Pot. Or Mohammed bin Salmon.

Tags: