RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Boardman writes: "The Pentagon, having spent three years creating famine and spreading cholera on an unprecedented scale in one of the poorest countries in the world, Yemen, now lies, baldly but with lawyerly gracelessness, that the American bombs guided by American officers to targets as often as not civilian is somehow 'noncombat.'"

A house in Sanaa destroyed by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike last year. (photo: Yahya Arhab/EPA)
A house in Sanaa destroyed by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike last year. (photo: Yahya Arhab/EPA)

Pentagon Lies About Yemen, Says US Role in Saudi War Is "Noncombat"

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

22 March 18


“The U.S. government claims that it’s not engaged in hostilities unless U.S. troops are on the ground being shot at by the enemy…. It stretches the imagination, and it stretches the English language beyond its breaking point, to suggest the U.S. military is not engaged in hostilities in Yemen.”
Senator Mike Lee, Utah Republican, Senate floor March 13

he Pentagon, having spent three years creating famine and spreading cholera on an unprecedented scale in one of the poorest countries in the world, Yemen, now lies, baldly but with lawyerly gracelessness, that the American bombs guided by American officers to targets as often as not civilian is somehow “noncombat.” Effectively, the Pentagon argues that when US military forces only enable genocide, it’s not combat. Strictly speaking, the Pentagon is only following orders to commit ongoing war crimes.

In late March 2015, with US blessing from the Obama administration, Saudi Arabia and its allies started bombing Yemen more or less indiscriminately, making as many as 200 sorties a day. Yemen, with no air force and few air defenses, was helpless. From the start this was an illegal war of aggression, a nexus of war crimes in all its particulars, and so it will be until it ends. Without US approval and participation, it’s highly unlikely Yemen would have become the world’s most serious humanitarian crisis, regardless of the crimes of others.

The gross criminality of US enabling of and participation in the genocidal war on Yemen is not part of the official discussion of the horror our country perpetuates on a daily basis. From the beginning, US military has engaged in the war by providing tactical advice on bombing, offering intelligence, maintaining warplanes, re-fueling Saudi warplanes in mid-air, providing cluster bombs and smart bombs, and generally offering military support for a bombing campaign as vicious as any since the US dropped more explosives on Vietnam than were used in all of World War II.

This is the official view of the scope of US involvement in the Saudi war on Yemen, along with a perverse insistence on calling it a “civil war,” when there is only one outside aggressor: the Saudi coalition and its supporters. Even Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, accepts this demonstrably false framing, as she did at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 13. She even accepts as gospel the alleged Iranian involvement in Yemen for which there is scant evidence and less precise definition. That has been a chronic Saudi-American lie about Yemen from the beginning, pretending that a local territorial dispute between the Houthis and the Saudis was some sort of grand geopolitical last stand. It wasn’t true when Obama green-lighted the killing, and it’s not true now as Trump keeps the slaughter going, but it will continue to be accepted as official truth until people like Warren challenge it. But Warren is also the Senator from Raytheon, the defense contractor that sells billions of dollars worth of precision-guided munitions to the Saudi coalition. Euphemistically, Raytheon says it helps the Saudis “meet their security needs,” even though there is no serious threat to anyone from the Houthis in Yemen, and the Saudi war is less about security then aggression.

The Pentagon says what it is doing with the Saudi war is “limited US military support,” in the words of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis before the Senate on March 13. Mattis did not acknowledge that the Saudi war could not continue without US support, since the Pentagon position is that the US provides “noncombat assistance.” None of the US senators present asked about this big elephant taking a dump in the middle of the room. There was only the slightest objection when the Pentagon Central Command head who runs the American part of the war, General Joseph Votel, told senators with a straight face: “We’re not parties to this conflict.”

According to General Votel, the US is not party to the conflict even though it chooses targets, programs smart bombs, and re-fuels bombers that have now killed something like 10,000 civilians and an unknown number of combatants. General Votel claims US noncombatant status mainly because once the bombs go up, the US pays no official attention to where they come down.

In late February, three senators introduced Joint Resolution 54, designed to put some Congressional check on US war-making in Yemen and elsewhere. The Pentagon’s official response was that Congress has no right to tell the Pentagon what it can and cannot do under presidential authority. This view is spelled out in a February 27 letter from the general counsel of the Department of Defense, opposing Joint Resolution 54 and explaining why all the war-making activities of US forces in Yemen have nothing to do with “hostilities” (even though they do in any honestly rational world). The letter even refers obliquely to actual “hostilities” that are mostly ignored, “the October 2016 strikes against radar facilities in Houthi-controlled territory in defense of US Navy ships in international waters.” That’s the whole reference, but even as it confirms the US firing weapons at Houthis, it then defends this engagement as an exception that somehow doesn’t count as “hostilities.” Navy Times lists the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden region off Yemen as one of the “Navy’s 5 most dangerous at-sea deployments.” Navy Times frames the issue with a clear statement of the hostilities and a hilarious version of the geopolitical history:

The fact that sailors have already had full-on missile battles with Yemeni rebels near this global choke-point makes the Bab-el-Mandeb, or the BAM, an obvious pick for the most dangerous place in the world where sailors are deploying.

The Gate of Tears is the maritime equivalent of the Wild West. Yemen is a failed state in the grip of a bloody civil war that has roped in both Saudi Arabia and to a lesser degree, the United States. But spillover from the conflict, as well as meddling from Iran, has made the waters around Yemen extremely dangerous.

This is all duplicitous kabuki on both sides, Pentagon and Senate. They are arguing within a falsely framed reality to perpetuate deceit they all own. Even if the US role were actually limited to merely supporting the aerial attacks, everyone lies by omission by failing to acknowledge (much less object to) the air campaign’s role in blockading Yemen, thereby directly causing famine and disease and toxic drinking water for more than half the population. This biological warfare is also a war crime.

The blockade of Yemen is also a land blockade along the Saudi-Yemeni border in the north. To the east, the blockade relies on the desert and the presence of al Qaeda and ISIS forces, also at war with the Houthis. US Special Forces were operating in Yemen for years with the blessing of Yemen’s internationally-imposed “legitimate” government headed by a Saudi puppet. When the Houthis, long a rebellious, independence-minded minority, overthrew the imposed government in 2014, US forces withdrew for awhile. Now the US operates in Yemen on a contingency basis, if not continuously.

As is well established in international law, a blockade is an act of war. The “noncombatant” US admittedly participates in the aerial blockade of Yemen. The US does not admit its much greater participation in the naval blockade of Yemen. The US-Saudi naval blockade depends on the US Navy, which has enforced the blockade since 2015. Yemen has needed to import food to survive for decades. The US-Saudi blockade cut off food to Yemen, as well as medical supplies, fuel, and all the other things needed to support a normal civil society. The US-Saudi blockade has led directly to starvation and famine. The US-Saudi blockade has led directly to the spread of cholera and other diseases. The US-Saudi blockade is a war crime of stunning enormity. And no one talks about it.

When President Bashar al Assad engages in similar tactics in Syria, as in Ghouta of late, the world hears about it, but doesn’t do much. When the US and its allies in the war on terror terrorize and destroy places like Raqqa, the world hears much less about it and does nothing. When the US, Saudi Arabia, and its allies spend three years in Yemen committing war crimes that have yet to end, the world hears little about it, humanitarian agencies and the United Nations raise objections, but nothing humane is accomplished. The US in Yemen is morally indistinguishable from Bashar al Assad.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+8 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-03-23 08:29
Yes, indeed. The Pentagon lies about the hostilities it is engaged in. Drone strikes are hostilities and acts of war, no matter that no one in government has declared a war. Special Forces operate as kill teams in more than 100 nations. These are not aid workers. They are the highly trained killers on earth. Sending Special Forces to other nations is an act of war.

The Global War on Terror authorizes the president and pentagon to conduct military operation where ever on earth or in space or under the oceans that they believe terrorists are located. This is truly a global war. Bush/Cheney started it. But Obama and Trump are following along like the sheep that they are.

Trump acted like he wanted to end it in his campaign and Obama did, too, in a milder way. But both quickly broke their campaign promises.

The American people are against this permanent and global war. They cannot see any good results. They know that war is a transfer of wealth created by the working class to the ruling elites. They want it to end. In 2020 the candidate who promises to end the war will win -- again. Maybe we will get a president who actually does it. And very likely, such a president will end up just like JFK who hinted he wanted out of Vietnam.
+2 # MidwestDick 2018-03-23 12:10
The Yemen slaughter should be seen for what it is; a marketing ploy. Saudi is holding tons of dollars. God forbid they should piss them away on projects of civic uplift when they could be supporting the American defense industry.
So, while it is true that they have managed to immiserate the Yemeni populace, they are entirely unable or unwilling to actually conquer the land nor are they interested in eliminating the entire people. Instead they leave targets in the field to justify continued purchases.
Add to this monstrous practice the absurd increase in American military spending and you you can see the outlines of our foreign policy taking shape. Make inconclusive war in the mideast to create an unquenchable demand for more weapons.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.