These Senators are sick of US bombs killing civilians

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Sa'da City, main roadIn a sign of growing concern regarding the U.S.-Saudi Arabia military alliance, 27 U.S. Senators recently backed legislation to stop a $1.15 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced bill S.J.Res 39 to block the Obama Administration’s latest billion dollar tank sale. On a procedural vote, the bill failed, but to even have a vote was a major shift in the “business as usual” climate of US arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The bill itself represents the rising tide of dissent in Congress and across the country over U.S. policy towards Saudi Arabia. In particular, there is increasing concern about Saudi Arabia’s military conduct in its armed conflict with the Houthi armed group in Yemen.

Together with its allies, Saudi Arabia has launched a devastating bombing campaign across Yemen, disrupting civilian communities and killing thousands. While all parties to the conflict have committed serious human rights abuses, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition is the only party to the conflict to fight the war from the skies.

In spite of the evidence of Saudi Arabia’s air atrocities, the US approved sale of $1.29 billion of bombs in November 2015. In response, Murphy and Paul introduced legislation limiting sales of bombs and other air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia. The legislation conditions future sales on Saudi Arabia’s efforts to minimize harm to civilians and guarantee access to humanitarian aid for the Yemeni people.

Part of a US-made CBU-87 cluster bomb (in background) and fragment of BLU-97 cluster sub-munitions (in hand) dropped by Saudi-led coalition forces in the centre of al-Magash, a village west of Sa’da City.

Part of a US-made CBU-87 cluster bomb (in background) and fragment of BLU-97 cluster sub-munitions (in hand) dropped by Saudi-led coalition forces in al-Magash, a village west of Sa’da City.

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition has utterly failed to differentiate between civilian and military targets, hitting schools, villages, hospitals, and places of worship. U.S. designed or manufactured bombs have been found in the rubble. The ongoing U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia put the Obama Administration at risk of being complicit in those violations.

Prior to the Senate vote, 64 members of the House of Representatives called on President Obama to postpone the arms sale to Saudi Arabia. In a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter to the President delivered August 30th, the bipartisan group urged the President to pause the deal until Congress returned from its recess and could debate the sale.

These are just the latest examples of a rising tide of congressional dissent. Here are more:

  • March 2014: 70 members of Congress urged President Obama to address human rights violations in Saudi Arabia during the President’s visit to the country.
  • March 2015: 67 members of Congress urged King Salman to implement human rights reforms in his country.
  • June 2016: Rep. Conyers proposed an amendment banning the sale of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia. The proposal was very narrowly defeated, indicating Congressional concern over evidence that US cluster bombs were used in civilian areas in Yemen by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.

In a recent example of U.S. complicity, Amnesty International researchers determined that the bomb used in the August 15 bombing on a Doctors Without Borders / Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in Yemen was a U.S.-manufactured bomb.

Amnesty International researchers previously documented 33 airstrikes that appear to have deliberately targeted civilians or civilian structures; such strikes are likely war crimes. In some of these cases, researchers found fragments of U.S.-designed or manufactured bombs among the ruins of Yemeni homes.

Displaced children carrying water; IDP camp in Khamir (Amran governorate).

Displaced children carrying water; IDP camp in Khamir (Amran governorate).

The war in Yemen has had disastrous consequences for the Yemeni people. The air, land, and sea blockade imposed by the coalition have made these dire humanitarian conditions worse, ensuring a chaotic environment in which Yemeni civilians must live. According to the UN, the conflict has led to the following realities:

  • 3,799 civilians have died
  • Over 6,000 civilians have suffered injuries
  • Over 3 million people are internally displaced.
  • 7.6 million people are struggling to feed themselves
  • 19.3 million do not have reliable access to clean water
  • 4.3 million women and children suffre from some form of malnourishment
  • Eight of every ten people in Yemen are dependent on humanitarian aid
  • Only 32% of promised humanitarian aid has been delivered to those who need it.

Its time for Congress and the White House to stop the U.S. arms sales that are fueling violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

CIA Torture, Read All About It

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Scott Stantis via US News & World Report

Scott Stantis via US News & World Report

Less than a year after a Senate panel reported in detail shocking acts of CIA torture, former CIA officials have responded. A book released on Wednesday, authored by some of the same high-level intelligence officials who oversaw the now-infamous torture program after the September 11 attacks, is intended to rebut the story of torture laid out in the landmark Senate “torture report.” SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Afghan Women Spoke and Congress Listened

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afghan women protest

Afghan Young Women for Change (YWC) activists, holding placards which read “where is justice?”, take part in a protest denouncing violence against women in Afghanistan in Kabul on April 14, 2012.

The U.S. Senate took a critical step to prioritize security needs of Afghan women and girls! Yesterday, Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) introduced the Afghan Women and Girls Security Promotion Act of 2012.

If enacted, this crucial piece of legislation would require the Department of Defense to develop a three-part strategy to promote and support the security of Afghan women and girls during and after the security transition process. The bill would support Afghan women’s rights by:
• Improving monitoring and response to women’s security conditions.
• Increasing recruitment and retention of women in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) by reducing barriers to women’s participation.
• Improving gender sensitivity among ANSF personnel by requiring training related to the human rights of women and girls and by strengthening enforcement and accountability.


Indefinite Detention: 3 Conservative Voices of Reason

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The House and Senate are locked in conference this week to thrash out the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2012. It’s a curious sign of the times that there are many conservative voices crying foul over the bill as well as progressive ones. Three in particular are worth noting.

Senator Rand Paul, cast one of the bravest votes last week against a bipartisan group that voted for the NDAA, one of the worst bills to cross the floor this year. It threatens to detain suspects indefinitely, undercuts the rights of US citizens, and sideline our best tools in countering terrorism in one fell swoop.

I don’t doubt the sincerity or passion of those on the opposing side, only their wisdom and their open ended faith in government. Those who place their blind faith and trust in government, and trust that authority will keep itself in check, are liable to find their liberties are eroded as surely as termites eat away an old wooden house.


US Senate Hearing Puts Women's Human Rights in the Spotlight

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Tunisian women demonstrate for the protection of their rights in Tunis ©SALAH HABIBI/AFP/Getty Images

As the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa continue to unfold, serious concerns are emerging regarding the inclusion of women in the plans for new governance. In Egypt, for example, women stood shoulder to shoulder with men to topple a regime notorious for its human rights abuses and yet, now that those leaders have been forced to step down, women are too often finding their calls for an equal seat at the table rejected.

Yesterday, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing to highlight these concerns. “Women and the Arab Spring: Spotlight on Egypt, Tunisia and Libya” focused on women’s human rights and emphasized the need for the US to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Senator Boxer (D-CA), Senator Casey (D-PA), Senator DeMint (R-SC), Senator Shaheen (D-NH), and Senator Udall (D-NM) were all in attendance to discuss how the US Senate could work to support women in the Middle East and North Africa.


Act Now or Gitmo Never Ends

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© US DoD

When Congress returns from its summer recess in September one of the first tasks on its agenda will be hammering out a final draft of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  Unless we take action now this bill will lay the foundation for a permanent military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.

As things currently stand, both the House and Senate have both produced language in their respective drafts of the NDAA that seeks to redefine the authority under which the President conducts the ‘war’ on al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ‘associated forces’.

One lingering concern in Congress is that the original Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks failed to create a framework under which to detain private individuals captured during military operations. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

How is the US currently upholding the human rights treaties to which it is a party of?

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This week, on December 15, 2009, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law held the first ever Congressional hearing on U.S. implementation of its human rights treaty obligations.  The hearing examined what the U.S. government is doing and should be doing more of, to fulfill its obligations to protect and promote human rights domestically and abroad.

Subcommittee Chair Durbin (D-IL), along with Senators Cardin (D-MD), Feingold (D-WI) and Franken (D-MN), expressed deep concern and commitment to ensuring that the U.S. continues to lead by example on the international stage, by prioritizing and addressing the numerous human rights issues that currently exist within the U.S., including issues around detention, child trafficking, Indigenous rights, and discrimination, to name just a few.
Amnesty International submitted written testimony for the hearing, which included expert testimony by key members of the administration as well as representatives of top domestic and international human rights organizations. A copy of this testimony is available if you are interested.

Death Penalty for Hate Crimes??

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Yesterday the Senate passed four amendments to the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, including a provision that would allow the death penalty to apply to hate crimes.  This amendment, added by Senator Jeff Sessions, R, AL (a vocal opponent of the Act itself), adds nothing to the justice the bill seeks for victims of gender and sexuality-based hate crimes. 

The goal of the Matthew Shepard Act (which is itself attached to the 2010 Defense Department authorization bill) is to allow the investigation and prosecution of some hate crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identification, or disability. The person for whom it is named was a 21-year old college student from Colorado who was tortured and murdered in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998 by two other young men. As an openly gay young man, Matthew Shepard was the victim of much discrimination and violence. During the trial for his murder, witnesses stated that he was victimized that night by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson because of his sexuality.

After McKinney’s conviction the jury began deliberating the death penalty, but Matthew’s parents were able to broker a last-minute deal so that McKinney was sentenced to life in prison instead. Matthew Shepard’s dad was quoted as saying to him:

“I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney. However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. Mr. McKinney, I am going to grant you life, as hard as it is for me to do so, because of Matthew.”

This profoundly difficult and heart-wrenching decision to show mercy after such a terrible crime may mean nothing to Senator Sessions, but his amendment can still be removed when a House-Senate conference committee meets to reconcile the differences between the two bills, or when the entire House and Senate vote on the bill after that.