Why is US Complicity in Yemen’s Crisis Ignored?
After a lengthy “60 Minutes” report fails to even mention the vital US support for the devastating Saudi-led war on Yemen, Shireen Al-Adeimi says Americans are largely hidden from their government’s complicity
AARON MATÉ: It’s the Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. This week the CBS News program, 60 Minutes, took an in depth look at the devastating Saudi-led war on Yemen.
SCOTT PELLEY, CBS: We have managed to get pictures out of Yemen to show you what the Saudi government does not want you to see. This will be hard to watch, but 27 million people in Yemen pray you will not turn away.
AARON MATÉ: Not mentioned by 60 Minutes is that the U.S. government also might not want American viewers to see Yemeni suffering. That’s because the U.S. government has played a vital role in the Saudi war in Yemen since it began. Refueling war planes and supplying the satellite coalition with weapons, intelligence, and diplomatic cover. U.S. naval ships have even backed up the Saudi blockade that has recently intensified and is pushing Yemen to the brink of famine. Why then is the U.S. role being ignored? Well, joining me is Shireen Al-Adeimi, Harvard graduate school student originally from Yemen. Shireen, welcome. Let’s start with the 60 Minutes’ piece. It was a powerful piece of reporting, 13 minutes long, looking at the consequences of the Saudi-led war on Yemeni civilians, but amazingly not one mention of the U.S. government’s key role in supporting this disaster. Your thoughts on that report.
S. AL-ADEIMI: Right, so here was this one opportunity for the American public to learn about the neglected war in Yemen. It’s not forgotten. It’s just deliberately ignored by U.S. media in general for the past two and a half years. Here was this one opportunity for a mainstream audience to learn about what’s going on and more importantly, how they can help. Within just minutes, I was very disappointed that the 60 Minutes program decided to completely neglect, like you said, the role of the United States in creating this conflict right from the beginning and continuing to support it at its worst, which is the blockade currently.
AARON MATÉ: Right. Let’s talk about that blockade briefly. It’s intensified in recent weeks after Saudi Arabia accused the Houthi rebels of firing a missile towards Riyadh that was intercepted. What has been the impact of that intensification? Saudi Arabia just said today that it’s going to be easing it a little bit. Do you find that credible?
S. AL-ADEIMI: Not at all. They’ve said in April … April 2015, they said that they were going to stop bombing Yemen and here we are in November 2017, and they’re still bombing Yemen, so they have very little credibility. Even if they left the blockade at this point, it’s frankly too late to save the, not only hundreds, but thousands of lives now who are being lost daily because of this blockade. Even if they left the blockade, they still remain in power, they’re still taking over a sovereign country, they get to decide the fate of 27 million Yemenis as they see fit. The international community, frankly, should be against this. Not supporting it, not backing it as they have done, but completely against this humanitarian crisis that the Saudis have created for no reason.
AARON MATÉ: Right. In terms of the U.S. media, it’s not just 60 Minutes that’s been ignoring the U.S. role. Adam Johnson of the group FAIR did a report on this recently and he pointed out that a number of editorials, including from the Washington Post, have ignored the key U.S. role. Let’s talk about that. It began not under President Trump, under President Obama, but it certainly has … It appears to have intensified under Trump. Can you talk about some of the vital support that the U.S. is supplying to the Saudi-led war in Yemen?
S. AL-ADEIMI: They’re helping them in every way possible. The American military is refueling Saudi jets midair as they’re bombing civilians and there have been plenty of reports, I mean, it’s not a secret that the Saudis are indiscriminate in their targeting. They’ve targeted hospitals, and homes, and schools, and it’s well-documented. The U.S. military has continued to refuel their jets midair. They’ve provided intelligence. They’ve provided logistical support. This is besides the weapon deals that we hear about every now and then, so it’s not just a weapons deals that the United States is involved in, it’s very much they’re hand-in-hand with the Saudi-led coalition. In Yemen, people see this largely as a U.S. war on Yemen, along with Saudi Arabia, so we’re very much implicated in this.
Senators like Chris Murphy have been saying from day one that the U.S. has fingerprints all over this war in Yemen. It started under Obama, like you said, it continued. It’s intensified under Trump. I’m not sure if it’s because of Trump, or just because of the nature of the conflict. Unfortunately, there’s not much acknowledgment of our role. If there’s not an acknowledgement of the role of the U.S., then there’s very little hope for American citizens, American residents to actually do something about it, because people just think that this is a famine that’s occurring in some faraway land and we have nothing to do with it, or just people killing people and we have nothing to do with it. When the reality is, is that we’re very much involved. Reports like the Washington Post, which was labeled as an analysis, didn’t even mention the United States one time.
AARON MATÉ: Just to underscore the scale of this crisis and the famine that is looming, if it hasn’t begun already in some parts, I want to go to a recent warning from Mark Lowcock, the U.N.’s Humanitarian Chief. He issued this warning about Yemen.
Mark Lowcock: There will be a famine in Yemen. It will not be like the famine that we saw in South Sudan earlier in the year where tens of thousands of people were effected. It will not be like the famine which cost 250,000 people their lives in Somalia in 2011. It will be the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims.
AARON MATÉ: That’s Mark Lowcock, the U.N. Humanitarian Chief. Shireen, is it fair to say that the U.S. has also even taken part in the naval blockade of Yemen, because there are U.S. ships patrolling the Red Sea and it’s in the Red Sea that Saudi Arabia has blocked vital supplies for entering the country, from entering Yemen.
S. AL-ADEIMI: Yeah, that’s fair though. U.S. Navy has played a part in this blockade and they’ve continued to support Saudi Arabia’s efforts in this war regardless. When they want to bomb civilians, they help them. When they want to blockade civilians, they help them. They’re very much hand-in-hand. Like I said, we are as responsible for this as the Saudis. Like your report said, millions of people are affected. It’s not thousands, it’s not hundreds, it’s millions. Last year alone, 63,000 children, just children died because of malnutrition and disease that was totally preventable. Diseases like cholera.
This year alone, 50,000 children have already died and 150,000 more are supposed to die. I mean, I don’t know if your listeners or viewers can comprehend these numbers, I certainly can’t. These are children that we’re talking about that had nothing to do with this and starvation is being used as a method of war. This is not just a natural famine that’s occurring, this is something that people are causing and many people in the region, with support from the United States and the U.K., are causing.
AARON MATÉ: Shireen, this raises the issue of the death toll and what we’ve been hearing for a long time is that the number of dead in Yemen is 10,000. That’s the last UN figure that was issued. Now, that figure is at least a year old and it can’t possibly be accurate in a country that, as you say, is ravaged not just by bombings and violence, but also cholera and starvation in many parts. What do you think the actual toll might be?
S. AL-ADEIMI: I’m scared to find out. Many of us Yemenis and people who have been advocating for Yemen are really scared to find out what the real toll of this war is. The United Nations, like you said, was mentioning 10,000 people for a year and a half now. At some point, in the summer they started saying 5,000 civilians, instead of 10,000 civilians, so I don’t know where those 5,000 people who were dead went. Yemeni figures on the ground are saying 13,000 civilians have been killed just from the fighting, not from hunger, or diseases, or anything like that.
Just the recent numbers that we’re hearing, 63,000 children dead last, so how many people died in total? We don’t know. These are not deaths that were accounted for by the airstrikes. This is just as a result of the blockade and the hunger, the starvation, the lack of water. Yemen is running out of water. Major cities have already run out of water, and so people can’t hydrate and get clean water to prevent diphtheria, and cholera, and all these other diseases that we see in 2017 that we shouldn’t see.
AARON MATÉ: In terms of what’s being done here in the U.S. to oppose the vital U.S. role in this war, I suppose you could say, even though 60 Minutes didn’t mention it, that just the fact that it covered Yemen at all was somewhat of a positive step forward, in that it showed the devastation there, even though it didn’t tell viewers that their tax dollars were heavily involved. Also, there was a House measure last week, nonbinding, but passed overwhelmingly saying that the U.S. does not have authorization from Congress to aid the Saudi-led war on Yemen. Your thoughts on that measure and whether it’s a sign of perhaps some momentum on Capitol Hill to oppose the U.S. role.
S. AL-ADEIMI: That measure, H-Resolution 599, was a compromised resolution. The compromise occurred because H Concurrent Resolution 81 was stripped of its status as a privilege vote … Stripped of its privilege status and it didn’t go to vote. That one was introduced by Congressman Ro Khanna in California and it was supposed to acknowledge the role of the U.S. military in Yemen and to cease hostilities in Yemen, stop aiding the Saudi-led blockade and war in Yemen. That got knocked down in the House, and instead they put forward 599, which is very much a, like you said, it was nonbinding. It was watered down.
It grossly overestimated the role of Iran, rather than the role of Saudi Arabia. Yes, it passed in the House, but there were no consequences to that. The U.S. military continues to support the Saudis. House Concurrent Resolution 81, if it went through, would’ve stopped the role of the United States. Yes, there’s some action in the House, but they’re still very reluctant to take any real measures, any real steps in light of this famine, and this cholera outbreak, and the devastation. It’s really shocking that they continue to ignore our role in this.
AARON MATÉ: Well, that’s interesting. Even to pass a measure that was deemed by many people to be critical of the U.S. role, it had to go through all these steps that you outlined to be watered down, including establishing there, as you mentioned, parody between Saudi Arabia and Iran and Yemen. Let’s talk about that. When this conflict is discussed, it’s taken for granted that this is a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It’s widely accepted that Iran has been supplying major military aid to the Houthis, which seems unlikely, aside from the fact that there’s not much proof of it, but the fact that the country can’t even get in vital medicines and food because of the blockade, so it seems unlikely that Iran could be sending in missiles to Houthis, to their Houthi allies.
S. AL-ADEIMI: Exactly. There was a secret report that was … A U.N. report that was reported by The Intercept just a couple of weeks ago when the Saudis accused Iranians of sending that missile that targeted Riyadh from Yemen. The U.N. report said that there was no evidence that this came from Iran, that it came from within Yemen, as the Houthis have been claiming, as Iran has been saying. They have nothing to do with this. They’re not supplying weapons. Yes, there’s some sort of relationship between the Houthis and Iran, but when you have the United States, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and all their allies patrolling the Red Sea, blockading every land border between Yemen and its allies, and its neighboring countries, sorry, and they control the airspace, they control the waters, they control everything.
To imagine that Iranians are somehow bringing in weapons to Yemen is just absurd. I think it’s the most misunderstood conflict. To say that it’s a proxy war, it’s either a deliberate distortion of the facts, or just lazy journalism by a lot of people who just don’t care to look into the actual evidence and the fact. This is not a war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. This is a war between Saudi Arabia and its allies and Yemen. Yemenis, not just the Houthis, have been resisting and they refuse to surrender, which is why now they’re using this blockade as a last resort to starve people to death so that they can finally surrender to Saudi Arabia.
AARON MATÉ: Right. That confidential U.N. report that you mentioned also found that Saudi Arabia is preventing the import of supplies that are “civilian in nature.”
S. AL-ADEIMI: Yeah.
AARON MATÉ: In other words, denying the country of vital supplies. Finally, being Yemeni in the U.S., seeing the disparity between the vital role of this government and the level of attention that it’s getting, I’m just curious what it’s like for you to be here as you’re in a country that’s playing such a key role in destroying your home country, but that is not being discussed and is being met by so much silence in both the media and political level?
S. AL-ADEIMI: I suppose I know what it feels like to be one of many people here who live here, who have family back home, and who see their homes being destroyed by this country, which we work in, and we live in, and we love. Of course, the Americans have nothing to do with this. They largely don’t know about it, but our government likes to have these imperialist adventures and it cost the lives of people. It’s devastating and to not even be able to have an open and honest debate or to have an opportunity to tell people what’s going on, two and a half years into the war people are still just for the very first time finding out that this is happening in Yemen. It’s just honestly heartbreaking.
Our tax dollars are being spent to destroy other people’s homes. People who are no threat to us, who’ve never threatened us in any way. It’s heartbreaking. It’s disheartening, but we just have to continue raising our voices. They’re not too many Yemeni people that I know here in Boston, and so I feel the responsibility to just keep going, and to keep raising awareness, and to keep pushing people toward political action so that we can stop this from continuing on this course that’s been very destructive.
AARON MATÉ: Shireen Al-Adeimi, Harvard graduate school student originally from Yemen, thanks so much.
S. AL-ADEIMI: Thanks for having me.
AARON MATÉ: Thank you for joining us on The Real News.