Dear Representative Khanna, et al:
We write to applaud your introduction of House Concurrent Resolution XX to rapidly bring to an end the unauthorized U.S. participation in hostilities in Yemen’s civil war alongside a coalition of militaries led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against a Shiite rebel group, the Houthis, who have allied with the former president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Launched in 2015, the Saudi-UAE-led war against the Houthi-Saleh alliance has directly led to the deaths of over ten thousand Yemenis. An “unwarranted” blockade on imports of food and medicine imposed by Saudi warplanes and navy, according to Idriss Jazairy, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and International Sanctions, is “one of the main causes of the humanitarian catastrophe” afflicting the country. “The blockade involves grave breaches of the most basic norms of human rights law, as well as of the law of armed conflict,” he concluded, “which cannot be left unanswered.”
UN Secretary General António Guterres considered Yemen the “world’s largest hunger crisis”—a “man-made crisis” in which “a child under the age of five dies of preventable causes in Yemen every ten minutes” despite the fact that “all those deaths could have been prevented.” He concluded, “We are witnessing the starving and the crippling of an entire generation.” The Saudi blockade has contributed to the dire reality that 17 million people—or 60 percent of Yemen’s population—now confront food insecurity, with 7 million being pushed to the brink of starvation. U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut contended that “the Saudis are deliberately trying to create a famine inside Yemen in order to essentially starve the Yemenis to the negotiating table”—and “the United States is participating.” In addition to provoking near-starvation conditions for millions of Yemenis, the Saudi-led war is largely responsible for the world’s worst cholera epidemic since records have been kept.
U.S. responsibility in Saudi Arabia’s famine-inducing war is not limited to the provision of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for use in Yemen, although this involvement alone led Obama administration lawyers to privately express concerns over U.S. co-belligerency under international law and the possible legal liability of U.S. officials for war crimes. Nor is U.S. culpability restricted solely to U.S. diplomatic shielding of Saudi Arabia and the UAE at the United Nations.
Rather, as you note in your privileged resolution, the U.S. is a direct participant in coalition-led hostilities in Yemen due to its assistance in selecting targets for Saudi and UAE warplanes conducting airstrikes, and through the U.S. provision of midair refueling services during those warplanes’ bombing runs, as reported by The New York Times piece, “Support for Saudi Arabia Gives U.S. Direct Role in Yemen Conflict.” Foreign Policy senior reporter Paul McLeary added that the Saudi coalition’s “daily bombing campaign would not be possible without the constant presence of U.S. Air Force tanker planes refueling coalition jets.” Since October, this refueling support for the Saudi-UAE bombing campaign in Yemen has doubled. In June 2017, the New York Times reported that the U.S. planned to deepen U.S. participation by sending military advisers to work directly within the Saudi air operations control center in Riyadh.
Congress has never authorized U.S. participation in the Saudi-UAE war in Yemen against the Houthi-Saleh alliance, as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker has publicly acknowledged. Irrespective of debates regarding the expansive post-2001 U.S. war on Al Qaeda and ISIS, the Saudi-UAE war in Yemen against the Shiite Houthis is indisputably independent from, unrelated to, and unauthorized by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.
In fact, multiple news outlets have reported that Saudi Arabia and UAE are de facto allies of Al Qaeda in Yemen against the Houthi-Saleh alliance, and that the Saudi-UAE war has strengthened the most dangerous franchise of this terrorist group. The State Department similarly acknowledged in a July 2017 report that “the ongoing conflict” has “enabled al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS’s Yemen branch to deepen their inroads across much of the country.”
When the Obama administration began participating in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen in 2015, the action was justified not on the basis of protecting the nation against a foreign threat, but rather to reportedly placate “gulf nations angered by Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran.” Although U.S. participation in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen is therefore not in response to an actual or imminent threat to the nation, the use of this U.S. force has never been voted on by Congress, as required by the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973.
The U.S. House of Representatives has avoided a floor vote on any aspect of U.S. participation in this unauthorized war for at least a year, since an amendment to ban the transfer of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia over its conduct in Yemen narrowly failed by a vote of 204-216. Over the intervening period, humanitarian conditions have only worsened in Yemen. Your privileged resolution to withdraw unauthorized U.S. forces from the conflict in Yemen is, therefore, both welcome and long overdue, as the famine resulting from the war is said to be approaching “Biblical proportions,” according to leading aid experts.
By invoking provisions of U.S. law allowing for the introduction of a privileged resolution to withdraw unauthorized U.S. forces from this conflict, you are reasserting the rightful role of Congress as the constitutionally mandated branch of government that must both declare war and retain oversight over it. We, the undersigned, encourage all U.S. Representatives to vote yes to this resolution. This measure strengthens U.S. governance to better comport with the Constitution, assists in reducing a genuine threat to national security posed by the expansion of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and promises to assist in ending the senseless suffering of millions of innocent people in Yemen.