Members of Congress have largely avoided speaking out about the famine and cholera epidemic in Yemen, even as aid organizations, celebrities, and late-night TV hosts sounded the alarm this past week.
But one U.S. senator is breaking the Senate silence — and even going further, explaining how U.S. support for the war has enabled the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy spoke out about the crisis on the Senate floor Tuesday, while showing pictures of starving Yemeni children. His remarks went much further than those of most public officials, not shying away from the reality that the cholera epidemic could never have taken place without U.S. support.
For U.S. officials, the difficulty in publicly addressing the crisis is caught up in U.S. complicity, given that the disease and starvation in Yemen is not the result of a random hurricane or an earthquake, but the expected result of deliberate actions taken by the United States and its allies in the Gulf.
Murphy’s speech, delivered on the Senate floor Tuesday, had been viewed later that day by fewer than 200 people.
“There is a humanitarian catastrophe inside this country – that very few people in this nation can locate on a map – of absolutely epic proportion,” said Murphy. “This humanitarian catastrophe – this famine … is caused, in part, by the actions of the United States of America.”
Murphy has been speaking out about the war in Yemen nearly as long as it’s been going on, criticizing both the Obama and Trump administrations. Together with Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, he has introduced multiple measures in the Senate trying to block weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, but none have passed.
The brutal war in Yemen has killed well over 10,000 people since Saudi Arabia began bombing the country in 2015, but in recent months, cholera has been killing people much faster than bombs. The International Committee on the Red Cross estimates that by the end of the year, a million people will have contracted the contaminated water-born disease.
The outbreak is often portrayed in the media as a random and tragic event in a war-torn country, but it is a predictable, even intended, consequence of the coalition’s campaign of collective punishment. As Murphy argued on the Senate floor, Saudi Arabia, led by its headstrong crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is hoping to use disease and starvation to force the country to surrender to its terms, a strategy that is on its face a war crime.
Since the bombing campaign began, Saudi Arabia has targeted the country’s water infrastructure. In April 2015, a month after the bombing campaign began, coalition planes destroyed equipment at a water treatment plant in Yemen’s capital city, Sana’a. The plant stopped functioning a few months later, after Saudi Arabia knocked out the city’s electrical grid, cutting off access to clean water for millions of people.
The coalition, which the United States is a part of, did that while blockading the country, which slowed the flow of supplies to the import-dependent country. Prior to the conflict breaking out, Yemen imported 90 percent of its food and almost all of its medicine.
Murphy explained exactly how U.S. support for Saudi Arabia allowed them to create the epidemic.
“That bombing campaign that targeted the electricity infrastructure in Yemen could only happen with U.S. support,” Murphy said. “It is the United States that provides the targeting assistance for the Saudi planes.”
The United States has been a silent partner in the war since the beginning, providing weapons, targeting intelligence, and refueling support for the Saudi Air Force. The Obama administration provided more than $100 billion worth of weapons to the Saudis, and fragments of U.S.-made weapons have been found at the scene of some of the war’s worst atrocities. President Donald Trump has vowed to continue the policy, signing a commitment for more than $110 billion in weapons during his trip to Riyadh.
“It is U.S. refueling planes flying in the sky around Yemen that restock the Saudi fighter jets with fuel, allowing them to drop more ordnance,” said Murphy. “It is U.S.-made ordnance that is carried on these planes and dropped on civilian and infrastructure targets inside Yemen. The United States is part of this coalition. The bombing campaign that has caused the cholera outbreak could not happen without us.”
Murphy’s comments came a day after the House of Representatives voted 366-30 to passing a non-binding resolution that said the U.S. role in the war had not been authorized by Congress.
“We have a responsibility to make sure that the coalition, of which we are a part, is not using starvation as a weapon of war,” said Murphy. “This is a stain on the conscious of our nation if we continue to remain silent.”
Finishing his remarks, Murphy, looking around the Senate, concluded with a line that has become standard in the chamber: “I note the absence of a quorum.”