While Americans are mourning the mass shooting in Las Vegas that so tragically took the lives of over 50 concert-goers, people in Yemen will be marking the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that took the lives of over 140 people who were not at a concert, but a funeral. The Las Vegas carnage was a crime against humanity carried out by what seems to be a crazed lone wolf. The bombing of the funeral home in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, was a war crime carried out by a close US ally, Saudi Arabia, with the indispensable help of the United States. While we try to steer the domestic conversation to the need for gun control, we should also be seeking to end the massive flow of US weapons to Saudi Arabia that is wreaking such carnage. A new resolution in Congress, HR Resolution 81, would do just that.
The funeral bombing took place in the afternoon of October 8, 2016, when several hundred people had gathered to mourn the passing of Ali al-Rawishan, a public figure and father of the Sanaa-based administration’s interior minister. It was attended by several hundred people, including colleagues, friends, and relatives of the deceased. Funeral ceremonies of public figures in Yemen are customarily well-attended and open to the public.
At about 3:30 p.m., the mourners heard the buzzing of a plane overhead. Suddenly, a massive bomb penetrated the roof of the hall, causing carnage and mayhem. As the rescuers ran in to help, another bomb exploded. Photos and video footage taken after the attack show charred and mutilated bodies strewn inside and outside the hall.
Hundreds of those killed and wounded were civilians, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The munition that killed them was a US-manufactured GBU-12 Paveway II 500-pound laser-guided bomb manufactured by Raytheon.
United Nations called the bombing "outrageous" and an apparent war crime. The Obama administration, in power at that time, expressed grave concern and launched a review of its support to the Saudi-led coalition. President Obama declared that U.S. support to the kingdom “is not a blank check.” The Trump administration, however, has tightened the Saudi embrace with both increased weapons sales and logistical support.
On one side of Yemen’s war is an alliance of Houthi rebels and loyalists of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. On the other is Hadi, Yemen’s interim president after Saleh, who is backed by Saudi Arabia, the United States and their allies. In March 2015 Saudi Arabia entered the conflict in an attempt to defeat the Shiite Houthis, who have links to its main regional rival, Iran. Thousands of people, including civilians, have been killed in this war. Millions more are suffering from hunger, illness, displacement and a massive outbreak of cholera.
The US became involved in the conflict by providing the Saudi-led coalition with specific targeting information and refueling planes during bombing raids. The US continues to sell arms to the Saudis, despite growing recognition that the weapons are being used unlawfully.
Now, thanks to Congress, Saudi Arabia may lose some of the support that has been facilitating these war crimes. On September 27th, 2017, the US House of Representatives introduced a Resolution 81 to withdraw US armed forces from Yemen, a move that would end US participation in Saudi Arabia’s coalition of nations waging war against the Yemeni people. It would give the President 30 days to end the U.S. military support of the Saudi-led war, unless and until Congress has enacted either a declaration of war or an authorization of those activities.
This historic resolution uses a provision of the War Powers Act that puts any proposed Congressional resolution for action regarding an unauthorized use of force on a fast track, making it a “priority resolution.” Once the measure is referred to the House or Senate foreign affairs committee, the committee must actwithin fifteen days, and the resolution must then come to a vote within three days.
Just as we are trying to get Congress to take action to stem the domestic flood of guns that facilitated the murder of concert-goers in Las Vegas, so we must demand that Congress act to stop the US support for mass murder in Yemen.
Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK, is author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection.