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In a Historic First, Senate Advances Bill to End U.S. Support for Illegal War in Yemen

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The Senate voted Wednesday to advance a resolution to end military support for the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed war in Yemen. This marks the first time in U.S. history that the Senate has voted to advance a bill to withdraw military forces from an unauthorized war using the War Powers Resolution Act. Wednesday’s vote sets the stage for a possible final vote on the measure within days and has been seen as a rebuke of President Trump’s handling of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Just hours before the vote, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis held a closed-door briefing with U.S. senators, urging them to vote against the resolution. Administration officials warned senators not to compromise ties with Saudi Arabia over the killing of Khashoggi and said U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen is necessary to counter Iran’s influence in the Middle East. We speak with Shireen Al-Adeimi, Yemeni scholar, activist and an assistant professor at Michigan State University.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In a bipartisan effort, the Senate voted Wednesday to advance a resolution to end military support for the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed war in Yemen.

SEN. CORY GARDNER: Are there any senators in the chamber wishing to change their vote? If not, the yeas are 63, the nays are 37. The motion is agreed to.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: This marks the first time in U.S. history the Senate has voted to advance a bill to withdraw military forces from an unauthorized war using the War Resolutions Act. Wednesday’s vote sets the stage for a possible final vote on the measure within days. It’s seen as a rebuke of President Trump’s handling of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Just hours before the vote, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis held a closed-door briefing with senators, urging them to vote against the resolution. Administration officials warned senators not to compromise ties with Saudi Arabia over the killing of Khashoggi. They also said U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen is necessary to counter Iran’s influence in the Middle East.

AMY GOODMAN: The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Utah Republican Mike Lee. This is Senator Sanders speaking from the Senate floor.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: It is a vote to demand that the humanitarian crisis in Yemen be addressed. It is a vote that will tell the despotic dictatorship in Saudi Arabia that we will no longer be part of their destructive military adventurism. And it is a vote, as Senator Lee just mentioned, that says that the United States Senate respects the Constitution of the United States and understands that the issue of war making, of going to war, putting our young men and women’s lives at stake, is something determined by the U.S. Congress, not the president of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Wednesday’s vote came after more than 50 prominent figures and former officials, including two former U.S. ambassadors to Yemen, signed a letter urging Senators Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer to end America’s involvement in the Saudi-led war on Yemen, saying it would, quote, “spell the likely end to the broader conflict.”

The Saudi-led war in Yemen has created what the U.N. calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 14 million of Yemen’s 28 million people on the brink of famine. A recent report by Save the Children estimates 85,000 children under the age of 5 have died from acute malnutrition brought on by the war.

For more, we’re joined by Shireen Al-Adeimi, a Yemeni scholar, activist and assistant professor at Michigan State University. She’s also one of the signatories on the letter to Senators McConnell and Schumer.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Shireen. Can you start off by talking about how this bill passed? It is historic. Again, it doesn’t mean it is moving forward; it simply means that the bill is moving forward, but is highly significant.

SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: Right. So this marks the first really big initial victory that we’ve seen in Congress’s related bills toward ending the war in Yemen. Senator Sanders first introduced this bill in February of this year, and unfortunately it was tabled in March, so they voted not to vote on the bill back in March. And now we’re seeing, you know, eight months later, that finally—finally—there is going to be a debate in the Senate on the U.S.'s supported war in Yemen, and there is going to be a vote, which is substantial. We've never been—we’ve never come this far, despite the involvement of the U.S. in this war in Yemen over the past nearly four years now. We’ve never been so close to having a real debate and a vote in the Senate. So this is significant.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, why do you think, Shireen? What’s the difference between what was happening in March and now?

SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: So, I think the murder of Khashoggi, unfortunately, has—you know, it’s led to this uncovering of this relationship, this toxic relationship between the Saudis and the U.S. Unfortunately, these kids in Yemen were dying. They’ve been dying for almost four years now. Eighty-five thousand is a conservative estimate of the children who have starved to death. These are children under the age of 5. The number is likely much higher. And when that was the case back in March, when Senator Sanders and Lee and Murphy were arguing these points that the U.S. is involved in this, frankly, genocidal war of Yemen, you know, there was very little interest in the Senate. We were building interest, but it still wasn’t enough to be able to pass this resolution forward, just to be able to debate it in Congress.

I think what’s changed is that, you know, this murder has uncovered this relationship and really the lengths to which the Saudi crown prince would go to achieve his goals. And I think it’s off-putting. And for the first time, you know, mainstream media sources were finally covering the war in Yemen and questioning this relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States. So, I think that’s brought on a lot of negative attention, and now people maybe don’t want to be associated with this crown prince and his war in Yemen.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s very interesting, considering what’s happening at the United Nations. You have CNN reporting the U.S. slammed the brakes on a U.N. Security Council resolution on a ceasefire in Yemen, the move reportedly part of the Trump administration’s fear of compromising his very close relationship with Saudi Arabia. Seems to counter recent statements by both the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and senior White House officials, including Mattis and Pompeo, who last month called for the ceasefire. And they reported that it was because of—the crown prince threw a fit that the U.S. slammed on the brakes. But that didn’t seem to affect, at this point, especially someone like Senator Lindsey Graham, longtime Saudi ally, very close to Trump, who just was infuriated by what happened to Khashoggi and that Gina Haspel wasn’t brought to brief them—the person, the head of the CIA, who said with high certainty they believe that Khashoggi [sic] was involved with ordering the killing. And now the whole questioning of what Saudi Arabia said about Yemen.

SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: Well, yeah. The crown prince and Saudi Arabia have been throwing fits about Yemen for the last three-and-a-half years. Anytime there’s a resolution in the U.N., they’ve been throwing temper tantrums or threatening to withdraw support for UNESCO and other U.N. programs. For example, a couple years ago, when the U.N. listed Saudi Arabia on the list of child killers, within 72 hours they were off that list because—and Ban Ki-moon at the time came forward and said, “Well, it’s because they threatened to withdraw support from other U.N. programs.”

So, the U.S. has been providing cover for the Saudis in the U.N., and other European countries, as well. Mattis and Pompeo, you know, on the one hand, they say that they want a ceasefire. On the other hand, they’re still helping the Saudis in this war. This is not—you know, the U.S. is not a bystander. They’re an active member of that war in Yemen, hence the War Powers Resolution that was invoked in the Senate and is now hopefully moving forward toward a vote.

And so, you know, we’ve created this monster. Mohammed bin Salman has been emboldened by his Western allies. Right from the beginning, as soon as he got power, he began bombing his neighbor to the south, and with full support from first the Obama administration and now the Trump administration, and full support of regional partners, as well as European countries, who support him with arms and intelligence and refueling and logistical support and training and so on. So, I think he’s upset now that people are questioning his actions, because, frankly, he’s been operating with impunity for the last nearly four years.

AMY GOODMAN: Shireen Al-Adeimi, we’re going to ask you to stay with us, Yemeni scholar, activist, assistant professor at Michigan State University. We’ll go to break, and when we come back, is it possible that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could be arrested in Argentina because this country recognizes universal jurisdiction? Arrested for crimes against humanity and torture? Stay with us.

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