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Sen. Chris Murphy On U.S. Involvement In The War In Yemen


The United Nations calls the destruction in Yemen one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. This comes after a Saudi airstrike in which missiles provided by the United States hit a bus that carried young children. Scores of children and adults were killed. They were not armed. Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, sits on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He's called for the end of U.S. support to Saudi Arabia's ongoing campaign in Yemen against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Senator Murphy joins us now. Thanks for being with us.

CHRIS MURPHY: Good morning.

SIMON: Do you believe the U.S. bears some responsibility for this and other attacks in which Human Rights Watch says a thousand civilians have been killed?

MURPHY: I do. I think that there is a U.S. imprint on every civilian death inside Yemen. I believe that because the bombing campaign that has been absolutely catastrophic in the scope of the casualties it's caused is made possible because of the United States. We have sold the Saudi coalition the bombs that end up being dropped inside Yemen. We put planes in the air to refuel their fighter jets. We sit inside their targeting center to help them pick the places that they bomb. And we provide moral authority. We are a member of this coalition.

SIMON: Now, Secretary Mattis says that the U.S. does not make targeting decisions. So do the U.S. tell the Saudis, if you want our weapons, you have to let us into those strategic decisions?

MURPHY: Well, we do help them make targeting decisions. That's simply not true. We have personnel that sit inside the targeting center. And though we ultimately don't make the final decision, we sit there with what we call a no-hit list, telling the Saudis which targets they can hit and which targets they can't hit. The problem is they have been ignoring our advice.

SIMON: Senator, Human Rights Watch and other human-rights groups say that the Houthi rebels are - also been guilty of a lot of human rights crimes - that they use child soldiers, forced evacuations. They've attacked civilians and executed their opponents. Does the U.S. really want to risk letting them win? Would that be a better world?

MURPHY: Well, we have acknowledged from the beginning that there isn't a military solution to the civil war inside Yemen. And, in fact, our participation has simply emboldened the Houthis and drawn the Iranians further in. The Houthis are supported by Iran. The Houthis do not have clean hands here. But the United States is not obligated to take part in these civil wars if both players are potential war crimes violators. If the United States got out of this - if we didn't give this military blank check to the Saudis, I think the Saudis would be much more likely to enter into political negotiations with the Houthis.

SIMON: You will be at services today for Senator John McCain, who was on the other side of the aisle. What do you recall about him today?

MURPHY: You know, I was one of these young senators that John took under his wing. I got to the Senate in 2013. I was interested in Europe and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. And I went there, over the course of about a year, three times with John. He taught me a lot about how to honorably serve the country abroad. We had a lot of disagreements. John saw America's power a little bit more through a military lens than I did. But there are just dozens of people like me, who are internationalists, who have a confidence about representing the United States abroad because John showed us how to do that. And I'm going to be at the services today and be really sad that that example, that mentor that he was to a lot of us isn't going to be available for generations to come.

SIMON: Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, thanks so much.

MURPHY: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.