Progressive legislators slam revised defence spending bill for excluding provision to end US role in ‘horrific Saudi-led bombings of Yemen’.
The 2020 Pentagon budget will not end US involvement in the war in Yemen as some Democratic lawmakers had hoped.
The Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives in July approved amendments to next year’s military budget legislation that would have halted US assistance to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
But an advanced version of the bill – released late on Monday – excluded the provisions, effectively ending the push to use American military spending to help end the devastating war in Yemen.
Progressive members of Congress, several of whom have lobbied against US support for Saudi Arabia, were outraged by the final draft of the budget, known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Senator Bernie Sanders and California Congressman Ro Khanna said the revised bill demonstrated “astounding moral cowardice”.
“Voters would be appalled to know that instead of seizing the opportunity to end illegal US participation in the horrific Saudi-led bombings of Yemen, Congress will continue to fund Trump’s unconstitutional war,” the legislators said in a joint statement.
Earlier this year, Donald Trump vetoed a bill passed in Congress with bipartisan support that would have halted US support for the coalition.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in 2015 launched a bombing campaign in Yemen against the country’s Houthi rebels, who had overrun the capital Sanaa and ousted President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who is backed by Riyadh.
The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, caused outbreaks of preventable diseases and brought the country to the verge of famine. The United Nations has said the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the “worst in the world”.
On Tuesday, Sanders and Khanna said the ongoing war “threatens to kill 24 million Yemenis facing starvation and disease”.
Push against war
Democratic members of Congress, as well as a few Republicans, have been pushing to end Washington’s support for Riyadh’s war efforts.
Experts say that without US assistance, the Saudi military would not be able to continue its military campaign in Yemen, which would hasten the end of the war.
Earlier this year, the House and Senate approved a bill to suspend American backing for Saudi-led forces in Yemen.
The legislation invoked for the first time a 1973 law that gives US legislators the power to end military interventions not authorised by Congress.
Trump struck down the legislation with a presidential veto in April, however.
Democrats then tried to amend the NDAA, which is practically a veto-proof “must-pass” bill, to pull the US out of the conflict in Yemen.
Top legislators in the House and Senate have been negotiating for months on a military spending bill that would satisfy both Democrats and Republicans.
On Monday, the negotiated US defence budget did not include the Yemen amendments.
Marcus Montgomery, a fellow at the Arab Center Washington DC who tracks congressional affairs, said the Senate remains conservative on issues involving Saudi Arabia, and US senators are largely unwilling to push back against the White House.
Montgomery said the NDAA is likely to pass in its current format in the House and Senate without being altered.
“That’s why you see some of the progressives coming out against it, because they know there is no chance of getting an amendment in,” he told MEE.
The White House welcomed the proposed $741.9-bn budget, celebrating the failure of the push to curb the president’s war powers.
“The NDAA supports President Trump’s historic rebuilding of the military while preserving essential statutory tools to secure our border and rejecting progressive attempts to limit the president’s authorities as commander in chief,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.
The draft NDAA orders an end to the mid-air refuelling of “non-United States aircraft that engage in hostilities in the ongoing civil war in Yemen” – a practice that the US Department of Defense ended on its own more than a year ago.
The bill also directs the administration to produce an annual report on civilian casualties in the Yemen conflict.
‘Voters would be appalled to know that instead of seizing the opportunity to end illegal US participation in the horrific Saudi-led bombings of Yemen, Congress will continue to fund Trump’s unconstitutional war’
– Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressman Ro Khanna
The document would include an estimate on the number of civilians killed by both sides and an assessment of whether the warring parties followed “norms and practices the United States military employs to avoid civilian casualties”.
The proposed NDAA also calls on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to draft a report on human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and present it to Congress.
The provision follows growing anger against Riyadh over its brutal crackdown on dissent and ongoing imprisonment of journalists, women’s rights advocates and political activists.
The report should describe the “extent to which officials of the Government of Saudi Arabia, including members of the military or security services, are responsible for or complicit in gross violations of internationally recognised human rights”, the legislation states.
That includes abuses against “journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders, and those who support women’s rights or religious freedom”.
The defence budget also calls on the Trump administration to reveal US intelligence findings on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The bill orders the US intelligence chief to provide a list of names of the people “responsible for, or complicit in, ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing” the assassination.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist who was critical of the Saudi royal family, was killed and dismembered by Saudi government agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Turkey in October 2018.
Since then, US lawmakers have urged Trump to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the murder, but the White House has stood firmly by its Saudi allies.
Trump has also defied a US human rights law invoked by Congress late last year that ordered him to reveal whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the murder.
The CIA concluded last year that the crown prince ordered the assassination.