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  October 2, 2017

The US is Backing Saudi War Crimes in Yemen

Col. Larry Wilkerson says many Republicans are ready to cross the aisle to stop the war in Yemen as the Saudis are using US position-guided missiles to bomb port side cranes that offload food and water during a cholera epidemic
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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.


SHARMINI PERIES: It's the Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

A growing movement in the U.S. Congress is working to stop U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen. Last week, four U.S. representatives, two Democrats: Ro Khanna from California and Mark Pocan from Wisconsin and two Republicans: Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Walter Jones of North Carolina introduced House Resolution 81 which would invoke the War Powers Act to end U.S. involvement in the civil war in Yemen. The resolution is expected to come up for a vote on October 9th. The civil war in Yemen began in 2015, when members of the Houthi ethnic group overthrew the Saudi supported government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.

Since then, Saudi Arabia and a group of other gulf states have intervened to bring Hadi back to power. The war has killed 10,000 people so far and a cholera epidemic killed another 2,000. Over 17 million Yemenese currently face dire food shortages.

Joining us to discuss this effort to withdraw U.S. support for the war in Yemen is Colonel Larry Wilkerson. Larry is a retired United States Army soldier and former Chief of Staff to the United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. Larry, good to have you back.

LARRY WILKERSON: Good to be with you, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, House Resolution 81 is a very important measure. Tell us about the significance of it in relation to Yemen.

LARRY WILKERSON: Sharmini, first let me say that I want to applaud those Republicans who have finally seen national security interests as overriding their personal political interests, and in some cases, even wider interests that national security ought to trump. While Jones, of course, from North Carolina has always been a staunch advocate of staying sane and sober, some of these are other people are showing that Republicans can cross the aisle. Indeed, Democrats can cross the aisle and we can work on issues in a bipartisan way, issues that are serious, really serious, and this one is.

As you pointed out, this is the worst humanitarian disaster since World War II. People are dying left and right, young people, middle age, whatever you want to say, of cholera. They're dying of starvation and we have things like the Saudis, for example, using our precision-guided munitions and possibly even our intelligence and AWACs control, and certainly our refueling aircraft, doing such things as bombing the port side cranes that offload food and water. Now, they can't offload food and water because the Saudis bombed those cranes and that's just one example of a really unsavory and even heinous way of warfare that the Saudis have engaged in in Yemen.

It shouldn't be any surprised to us because this is the kind of warfare that the Saudis, this is the kind of policy that the Saudis usually advocate when it comes to protecting their interest in this sort of way.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, now, Larry, Larry, Larry. The House Resolution 81 would invoke the War Powers Act in order to end U.S. involvement in Yemen. What does the War Powers Act actually say, and what does invoking it, and how does it end the U.S. involvement there?

LARRY WILKERSON: I'll make it very simple. I could go back to Nixon's veto and the War Powers Resolution and everything else, but I'll make it very simple: The Congress is trying to use the War Powers Resolution to reassert its Article 2, Section 8 Constitutional war power, which it has abdicated ever since Harry Truman declared that there would be a U.S. response to the North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1950. Presidents increasingly do not even talk to the Congress of the United States when they want to use the Armed Forces somewhere in the world. They do not even discuss it with the Congress.

President Obama didn't even mention Libya before he began to drop bombs, so this is an effort by what has been a very cowardly Congress to resume its power under Article 2, Section 8 of the Constitution, exclusive power, I might add, except for an emergency where the enemy is on the beach. The President does not have a war power, unless it is such an emergency, so this Congress, these people in this Congress are trying to get a majority in the Congress to recognize that.

SHARMINI PERIES: So let's discuss why has the U.S. been involved in Yemen? What strategic interest is the U.S. pursuing there?

LARRY WILKERSON: It says it wants, I heard this all last week. It says it wants to go after Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Of course, my response to that is the Pentagon's response which I have heard of late, and that is that we're increasing the number of people flocking to the ranks of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, largely through the brutal war the Saudis are waging, but that's the first thing we're trying to do.

The second thing we're trying to do, of course, is to support, our noses held carefully our ally Saudi Arabia, that country that President Trump visited first and regaled the monarchs of. You will remember that ostentatious display, I'm sure, in their efforts to secure their borders. Efforts that are increasingly incompetent to the extent that they're causing casualties well beyond what's necessitated by even a reasonable war effort, if it were reasonable.

These reasons don't hold a lot of water to me. They shouldn't hold a lot of water to anyone in Congress. We are abusing the original authorization for use of military force granted after 9/11. We have been abusing it majorly ever since, and the Congress has simply stepped in and said, "Enough, enough, enough. We're going to stop this." And I hope they do.

SHARMINI PERIES: And Larry, this resolution though does not stop support for Saudi Arabia's battle against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and against Islamic State. In terms of U.S. involvement with Saudi Arabia, in terms of those efforts, is that currently legal and does it come under the fold of this resolution? And is it alright for the U.S. to pursue that, and is that legal?

LARRY WILKERSON: Well, first thing you'd have to do is show me where the Saudis have any interest in and are pursuing Al Qaeda. The Saudis invented Al Qaeda. Not necessarily the Saudi government, although there's some really strong suspicion there but the Saudi monarchy, the Saudi support for the Wahhabists, the Saudi support for the madrasas around the world and so forth, and other things have indicated very very powerfully to me that the Saudis are as responsible for Al Qaeda as any other state actor on the face of the earth. So, the fact that the Saudis are going after Al Qaeda, unless they're in their own country, threatening some asset of the Saudis, is rather laughable.

What they're going after is the people in Yemen whom they feel, if they're in power, inimical to Saudi interests in Yemen and elsewhere in the area, so it's laughable that they're going after Al Qaeda. That we're using them under that guise is also laughable, but it's pathetically laughable because we've got such a humanitarian tragedy there now.

We need to stop this and to answer your question directly about the original AUMF, no, it does not support what we're doing there. It very clearly does not support what we're doing now and that's why we're having to stretch these rationales so thin that they're laughable.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now Larry, last week, the United Nations decide to send war crimes investigators to Yemen. There have been many reports so far about Saudi atrocities being committed in Yemen. Human Rights Watch and others have put out some excellent reports. Do you think an official investigation into war crimes, if confirmed, in fact, it's still going through process at the UN, will impress on the Trump administration to stop U.S. support for Saudi Arabia, at least in Yemen?

LARRY WILKERSON: I doubt it. It'll have to be more visceral national security interest or gut instinct on the part of the tweeting President before that'll happen. And I call your attention to the fact that the International Criminal Court has in fact found war crimes in Afghanistan, war crimes that might pale beside those in Yemen but nonetheless, war crimes, and they have three parties in that country guilty of those war crimes: one is the Taliban. Another is the Afghan national government, and the other is the United States, and I will play you a bet right now that the United States and possibly even those other two parties will never come before the International Criminal Court of Justice. It's all about power, Sharmini. International law is all about powers. Mao Tse Tung said it comes out of the barrel of a gun, and the United States has, at least for now, the biggest gun.

SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, I thank you so much for joining us today.


SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.


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