The brutal war in Yemen has intensified in recent days, with the Saudi-led coalition backed by the United States increasing its bombing campaign and blockade of ports. Meanwhile, the architect of the war, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has launched a widespread purge of the government, while using a missile launched from Yemen as a pretext to threaten war with Iran.
Yet American lawmakers are still avoiding a vote on authorizing U.S. involvement in the conflict.
Saudi Arabia relies heavily on the U.S. military for intelligence sharing, refueling flights for coalition warplanes, and the transfer of American-made cluster bombs, rockets, and other munitions used against targets in Yemen.
Congress, however, has never authorized U.S. support for the war, which has caused 10,000 civilian deaths and has spiraled in recent months into one of the worst humanitarian crises of the century. For two years, Saudi Arabia and its allies have imposed a sea and air blockade around Yemen. Now, more than 7 million Yemenis face starvation and thousands, mostly children, are dying from cholera. Coalition warplanes have repeatedly struck crowded markets, hospitals, power plants, and other civilian targets.
The use of the AUMF in the Yemeni context is especially bizarre given that the resolution’s target is Al Qaeda, and the group AQAP — Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — is fighting alongside the U.S.-Saudi coalition against the Houthi rebels.
The Intercept recently visited Capitol Hill to talk to lawmakers about why there has never been an on-the-record vote to authorize the war. Watch the video, produced with NowThis, here:
Several members of Congress indicated an interest in the issue, noting that the Obama and Trump administrations’ reliance on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force to justify U.S. involvement in the conflict is absurd. That authorization, after all, was designed to fight the terrorist groups responsible for the September 11 attacks, not to intervene in Yemen’s civil war.
For 16 years, the executive branch has pointed to the AUMF as legal justification for its involvement in conflicts across the Middle East and Africa, a strategy that is legally questionable. But the use of the AUMF in the Yemeni context is especially bizarre given that the AUMF’s target is Al Qaeda, and the group AQAP — Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula –is fighting alongside the U.S.-Saudi coalition against the Houthi rebels.
Other lawmakers quickly dismissed The Intercept’s questions on the issue. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., for example, said he is more concerned with tax reform than voting on the war in Yemen.
One bipartisan legislative attempt to force a vote on authorization for the war, H.Con.Res.81, faced a major setback last week after appearing to gain political momentum. On November 1, lawmakers stripped the bill of its privileged status, meaning the bill no longer maintains a fast-track to a floor vote. The legislation was designed to invoke the War Powers Act of 1973 to terminate U.S. involvement in the Yemen War.
Because the bill is no longer privileged, it will head back to the the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which is led by Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., a lawmaker who has expressed deep support for the Saudi-led military campaign. Few expect the legislation to move forward now that it is back in Royce’s domain. In April, the representative read a statement of support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen and entered into the congressional record an opinion column written by a Saudi general.
The move to crush H.Con.Res.81 was apparently negotiated by Democratic and Republican leadership. As part of a compromise, there will be some congressional debate over the war, though no on-the-record vote for authorization. As The Intercept previously reported, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the Democratic whip, was among the Democratic leaders opposed to invoking the War Powers Act to bring U.S. involvement in the war to an end.
Still, sponsors of the legislation are hoping to force a debate and an on-the-record vote over the war.
“Our national security interests in Yemen are unclear, yet we are giving money and military assistance to Saudi Arabia so they can continue to wage war in Yemen,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., one of 43 co-sponsors. “This military action was never authorized by Congress and the American people deserve an open debate by their elected officials.”
Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., also a co-sponsor of the resolution, expressed frustration that House Speaker Paul Ryan has refused to allow a vote on the war and disappointment that the compromise solution negotiated by congressional leadership will not include a binding vote.
“This is part of my frustration about the fact Congress does not meet its constitutional responsibility when sending young men and women to die for this country, and we have a constitutional duty that we must debate war,” Jones said. “The vote to go to war in Yemen, we can’t even get a vote on this resolution. To me this is the way Congress does not work. We don’t work because we do not uphold the constitution.”
The representative added that he is concerned that as the conflict escalates, U.S. forces in the region may be killed. “What I don’t want is an American to die in Yemen, I’ll tell you that,” Jones said.
Saudi Arabia has intensified its bombing campaign in recent days, following what Saudi officials say was a Houthi rocket attack that targeted Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport on Saturday. In the hours following the attack, coalition warplanes struck Houthi-held territory at least 29 times. Saudi officials charged Iran, which has provided material support to the Houthi rebels, with committing an “act of war,” suggesting an even wider conflict may soon be under way.
This video was produced through a collaboration with NowThis. Video production by Associate Producer Zahra Haider.