THE ABSURD TIMES
YEMEN: Just think of all the good we do. (An women can drive now.)
A Critique of Pure Killing
The times are indeed absurd.
Waffle-House shot up. Now this guy had been arrested at the White House recently saying that some pop star was stalking him. They took his guns away, but returned them to his dad who turned around and gave them back. The then went to the waffle house, naked, I hear, and killed four and whatever. Now they want to bring charges against the Dad. Why they hell didn't they just confiscate the guns in the first place? Maybe, since we invented the meat grinder, we could invent a gun grinder and just toss the things in there.
The FBI has told of counseling services for friends of the loved ones and consolations. Sort of "Cheer up, you still have your second amendment rights and look what we are doing in Yemen."
Toronto some idiot drives a van onto a sidewalk and kills 20, having to weave in and out to avoid cars that tried to block him. Since he wasn't an Arab, no problem. Just send your thoughts and prayers.
What has this got to do with Yemen? Well, Saudi Arabia spent about 20 billion dollars on military hardware from us and so we gave them out blessings. Even Oprah gushed over the new ruler as he allowed women to drive. Wow, what a force for progress! Liberation now. Meanwhile, they keep on bombing Yemen, mainly weddings, a favorite target, with our help and assistance.
Here are a couple of accounts of Yemen recently. We must remind you that at one time Obama hailed Yemen as his possible "Model for dealing with terrorism." I'm certain he never thought it would work out this way. At least I hope he didn't:
At least 20 people died Sunday when a Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit a wedding party in northern Yemen. Most of the dead were reportedly women and children who were gathered in one of the wedding party tents. The bride was among the dead. Medics and residents said more than 46 others—including 30 children—were also injured. The attack on the Yemeni wedding party was one of at least three airstrikes over the weekend that killed Yemeni civilians. A family of five died in an airstrike in the province of Hajjah. And 20 civilians died on Saturday when fighter jets bombed a bus near the city of Taiz. Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said Yemen had become the world's worst humanitarian crisis. We speak to Shireen Al-Adeimi, a Yemeni doctoral candidate at Harvard University.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: At least 20 people died Sunday when a Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit a wedding party in northern Yemen. Most of the dead were reportedly women and children who were gathered in one of the wedding party tents. The bride was among the dead. Medics and residents said more than 46 others, including 30 children, were also injured. Video footage released by the Yemeni TV station Al-Masirah showed a young boy clutching his dead father, who was surrounded by rubble. The boy was shouting, "I swear I won't leave him!"
The attack on the Yemeni wedding party was one of at least three airstrikes over the weekend that killed Yemeni civilians. A family of five died in an airstrike in the province of Hajjah. And 20 civilians died on Saturday when fighter jets bombed a bus near the city of Taiz.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Yemen's rebel Houthi movement said senior leader Saleh al-Sammad had been killed in a Saudi-led coalition airstrike last Thursday. The rebel group warned Sammad's killing was a crime that would, quote, "not go unanswered." Sammad is the most senior Houthi official to have been killed since the Western-backed coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015. More than 15,000 people have died since the Saudi invasion, while U.S.-backed, Saudi-led airstrikes have devastated Yemen's health, water and sanitation systems, sparking a massive cholera outbreak—about a million Yemenis are believed to have cholera—and pushing millions of Yemenis to the brink of starvation. Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said Yemen had become the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
AMY GOODMAN: To find out more about the situation in Yemen, we're going now to Boston to speak with Shireen Al-Adeimi, a Yemeni doctoral candidate at Harvard University. Her recent for In These Times is headlined "Trump Doesn't Care About Civilian Deaths. Just Look at Yemen."
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Shireen. Can you talk about what you understand happened with the Saudi bombing of the Yemeni wedding party, that resulted in at least 20 deaths, many of them women and children? Where did this happen?
SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: Thanks so much for having me.
And what happened a couple of days ago in Yemen is not unusual. So, this happened in a northern province, in Hajjah, nowhere near the front lines. This, of course, was a civilian wedding. They struck the men's wedding first, the men's wedding party. And then, as rescuers were trying to attend to the injured, they went and, you know, bombed the women's part of the wedding. So this is a double-tap airstrike, that is very common in the Saudi-led war on Yemen.
Thirty-three were reported to have been killed, and several more injured, hundreds—sorry, tens have been injured. And, you know, 30 children are included in this list of people who were injured. This is a wedding. This is supposed to be the happiest day of people's lives. And instead, the bride was killed, the groom injured, and so many more guests ended up killed, as well.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Shireen, for people here who don't understand, since this is a war that Saudi Arabia is waging, how important is the American support, the U.S. support for this war?
SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: So, starting with the Obama administration and continuing in through the Trump administration, the Saudis have enjoyed extensive support from the U.S. Army. Right from day one, March 26, 2015, when Saudi Arabia began bombing, the U.S. was right alongside, helping them with targeting, with logistics. They help maintain and update their vehicles. And most importantly, the U.S. refuels Saudi jets midair, jets that we've sold to them, jets that—you know, bombs that we've sold to them. But we also help operate them. So, as they're bombing civilian targets in Yemen, the U.S. Army helps refuel those jets midair. So, U.S. support of the Saudis is extensive.
And, you know, U.S. claims that we are there to help them with precision targeting, but the fact of the matter is, is that civilians have beared the brunt of this war. You mentioned 15,000 people have been killed. That's just the number of people who have been killed by airstrikes. We also help them maintain the blockade, that's killed 113,000 children in 2016 and 2017 alone, due to malnutrition and disease, because, you know, water is very limited in the country. Yemen used to import 90 percent of its food, and that's now become very difficult for people to afford or to find. And so, you know, many people are on the brink, but many people have already been killed and have lost their lives, because they just can't find food and water and medicine for preventable diseases like cholera.
AMY GOODMAN: Shireen, can you talk about Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who has overseen the Saudi strikes on Yemen? Can you talk about his recent, what they called, "charm offensive" throughout the United States, from Washington to Houston to Hollywood? Talk about the significance of this. When President Trump met with him at the White House last month, he held up posters of recent Saudi weapons purchases from the U.S. and said, quote, "We make the best equipment in the world."
AMY GOODMAN: Shireen Al-Adeimi, the posters that President Trump was holding, almost like a high school presentation, was a map of the United States. And as he talked about the weapons, these weapons were sourced to places in the United States, states in the United States. Can you talk about this, human rights groups warning about the weapons that the—the massive arms deal, that may make the United States complicit in war crimes committed in the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen?
SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: Right. So, of course, Saudi Arabia doesn't manufacture its own weapons. They rely on countries like the U.S. and the U.K. and even Canada to supply them with the weapons needed to wage this incredibly destructive war on a country that really posed no threat to them. So, Yemen doesn't even have an air defense system. They've disabled that. And it's a country that's not even able to defend itself. So, they've been purchasing these weapons, totaling in the hundreds of billions of dollars, simply for the cause—for the sake of trying to assert control and dominance, and trying to win this war that's really unwinnable in Yemen.
But, you know, Trump was being transparent about why Mohammed bin Salman was in the U.S. And reportedly, Mohammed bin Salman was embarrassed by those posters. But Trump, essentially, was saying, "Well, yes, this is the relationship that we have with Saudi Arabia, one that's based on how much they can pay for our services." I mentioned all the logistical training and updating of aircraft and so on. Those total $129 million per month. And so we're making—really, we're making a lot of money. The U.S. is making a lot of money from their relationship with Saudi Arabia. Human rights groups, of course, have warned that these weapons are not being used for any reason other than to target civilians. And countries like Germany and the Netherlands have recently stopped selling weapons to the United Arab Emirates and the Saudi Arabians for this very reason.
But here, you know, Prince Charming, he was—you know, we protested his visit here in Boston at MIT. But places like MIT and Harvard, and people like Oprah and the Clintons and, like you said, President Trump, they've all met with him. And they've all—you know, he went unchallenged when he was doing interviews here in the United States. And he's not just anybody in the Saudi Arabian royal family. He is the architect of this Yemen war. He is the defense minister and crown prince. This war began under his command. And so, this is somebody who has caused extreme suffering in a country. The U.N. says that Yemen is the world's worst humanitarian crisis. He has caused this, and we're helping him perpetuate this, yet he was virtually unchallenged while in the United States.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Shireen, what about—obviously, the United States continues to justify its support under the continuing war on terrorism and also the attempts to hold back supposed Iranian influence on terrorist groups. What about the situation with ISIS and al-Qaeda and other international terrorist groups within Yemen? Could you talk about that, as well, and also the Iran issue?
SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: Right. So, Congress has said, has declared that the role of the United States in Yemen, in helping Saudi Arabia in this war on Yemen, is not covered under that, you know, under fighting terrorism. So it's unconstitutional. It's unauthorized by Congress.
But like you mentioned, the U.S. is in Yemen on two different fronts. On the one hand, they are trying to target, you know, anybody suspected of being al-Qaeda or ISIS. And that's largely done through drone strikes, that began—or that really escalated under Obama's administration and have continued through Trump's administration. And then, the other front, which is unauthorized by Congress, is this support, this blanket support, of Saudi Arabia in its war on Yemen.
Now, you know, they've mentioned Iran as a cause, as a reason to intervene in Yemen. The fact of the matter is that, you know, there's very little evidence that Iran is interfering in any significant way in Yemen. Like I mentioned, there's a land, air and sea blockade that Saudi Arabia and the United States impose on Yemen. You know, Doctors Without Borders have trouble bringing their personnel, their medicine, their food, their doctors into the country. U.N. ships have trouble bringing food into the country. But we're somehow led to believe that Iran is able to smuggle missiles or other sorts of weapons to Yemen. So, for Yemenis, it's really absurd to think that they're fighting Iran in Yemen. There is no evidence of any Iranian soldiers or any Iranian generals on the ground in Yemen. Of course, the Houthis and Iran have some sort of relationship, but it doesn't—it's very limited, and Iran is not involved in Yemen in the same degree that Saudi Arabia has been claiming.
So, you know, Congress has tried to pull the United States out of Yemen, recognizing that it's unauthorized. Bernie Sanders recently introduced a bill in the Senate called S.J.Res. 54, which was eventually tabled in the Senate. They didn't even vote on it. But that was attempting to extricate the United States out of hostilities in Yemen and by invoking the War Resolutions Act.
AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of the—Yemen's Houthi movement saying that a senior political figure had died in an attack last Thursday, Saleh al-Sammad? Who is al-Sammad?
SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: So, the Houthis, in partnership with the prior president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who maintain significant control in Yemen, they formed a political council that governed northern areas that they control. Now, the Houthis control a small portion of land, if you look at the map, but about 80 percent of the population live there. So they still maintain large control over the country, compared to what Saudi Arabia controls, which is, you know, land that they control along with ISIS and al-Qaeda and other groups. So, you know, they formed this political council as a way to govern.
And Sammad was the head of that political council. And so, you know, Saudi Arabia took him out in an airstrike. And there is video posted online yesterday of that attack. It's an assassination, essentially. And I don't know what comes next, you know? Here they are. There's no hope really for a peace process if leaders like that are going to be executed by Saudi Arabia. So, I'm really not sure what comes next.
AMY GOODMAN: Shireen Al-Adeimi, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Yemeni doctoral student at Harvard University. She's been speaking out about the role of the United States in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. We'll link to your in In These Times. It's headlined "Trump Doesn't Care About Civilian Deaths. Just Look at Yemen."
This is Democracy Now!
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate rejected a bipartisan resolution to end U.S. military involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen within 30 days, unless Congress formally authorizes the military action. The vote was 44 to 55, with 10 Democrats joining the Republican majority to block the legislation and Arizona Senator John McCain not casting a vote. The U.S.-backed, Saudi-led airstrikes and naval blockade have devastated Yemen's health, water and sanitation systems, sparking a massive cholera outbreak and pushing millions of Yemenis to the brink of starvation. More than 15,000 people have died since the Saudi invasion in 2015. We hear part of Sen. Bernie Sanders' speech against U.S. involvement and speak with Al Jazeera's Mehdi Hasan and Medea Benjamin of CodePink.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Earlier this week, the Senate rejected a bipartisan resolution to end the U.S. military involvement in Yemen within 30 days, unless Congress formally authorizes the military action. The bill would have forced the first-ever vote in the Senate to withdraw U.S. armed forces from an unauthorized war. By a vote of 55 to 44, senators voted against a procedural motion that would have advanced the measure. This is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders speaking Tuesday before the vote.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, that's Senator Bernie Sanders speaking on Tuesday before the Senate vote. Mehdi Hasan, could you comment on what he said, and also explain what Saudi Arabia is trying to do in Yemen and why the U.S. is supporting Saudi Arabia?
MEHDI HASAN: It's a good question, when you say, "Try and explain what Saudi Arabia is doing in Yemen." I think a lot of people would wonder, "Yes, what is Saudi Arabia doing in Yemen?" including a lot of Saudis now, who are wondering.
This war was declared in 2015. It was supposed to be done quickly, a Saudi-led coalition of Arab nations against, quote-unquote, "Houthi rebels," backed by Iran, allegedly. And this was the case where MBS, Mohammed bin Salman, at the time, wasn't the crown prince; he was a deputy crown prince and the defense minister, and he was pushing this war. It was going to be a quick, simple war—you know, the richest countries in the Middle East against the poorest country. And yet, three years later, still mired in this horrific war, with all of those humanitarian consequences that Bernie Sanders mentioned on the floor of the Senate. It's a disaster. It's been called an apocalypse by U.N. officials. It's been called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
And, you know, by all intents and purposes, it is a U.S.-Saudi war, Nermeen. It's not just a Saudi-led war. As Bernie Sanders pointed out, it's U.S. refueling Saudi jets, it's U.S. providing arms and bombs, it's U.S. providing intel to Saudi officials, diplomatic cover in international forums. And yet, Americans don't know enough about it, because the media doesn't cover it. And when it does cover it, it doesn't mention the Saudi role. And it's been a disaster. There's no end in sight. MBS said, in that 60 Minutes interview on Sunday, you know, "It's all the fault of the Houthis, and it's all the fault of Iran," and showed no signs of any prospect of bringing this horrific war to an end.
We rightly get agitated about what goes on in Syria and the bombing—the bombings in Aleppo and elsewhere. But that's a dictator who we are not arming, who we're not supporting. And yet, in Yemen, there's a war going on which has horrific humanitarian consequences, and that's a dictator, the Saudi dictators, who we do support and arm. So, I find the whole thing slightly absurd and morally grotesque. But, you know, the U.S. is not going to do anything.
To go back to the earlier question that we began the show with, MBS's visit is such a big deal because he's such a close ally of the U.S. And Donald Trump, remember, came to office claiming he was going to be a Saudi critic. People forget, when Donald Trump was running for election, he accused the Saudis of being behind 9/11. He said he might not buy oil from the Saudis. He attacked Hillary Clinton for taking money from the Saudis, because they were human rights abusers. And yet, since coming to office, he went to Saudi Arabia first. The first foreign visit he made was to Saudi Arabia. He now praises MBS and his father, the king, Salman. He welcomed him to the White House on Tuesday, and he said, "They've got lots of money. We want that money. We're going to have a great relation." For Trump, it's always about money. So, expect no change.
But although one—you know, one bit of good news: That vote, 55 to 45, I think it was, that's much narrower than previous, quote-unquote, "anti-Saudi" votes on Capitol Hill have been. On Capitol Hill, at least, there's far much more criticism of Saudi Arabia than there has been anytime that I can think of in recent memory.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, we just interviewed Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who—
MEHDI HASAN: Who's been great on this.
AMY GOODMAN: —joined with Sanders in pushing for this. Now, I wanted to ask you, Medea Benjamin—last year, the Trump administration approved the resumption of sales of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia. President Obama had frozen some of those weapons sales last year due to concerns about civilian casualties in Saudi Arabia's expanding war in Yemen. Now, Obama didn't cut off the support, but he did restrict it. Trump took those restrictions off. You have been deeply concerned about this vote. Can you explain what happened on the floor of the Senate?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I want to give kudos to Bernie Sanders and Chris Murphy and Mike Lee, a conservative Republican, who introduced this resolution using a very unique angle, which is the War Powers Act, to say this is an unconstitutional war. It has never been voted on by Congress. Congress has not only the authority, but the obligation, to declare war. And this certainly does not fit under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force that was passed after 9/11 to attack those associated—involved in the 9/11 attack or associated forces. So, it was a very good argument. And I think it's horrific that 10 Democrats defected and voted for this, and that so many—almost all of the Republicans have shown themselves to be the war party and to not want to take on their constitutional duty to declare war or not declare war, to allow President Trump to continue with this war in Yemen.
And so, I think we should go back and look at all of those who voted in favor of continuing this war, to tell them they have the blood of Yemeni people on their hands. And when we see those amateur graphs that President Trump held up to talk about all the weapons sales, and showed the states in which there were jobs being created by those weapons sales, showed them in red, think of them as the blood of the Yemeni people, that it's their deaths and their famine that's creating jobs in the United States, and then ask yourself about the morality not just of President Trump, but of this country and of our Congress, that will be delighted by the creation of jobs, on the backs of the people of Yemen, who are suffering the largest catastrophe, in the United States. What does this say about our country? What does it tell the rest of the world about the morals of the United States?
AMY GOODMAN: And to be clear, the man he's sitting with, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, even before he was crown prince—and he's taken over this power after arresting, what, hundreds of people in Saudi Arabia, a number of members of the Saudi royal family, right after Jared Kushner met with him in Saudi Arabia—he was in charge of this war, even before he was crown prince.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, that's right. This is his war. And that's why when anybody talks about him as a reformer, "No," you have to say, "he's not a reformer. He is a war criminal." And the shakedown that he presided over in Saudi Arabia is one of the most bizarre things, taking over 200 of the elites of Saudi Arabia and bringing them into this gilded prison in the Ritz hotel and then demanding that they turn over a lot of their assets to him, under his control, before they would be allowed to leave, and 17 of them hospitalized, one of them killed. And this is seen as part of his anti-corruption campaign.
This is the same crown prince who, when he was on a vacation in France, saw a yacht that he liked, that was owned by a Russian vodka financier, and bought it for over $500 million, who owns a château in France that's considered the most expensive house in the world, and that also bought a Picasso picture, the most high-priced painting ever sold in the United States—in the world. So, this is not Robin Hood. And he, himself, said on 60 Minutes, to be fair, that he is not Gandhi or Mandela. But he is a war criminal.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Yeah, and he also said in that interview that he has a great deal of personal wealth and, exactly what you said, that he's neither Mandela or Gandhi, and that this was—the way that he spent his money was entirely his own business. Let's just go to a clip of that, responding to a question about his own extravagant lifestyle.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Mehdi Hasan, if you want to expand on this? And also, what has happened to the crown prince's mother? Where is she?
MEHDI HASAN: So, just on the interview clip you played, I love the idea that "I'm not Mandela or Gandhi." I don't think anyone was really going to confuse the crown prince of Saudi Arabia with Mandela or Gandhi, although some in the U.S. media—
AMY GOODMAN: Really? Even with the U.S. press?
MEHDI HASAN: Yeah, I'll add the caveat: Some in the U.S. media may want to portray him in that way. And the bar is so low when it comes to the Saudis. So, he becomes crown prince, and he allows women to drive. And people in the West say, "Wow! He's the emancipator of women," because he allowed women to drive, rather than asking, "Why was Saudi Arabia the only country in the world where women were not allowed to drive?" Why not ask the question, as Medea pointed out: The death penalty for adultery, which disproportionately affects women, for sorcery and witchcraft, which disproportionately affects women, when's he getting rid of that? No question from 60 Minutes about the death penalty. No questions about democracy or freedom or elections. The words didn't come up during the interview. They keep calling him a revolutionary. I've never come across a revolution where the dictator is still in power at the end of it. I thought that's the whole point of a revolution, is to get rid of the absolute totalitarian government. So it's bizarre to call this guy a revolutionary.
To take your point about his mother, there have been reports in the news that this is a crown prince who basically detained, quote-unquote, "kidnapped" his own mother, in order to prevent her from stopping him from taking over from his father. He is one of many children. Saudi kings tend to have a lot of children. He's one of many children to King Salman. King Salman, by most accounts, is really not in control of the kingdom. He may have dementia. He's kind of out of it. He's in his eighties. This guy, 32 years old, crown prince, basically runs the show now. He's been very, very efficient in terms of taking power. You've got to give him that. He may—he may have botched the war in Yemen, but he's been very good at asserting power at home. He got rid of his cousin, who was the crown prince, put him under palace arrest. He may have kidnapped his mother or detained his mother or hidden her away somewhere, so that she couldn't get involved in his kind of power takeover from his siblings. He locked up all these princes and business leaders, as Medea pointed out. Basically, it was a shakedown, to use her very appropriate phrase.
And now he's consolidated all this power, in himself, in the country, at this young age. But the problem is, he's not very good at doing what he does in terms of foreign policy. Let's see what he does on economic policy. He's great pals with Jared Kushner. Nermeen mentioned earlier about how they hung out 'til 4:00 in the morning the week before the purge. He and Jared Kushner are great pals. That's the connection to the Trump administration. And I always think they're very—they're very similar, Jared Kushner and MBS. They're both 30-something spoiled brats who are deeply overrated and mess up everything they touch.
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