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  October 12, 2016

U.S. Weapon Sales Enable Saudi Arabia's Atrocities in Yemen

CODEPINK's Medea Benjamin says the U.S. claims it values democracy while supporting a state that exports terrorism and drops bombs on people at funerals
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Medea Benjamin is co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human rights organization Global Exchange. She has been organizing against U.S. military interventions, promoting the rights of Palestinians and calling for no war on Iran. Her latest work includes an effort to stop CIA drone attacks, and she is the author of a new book, "Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection"


SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

A Saudi airstrike in Yemen killed at least 140 mourners at a funeral in Yemen’s capital of Sana on Saturday. International outrage against the attack was swift with UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon condemning the attack and calling for an investigation.

BAN KI-MOON: A man made catastrophe is unfolding before our eyes. Impunity has already compounded the pain. Despite the mounting crimes by all parties to the conflict, we have yet to see the results of any credible investigations. This latest horrific incident demands a full inquiry. More broadly there must be accountability for the appalling conduct of this entire war.

PERIES: The UN Human Rights Council Chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, denounced the airstrike and faulted the Human Rights Council that he is the Chief of for not doing more in the face of climate of impunity in the country. As spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights, Ravina Shamdasani urged supporters of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen which includes the United States to withdraw their support. Let’s have a look at.

RAVINA SHAMDASANI: It is very clear which parties are involved in the conflict in Yemen. It is very clear which parties are supporting them, whether militarily or by other means. So the High Commissioner is issuing a call to all states that are somehow involved in this conflict to step back, to reassess and to reinvigorate the peace process to lead to us a cessations of hostilities agreement that is sustainable.

PERIES: Over ten thousand Yemenis have died in the war since it began on March 19th 2015. Earlier this year the UN Security Council called the war in Yemen a humanitarian crisis with up to 80% of the population in need of humanitarian aid.

Joining us now to talk about this ongoing war in Yemen is Medea Benjamin. She cofounder of the peace group Code Pink and the author of Kingdom of Unjust: Behind the US Saudi Connection. Medea thank you so much for joining us.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Thank you for having me on Sharmini.

PERIES: Medea let’s get your response to the Human Rights Commissioner calling for a step back for those countries who are supporting Saudi Arabia in this mission.

BENJAMIN: I think it’s more than a question of stepping back. I think it’s a question of cutting weapons sales. This is the big issue that’s facing the US right now. Are we going to continue to sell to the Saudis billions of dollars of weapons that are being used to create this catastrophe in Yemen? They found parts of the bombs that were used in the bombing of this funeral home and they were coming from the United States, from the US company Raytheon. So I don’t know if stepping back is quite the term to use. I say it’s cutting off the weapons sales. It’s cutting off our support for the Saudi military, the training, the logistical support, and cutting off the diplomatic cover that has allowed the Saudis to be doing this for almost 2 years now.

PERIES: In spite of the UN and the Human Rights Council have already made various statements on this issue, the US continued to sell arms to Saudi Arabia and support these attacks in the country. Medea what’s actually going on? Give us a picture and greater context to this.

BENJAMIN: The greater context is simply one of profit Sharmini. It’s the US weapons companies are selling the largest record sales of weapons to the Saudis and this has been going on certainly under the Obama administration where just in these almost 8 years alone there have been weapons sales of 115 billion dollars. This is being used in the Yemen war crimes. But it’s also being used to prop up a very repressive Saudi government that represses its own people and that has destroyed the efforts at Arab Springs and neighboring countries like Bahrain. It is a part of the military industrial complex in the US that cares more about the profits of companies like General Dynamics, Raytheon, Northrup Grumman, than it does about international law and human rights.

PERIES: And the US isn’t the only culprit here. We have Canada just to the north of us who are also continuing their commitment to provide arms to Saudi Arabia. How big is this problem?

BENJAMIN: Well it’s the western world and it’s so ironic that here the west says we have these values of democracy and that we’re fighting this war on terror and here we are arming the country that is most responsible for spreading terror and intolerant ideology and it’s not just the United States and Canada. It’s also England, France, Germany, even Sweden. I just came back from Europe where there is a growing movement to challenge the weapons sales in all of these countries and we’re creating an international network to say it’s time to stop being such hypocrites in the west and start practicing what we preach which is not supporting repressive regimes like the Saudis simply because they have a lot of money and help our weapons industries to keep the profits going.

PERIES: And describe for us the devastation on the ground.

BENJAMIN: Well in this last bombing, 142 people now they say are dead. Over 500 injured. There will undoubtedly be more deaths among those injured. People talk about it being like a pool of blood with pieces of body parts all over what was once a large funeral hall. This is just one of the many incidents of bombing of civilian facilities. There have been 4 Doctors Without Borders hospitals that have been bombed, schools, market places, wedding parties, the list goes on and on. A report said that one third of all of the attacks that the Saudis have launched have been civilian targets. So the devastation also is because Saudis have implemented a blockade that stops food from getting in by sea and by land. It means that millions of Yemenis are suffering and facing famine like conditions. So it’s very dire. It’s a story that’s not covered enough in the media. It’s a story in which the suffering and the deaths of the Yemeni people is laid in large part on the responsibility not only on the Saudis but of those who provide the Saudis with the means to do that and that is the United States.

PERIES: And there were recent reports Medea of the [Houthi] fighting back and shelling some of the I guess US [war ships] on the coast. What exactly happened there and what are the consequences of such effort on the part of the Houthi.

BENJAMIN: The US has said that they will have dire consequences but we have to ask why is a US boat off the coast of Yemen at a time when the US is involved in the war game and they don’t think that is a “fair target” for the Houthi? We have to remove the US ships from the region. The US should just not be involved. There’s also the danger of this being a wider in war in that many Houthi are calling for revenge against the Saudis and calling for Houthi and Yemenis in general to amass at the Saudi border. This could turn into an even uglier conflict than it is, which is all the more reason to demand that our government get out of this conflict.

PERIES: Finally, because of the war in Syria Medea, there’s very little attention to resolving the conflict here. So what are some of the solutions that the UN and others should be looking at.

BENJAMIN: There needs to be a peace process and there was an effort to come to a peace process. That failed. It has to be reinvigorated. There has to be international pressure for the internal parties within Yemen to come to a peace agreement and the only way that’s going to happen is if the foreign countries that are intervening stop the intervention and instead join in the peace process. That is the only solution and it better come quickly because the Yemenis are suffering tremendously.

PERIES: Alright Medea, I’m sure you’ll be keeping an eye on this and so will we. So we hope to have you back very soon and I hope the peace process as you say gets underway again. Thanks for joining us.

BENJAMIN: Thanks for having me on.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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