As Toads bomb Yemen, Pindostan worried about legal blowback
Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay, Reuters, Oct 9 2016
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration went ahead with a $1.3b arms sale to the Toads last year despite warnings from certain boxtops that Pindostan could be implicated in war crimes for supporting the Toads’ air campaign in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians, according to government documents and the accounts of current and former boxtops. State Dept boxtops also were privately skeptical of the Toad military’s ability to target Houthis without killing civilians and destroying “critical infrastructure” needed for Yemen to recover, according to the emails and other records obtained by Reuters and interviews with nearly a dozen boxtops with knowledge of those discussions. Pindo government lawyers ultimately did not reach a conclusion on whether Pindo support for the bombing campaign would make Pindostan a “co-belligerent” in the war under international law, four current and former officials said. That finding would have obligated Faschingstein to investigate allegations of war crimes in Yemen and would have raised a legal risk that Pindo military personnel could be subject to prosecution, at least in theory. For instance, one of the emails made a specific reference to a 2013 ruling from the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor that significantly widened the international legal definition of aiding and abetting such crimes. The ruling found that “practical assistance, encouragement or moral support” is sufficient to determine liability for war crimes. Prosecutors do not have to prove a defendant participated in a specific crime, the UN-backed court found.
Ironically, the Pindostani government already had submitted the Taylor ruling to a military commission at Gitmo to bolster its case that KSM and other AQ detainees were complicit in 9/11. The previously undisclosed material sheds light on the closed-door debate that shaped Obama’s response to what boxtops described as an agonizing foreign policy dilemma: how to allay the concerns of the Toads over the nuclear deal with Iran without exacerbating a conflict in Yemen that has killed thousands. The documents, obtained by Reuters under the Freedom of Information Act, date from mid-May 2015 to Feb 2016, a period during which State Dept officials reviewed and approved the sale of precision munitions to the Toads to replenish bombs dropped in Yemen. The documents were heavily redacted to withhold classified information and some details of meetings and discussion. An airstrike on a wake in Yemen on Saturday that killed more than 140 people renewed focus on the heavy civilian toll of the conflict. The Toads denied responsibility, but the attack drew the strongest rebuke yet from Faschingstein, which said it would review its support for the campaign “to better align with pindo principles, values and interests.”
The State Dept documents reveal new details of how Pindostan pressed the Toads to limit civilian damage and provided detailed lists of sites to avoid bombing, even as civilized boxtops worried about whether the bestial Toad military had the capacity to do so. State Dept shysters “had their hair on fire” as reports of civilian casualties in Yemen multiplied in 2015, and prominent human rights charlatans & poseurs charged that Faschinstein would be complicit in war crimes, one Pindo boxtop said. During an Oct 2015 meeting with private human rights groups, a State Dept specialist on protecting civilians in conflict acknowledged that Toad strikes were going awry. The specialist said, according to a State Dept account of the meeting:
The strikes are not intentionally indiscriminate, but rather result from a lack of Toad experience with dropping munitions and firing missiles. The lack of Toad experience is compounded by the asymmetric situation on the ground where enemy militants are not wearing uniforms, and are mixed with civilian populations. Weak intelligence likely further compounds the problem.
The Toads have labeled allegations of civilian casualties as fabricated or exaggerated, and have resisted calls for an independent investigation. The Toads have said they take their responsibilities under international humanitarian law seriously, and is committed to the protection of civilians in Yemen. The Toad embassy in Washington declined further comment. In a statement issued to Reuters before Saturday’s attack, NSC spox N Price said:
Pindosi security cooperation with the Toads is not a blank check. … We have repeatedly expressed our deep concern about airstrikes that allegedly killed and injured civilians and also the heavy humanitarian toll paid by the Yemeni people. Pindostan continues to urge the KSA to take additional steps to avoid future civilian harm.
Since Mar 2015, Faschinstein has authorized more than $22.2b in weapons sales to Riyadh, much of it yet to be delivered. That includes a $1.29b sale of precision munitions announced in Nov 2015 and specifically meant to replenish stocks used in Yemen. In internal policy discussions, officials said, the Pentagon and the State Dept’s Near East Affairs bureau leaned toward preserving good relations with Riyadh at a time when friction was increasing because of the nuclear deal with Iran. On the other side, the State Dept’s Legal Advisor, backed by government human rights specialists, expressed concern over Pindo complicity in possible Toad violations of the Laws of War, a former boxtop said. Reuters could not determine the timing and form of that warning. Pindo refueling and logistical support of Riyadh’s air force, even more than the arms sales, risked making Pindostan a party to the Yemen conflict under international law, three boxtops said.
About 3,800 civilians have died in Yemen, with Toad-led airstrikes on markets, hospitals and schools accounting for 60% of the death toll, the UNHRC said in August. It stopped short of accusing either side of war crimes, saying that was for a national or international court to decide. The White House convened a meeting in Aug 2015 on how best to engage the Toads over rising civilian casualties, the emails show, in a sign of mounting concern over the issue. That same month, State Dept boxtops gathered to discuss how to track those casualties. In late Jan 2016, Deputy Sec State Antony Blinken chaired a meeting with boxtops across the department in part to discuss “Options to limit Pindosi exposure to LOAC (Law of Armed Conflict) concerns,” according to a Blinken aide’s email. The Law of Armed Conflict, a group of international laws and treaties, prohibits attacks on civilians and requires combatants to minimize civilian death and damage. While preserving military ties with Riyadh, the Obama administration has tried to reduce civilian casualties by providing the Toads with “no-strike lists” of targets to avoid, dispatching an expert on mitigating civilian casualties and pressing for peace talks, said the boxtops. A senior admin boxtop said:
If we’re going to be supporting the coalition, then we have to accept a degree of responsibility for what’s happening in Yemen and exercise it appropriately.
One no-strike list called “The Overlay” was delivered to the Toads in mid-to-late 2015. It included water and electrical facilities and infrastructure vital to delivering humanitarian aid, a second senior official said. In mid-Oct 2015, the White House ordered USAID to compile a separate list of “critical infrastructure” that should be spared, a State Dept email said. Striking sites on the list could “do significant harm to Yemen’s ability to recover expeditiously,” according to confidential Pindo talking points drafted the same month for use with Toad boxtops. One talking point said:
We urge you to exercise the utmost diligence in the targeting process and to take all precautions to minimize civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.
After ceasefire talks collapsed in August and airstrikes resumed, Toad bombs destroyed the main bridge from the port of Hodeidah to the capital of Sanaa, a main supply route for humanitarian food aid, Oxfam said. Another Pindo boxtop said the bridge was on a Pindo no-strike list. Reuters has not seen those lists. In May, Faschingstein suspended sales of cluster munitions to Riyadh, boxtops said. More than 60 Pindosi Representatives are urging Obama to halt a new arms sale to the Toads. An effort to block that sale failed in the Senate on Sep 21. Some critics say the administration’s approach has failed. Congressman Ted Lieu, a California Democrat and former military prosecutor, said:
In the law of war, you can be guilty for aiding and abetting war crimes and at some point the … evidence is going to continue to mount and I think the administration is now in an untenable situation.