It’s been five days since a horrific Saudi missile struck a bus going through a market in Dahyan in the city of Saada, Yemen, killing 51 people — including at least 40 children — and injuring nearly 80. An angry, grief-stricken community buried its young on Monday, with a picture of each child affixed to their small, wooden coffin, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
Footage of the scene of the strike is devastating, with a clip showing a stunned, bloodied child being taken off the bus, still wearing his little backpack, silent as he is lifted and placed on a stretcher.
The United States supports the Saudi-led mission in Yemen — with weapons, intelligence, and refueling capabilities — and refrains from criticizing it in any way. This was also the case under former President Barack Obama.
So even though the strike was carried out by Saudi Arabia, Yemenis hold the United States responsible as well. Signs at Monday’s mass funeral read “America kills Yemen’s children.”
On the same day as the emotional burials, which attracted thousands of mourners, the Pentagon said that Lt. General Michael X. Garrett of U.S. Army Central/Coalition Forces Land Component Command (tasked by Defense Secretary James Mattis to look into the strike) has urged Saudi Arabia to carry out an immediate and transparent investigation into the attack.
Saudi Arabia said on Friday that it would look into the matter. But it also defended blowing up the busload of children as a “legitimate military action.” The Saudi government also has a solid track record of absolving themselves of any wrongdoing in such incidents.
The issue is not just this recent “horrific” attack, said Daniel Balson, Amnesty International’s director of advocacy for Europe and Central Asia. “It’s the Saudi-led coalition’s unwillingness to investigate or to make any effort to prevent its bombardment from striking Yemeni civilians throughout the course of the war.”
He told ThinkProgress that Amnesty International has documented at least 36 airstrikes that appear to have violated international law, “including some that may have amounted to war crimes.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres swiftly called for an independent probe into last week’s strike.
Not President Donald Trump, however. He has been tweeting prolifically about everything from unflattering claims made about him in a tell-all book by a former staffer to the FBI’s probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections. On Tuesday, he tweeted about an attack in London that injured three people.
Still, he has had nothing to say about Yemen’s slain children.
The last time Trump even mentioned Yemen in a tweet was in February of 2017, when he was railing against the number of Muslims refugees entering the United States.
The international community has expressed outrage at the incident — yet another in the chain of incidents that has made Saudi Arabia the subject of an investigation by the U.N. Human Rights Council (which the United States left in June).
The Gulf Arab kingdom has been leading a coalition siding with Yemen’s government against Houthi rebels since 2015, shortly after the country’s civil war started.
Under both Obama and Trump, the United States defended Saudi Arabia against a probe by the U.N Human Rights Council on Saudi conduct in Yemen. Under President Obama, there was concern at the State Department that backing Saudi Arabia in Yemen could implicate the United States in war crimes, but the administration went ahead and approved massive weapons sales to the Saudis nonetheless.
Under the Trump administration, U.S.-Saudi relations have only strengthened, driving a wedge between the United States and its ally, Qatar, which remains in a bitter feud with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States over its allegedly close ties to Iran.
Balson points out that the U.S. role in Saudi’s campaign in Yemen is behind the White House’s silence on this. After all, President Trump was very vocal about Syrian children killed in a chemical attack in April.
The U.S. weapons sold to the Saudis play a key role in civilian deaths in Yemen. For instance, a U.S.- manufactured bomb was used in the August 2017 strike that hit a cluster of homes in Sanaa, killing 16 civilians.
In siding with Saudi Arabia in Yemen, Trump is helping the Saudis launch what they see as a proxy war against their key regional rival, Iran, who both the United States and Saudi Arabia accuse of providing weapons to the Houthi rebels.
Just last week, State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert defended Saudi Arabia’s policy of intervening in Yemen’s civil war (as she was attacking Iran for intervening in Syria’s civil war), saying that, “Saudi Arabia certainly has the right to… take out some of those bad actors.”
When asked about the Thursday strike on the bus filled with children, Nauert said the United States was “certainly concerned” but said she couldn’t say much more because the United States is not on the ground there.
She did, however, blame the Houthis — and Iran — again: “You have the Houthi rebels who continue to attack Saudi Arabia. They continue to do that with Iranian weapons, missiles, and rockets. They continue to try to attack civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, for example, and that is part of the reason why these actions are being taken.”
The administration’s refusal to condemn the coalition strike against a school bus in Yemen at the highest level, said Balson, “is a clear indication of their passionate disinterest in the human toll of this war.”
He pointed out that 10,000 people (civilians and fighters) since the start of the war.
“This is a humanitarian crisis of incredible proportions, and if it doesn’t rise to the level of public, clear, vocal and high-level condemnation, it’s hard to understand what would.”
According to the U.N.’s Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR), as of May, at least 6,385 civilians were killed and 10,000 more injured since the start of the war in Yemen. Saudi-led airstrikes were responsible for more than 60 percent of civilian casualties.
On the brink of famine for roughly two years now with dramatic food shortages leaving 400,000 children there malnourished, Yemen has also been stuck by a deadly cholera epidemic since the start of the war, with constant airstrikes making it very difficult for humanitarian aid groups to get medical supplies and clean water to affected communities.
Balson hopes that with the U.N. General Assembly coming up in September, the Trump administration would use a critical opportunity to address what’s going on in Yemen and to set a course going forward.
“It would be a dismal shame for this administration to miss that opportunity as it has in the past,” he said.