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Lawmakers Demand Probe Into U.S. Role In Yemeni Civilian Deaths


Some U.S. lawmakers are demanding answers from the Pentagon about civilian deaths in Yemen and what role the United States might be playing. In the civil war there, the U.S. supports a coalition led by Saudi Arabia that has been targeting Iran-backed rebels. A coalition airstrike hit a school bus last week, killing more than 50 people, most of them children. Kristine Beckerle of Human Rights Watch joins us on the line from Beirut, Lebanon, this morning.

Thanks for coming on the program.

KRISTINE BECKERLE: Thanks for having me.

GREENE: And we should be really clear here. I mean, the United States is not conducting airstrikes in Yemen. But it is giving support to this Saudi coalition. So I wonder, do you see a connection between the United States and these deaths?

BECKERLE: So I think the thing to really emphasize is, from the international legal perspective, the U.S. itself is a party to this conflict given the amount of support it provides to the Saudi-led coalition. So we're talking about the sale of billions of dollars of weapons, the refueling of coalition aircraft and a variety of logistical and operational support that's really been provided to the coalition since the beginning of this conflict. And when we ask, you know - what role, if any, has the U.S. played in some of the many, many violations that the coalition has carried out in Yemen? - the problem is the U.S. has repeatedly stonewalled people trying to get those answers.

So what we can say is Human Rights Watch, at this point, has documented around 90 apparently unlawful coalition attacks, many of which appear to be war crimes. In two dozen of those, we've identified U.S.-origin munitions, U.S.-origin weapons, at the site of those attacks. So we know that U.S. weapons are repeatedly being used in unlawful attacks being carried out by the coalition. What we don't know and what's very frustrating that the U.S. government won't answer is, did the U.S. refuel the coalition aircraft that carried out the strike on the bus filled with kids that was hit last week? Did the U.S. refuel coalition aircraft in the many strikes where the coalition bombed markets or homes or hospitals?

And it's really quite frustrating that, at this point, as far as we are into the war, that you have U.S. officials on record saying, so what does it matter? Well, what it matters is the answers to those questions will help us determine whether or not the U.S. and U.S. officials are complicit in some of these awful attacks that are happening.

GREENE: Well, we should say - it...

BECKERLE: And beyond that...

GREENE: ...Sounds like some of those answers are going to be come - sorry for interrupting - it sounds like some of those answers might be coming because the president signed this defense authorization bill that has language saying it must be determined whether the U.S. violated the law. So I mean, are you expecting the answers maybe coming at some point soon?

BECKERLE: I would hope so. But we also have the president, in his signing statement, saying that he will only comply so far as he believes it fits with his sort of command prerogative as the commander in chief. And so the question is, is he going to abide by the terms of what Congress, I think thankfully, put it into the National Defense Authorization Act?

And what I would very much hope is that the executive branch does, in fact, sort of take the lead from what Congress has increasingly been pushing for, which is basically greater transparency into not just whether or not the U.S. has played a role in unlawful attacks in Yemen but also what the U.S. is doing to try and better ensure that its allies, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are stopping these unlawful attacks because there's this narrative that the coalition is getting better. But it's very hard to see that as at all realistic when, once again, we have dozens of kids killed or wounded.

And the coalition's response is - well, we'll investigate, when they've investigated for the past two years. And those investigations have been noncredible. And we haven't really seen accountability or redress for the very many Yemeni victims of these unlawful attacks over the past 3 1/2 years.

GREENE: Kristine Beckerle of Human Rights Watch joining us from Beirut, Lebanon, talking about the U.S. role in Yemen.

Thanks so much.

BECKERLE: Thanks for having me.