Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was all smiles with President Trump, and his ’60 Minutes’ interview tried to put a cheerful spin on life in Saudi Arabia. But observers should not forget that Salman, the chief architect of the Saudi-led war in Yemen, is a war criminal, says Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Washington on Tuesday to a brutally cold winter snowstorm in Washington D.C. that shut down federal government offices. But that did not stop Code Pink or the peace protesters gathered in front of the White House to ensure that MBS, as he is known, receives a chilling unwelcome as he arrived at the White House on Tuesday.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: He’s striding out here. He’s going to be caught going to Congress later today because he wants to try to stop Resolution 54, which is supposed to stop the US military involvement in the war in Yemen.
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SHARMINI PERIES: Now, inside the White House, MBS met with President Trump, and according to unofficial sources, the two discussed the Iran Nuclear Agreement. Saudi Arabia’s conflict with its neighbor, Qatar, as well as the brutal civil war in Yemen. Here’s what MBS had to say to the press from the White House.
DONALD TRUMP: Crown Prince, thank you very much. Thank you for being here.
MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN: Thank you, Mr. President. Actually, the relation between Saudi Arabia and the United States of America, it’s an old relation. We are the oldest ally of the United States of America in the Middle East. More than 80 years of alignments and big interest, politically, economically and security, different areas, in a lot of areas. And the foundation of the relation, it’s really huge, and really deep, and a different issue. You know that today, the relation, it’s the cause of more than four million jobs in the United States of America, directly and indirectly. Also, it’s a cause for a lot of jobs in Saudi Arabia, directly and indirectly. As you know, Mr. President from day one, you’ve reached this office. We’ve planned to tackle 200 billion US dollars of opportunity in next four years, but it ended up with 400 billion .
SHARMINI PERIES: Joining us now to talk about Mohammed bin Salman and the war in Yemen is Medea Benjamin. Medea is co-founder of Code Pink. Welcome, Medea.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Thank you, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: Medea, you were out there with your fellow protesters on this very cold day in Washington D.C.. Give us the reasons why you were out there.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: We’re horrified by this alliance between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Certainly, right now, with the disastrous war in Yemen and the US military providing the weapons, and the logistical support for that catastrophic military disaster. That’s one of the primary reasons, but we were also out there because we think that the United States should not be in bed with the Saudis, who are so repressive internally as well, despite the veneer of reform that the crown prince has been so successful in propagating, the reality of Saudi Arabia is that it’s one of the most repressive regimes on earth.
And certainly, if we care about human rights, women’s issues, migrant labor, gay rights, any of these issues, we should not be supporting a regime that is so negative on all of these issues that we supposedly care about here in the United States.
SHARMINI PERIES: Medea, as you said in that clip, the Congress was dealing with this resolution on the war powers and the resolution on Yemen resolution number 54, which is intended to evoke War Powers Act and the US Constitution to withdraw US support from Saudi Arabia in the war against Yemen. So, what impact did the visit of Salman have on the resolution, and as you said, he was on his way to Congress right after the White House.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: It’s now three years that the US has been aiding and abetting the Saudis in their bombing campaign which has been destroying markets, schools, hospitals, clinics, infrastructure, and left the most catastrophic situation on Earth today. And so, S.J.Res.54 was designed to say that Congress had never authorized this war, and that Congress had to take a stand. Either say that we want to be at war in Yemen and give the authority to the president to do so, or withdraw US support to the Saudis. And it’s unfortunate that the resolution did not pass. We got 44 votes which is quite a lot. But we needed 51, and I think the timing of it was quite extraordinary in that the vote happened when the Saudi prince was in town, and he did go by Congress, and have a meeting with some of the leadership there.
There was already a lot of lobbying on behalf of the administration and the Pentagon, and the Saudi propaganda machine in the last couple of months to not support this resolution. But I think the Saudi prince’s visit was probably the crowning effort to make sure that the resolution did not pass, and to ensure a continuation of US support for the war in Yemen.
SHARMINI PERIES: Medea, Resolution 54 was tabled this afternoon, and with the vote of 55 to 44, as you said. Now, surprisingly 10 Democrats voted to table it. What did this vote mean now? What is tabling actually mean? Will it be able to be dealt with again at Congress or have we lost this resolution altogether?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: It means the resolution doesn’t go for a full vote and now we have to go back to other attempts such as cutting off weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. And there is another resolution that will be introduced that is a much more watered down version that calls on the administration within a month to show that the Saudis have made significant attempts to open up the humanitarian aid, as well as move towards negotiations. But of course, the administration will be very happy to rubber stamp that.
In any case, I think we should look at the positive side of this which is there has been a real debate in Congress thanks to this resolution. Bernie Sanders has been extraordinary on this. The conservative Republican, Mike Lee as well as Democrat Chris Murphy from Connecticut, all three of them have been quite wonderful and been forcing the people in the Senate to decide where they stand on this. There has been a massive grassroots campaign of, I would say, tens of thousands of calls into Congress. So, the issue is out there in the public eye right now and that is something that’s so important in terms of moving towards an end to not only the US involvement in this war, but an end to the war itself.
SHARMINI PERIES: Medea, what is the international legal status of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen? Does it even have the right to do so? Has the U.N. authorized this war that the US is supporting? Is this all legal?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, it’s illegal both in terms of United Nations, the basis on which the Saudis and the US say they are legally there is to support a government that was only supposed to be in power for two years. That time had past, he was no longer the legal president. And so, the other thing is that it’s all legal according to the US Constitution. It is the role and the obligation of the Congress to declare war and not the president. This is something the Founding Fathers were very very clear on and the Senate and the House have been and abdigating their responsibility, not only in the case of Yemen but in the other wars that the US involved in. But it’s particularly important because of the tremendous destruction of the bombing campaign that the US is involved in in Yemen, and the fact that the authorization for the use of military force that was passed back in 2001, that said the US was allowed to be involved militarily in going against the forces that attacked us, al-Qaeda on September 11th, and associated forces has been used dozens of times to justify other wars that had nothing to do with 9/11. And certainly, the US involvement against the Houthis in Yemen has absolutely nothing to do with what happened on 9/11. And so, it cannot be by a stretch of the imagination fit within the context of the 2001 Authorization of Use of Military Force. So, it is definitely illegal.
SHARMINI PERIES: Medea, MBS has held an interview with 60 Minutes which was aired on Sunday. Now, in that interview, which was full of really softball questions, the prince came across as a very reasonable, moderate reformist who is going to transform Saudi Arabia into this modern Saudi nation. The interview was a part of a two week tour of the US where very expensive lobbying firms based in Washington was trying to polish Saudi Arabia’s image to Americans. What would you say is the larger purpose of his visit to the US is?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: This is a mission for him to put a happy face on the Saudi regime and show himself as a young, vibrant, forward looking leader who is changing the old fashioned ways of this kingdom. But there are so many ways in which this narrative is absolutely false and it’s quite incredible that his propaganda PR teams have managed to successfully sell a narrative that because he is going to allow women to drive and open up movie theaters that suddenly this is a reformist leader, and a reforming regime, when, in fact, we should be asking how could it be that women were allowed to drive? And how could it be that there are still so many restrictions on women? In fact, Saudi Arabia is the most gender segregated misogynist country in the world. And the women are forced to live under a guardianship system where men determine the most important thing in a woman’s life.
And the crown prince has also put himself forward as a leader at the very same time that he is overseeing a crackdown on religious minorities and dissidents. And let’s remember this is a regime where you could get the death penalty for being an atheist. Where still in like Raif Badawi, who is a liberal blogger, is languishing in prison with a ten year jail sentence, and flogging of a thousand lashes because he put out a blog that questioned whether the state should be involved in religious affairs. And so, it’s a regime that doesn’t allow for freedom of religion for non Muslims, the only place in the world where you couldn’t open a church or a synagogue. It is a regime that has been spreading its intolerant version, wahhabist version of Islam, all around the world. It’s a regime that forms the fundamental basis for the ideology of terrorist groups from al-Qaeda to ISIS. So, it is not a regime that is on the road to reform in a way that the United States should embrace it.
SHARMINI PERIES: Medea, MBS is being received with such fanfare in Washington. He’s being received at the White House, the Kennedy Center, there is a gala dinner being planned while he’s carrying out this illegal war in Yemen. He should actually be banished for illegal war and for war crimes. But this guy is being received with such a fare and flair in Washington. Medea, what other protests are being planned by Code Pink? And give us a sense of where people should go.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: There is an exhibit at the Kennedy Center of Saudi art and culture in honor of the king and paid for by the king’s foundation. We will be there with our message about the Saudi prince as a war criminal. There is a gala dinner, a black tie dinner that is being put on in the Mellon auditorium. We will be there with our message that this is a war criminal. And we are looking for all of the locations as he travels around the country to make sure there’s always a presence of people who are there to say the crown prince has blood on his hands, do not support this supposed reformer. All right.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Medea. I thank you so much for joining us today and do keep warm.