Voting to Rein in Starvation, Torture and U.S. War in Yemen

By Kate Gould, May 24, 2018


This marks a momentous week for Congress on re-examining the U.S. role in Yemen, and its facilitation of the world’s largest humanitarian crisis in the country. Just this week, members of Congress in both the House and the Senate have voted in favor of reining in U.S. support for starvation, torture and war led by the U.S.’ Gulf allies in Yemen.

By advancing legislative vehicles in the House and the Senate for greater oversight of the U.S. role in Yemen, Congress is sending the message loud and clear: the time for a blank check to U.S. Gulf allies for starvation, torture and war in Yemen is over.

House Votes for Accountability on U.S. Role in Yemen

Today, the House of Representatives voted in favor of adding the following two amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would require crucial reports from the Pentagon and other Executive agencies on the U.S. role in Yemen:

1) Re: Torture: Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA)’s amendment would require the Pentagon to conduct an investigation to determine whether and to what extent the U.S. has been involved in torturing prisoners in Yemen, given that the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—a key counter-terrorism partner for the US as well as a key perpetrator of the famine-inducing, Saudi-led war—is backing Yemeni government forces widely reported to be torturing prisoners in Yemen.

2) Re: Starvation: Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA)’s amendment would require the Trump administration to release a comprehensive strategy to Congress on how the United States will:

a. Improve coordination among agencies in famine-risk areas to prevent mass starvation and how success in addressing the humanitarian crisis will be evaluated

b. Work toward a diplomatic strategy to end the civil war in Yemen

c. Ensure greater coordination among U.S. civilian and military efforts

It’s particularly notable that both the Khanna and Bass amendments were deemed to be so non-controversial that they were adopted into the NDAA as part of a package (called ‘en bloc amendments’), rather than going to the House floor for a separate vote. This is particularly notable since last year, the Khanna amendment on torture was not allowed by the Rules Committee to get a vote on the House floor. FCNL will be working to ensure that both amendments also pass the Senate, and will be signed into law.

Today’s vote comes on the heels of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passing—in a 14-7 vote— legislation (S.J. Res. 58) to help hold Saudi Arabia accountable by conditioning U.S. refueling support on Saudi Arabia taking the following actions:

1) making genuine efforts to end Yemen’s civil war through a peaceful settlement

2) easing Saudi Arabia’s de-facto blockade of Yemen, by allowing more essential goods into the country in order to increase Yemenis’ access to food, fuel and medicine

3) taking steps to reduce Saudi Arabia’s delays in obstructing humanitarian shipments to enter the country

4) avoiding killing and maiming civilians in the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes in Yemen

It is a testament to the hard work of the leading sponsors of this legislation—Senators Todd Young (R-IN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Chris Coons (D-DE)—that it received such overwhelming bipartisan support. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) also played a key role in the bill's success by introducing amendments that strengthened the legislation. As Senator Murphy has pointed out over the many years of his leadership to shine a spotlight on U.S. complicity in this crisis, "there's an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Yemen.”

Ending U.S.-backed starvation, torture and war in Yemen

The accountability measures on which Congress voted week are important steps in the right direction. We must now demand that Congress build on this momentum by taking even bolder actions, such as:

1) Ending the U.S. role in facilitating the world’s largest humanitarian crisis

2) Ensuring that all actors who have committed war crimes and other gross human rights violations are held accountable

3) Securing a diplomatic solution to end the war In the coming weeks, we expect a new effort to end U.S. support for this devastating war, with legislation which could be released soon to block a massive supply of weapons of mass starvation to Saudi Arabia. A vote to stop more bombs from going to Saudi Arabia could come to the Senate floor as early as next month. Given that 47 senators voted to block the last bomb sale, we need just four more senators to reach the magical 51 vote threshold to block this upcoming sale.

Urge your senators to speak out against U.S. support for the war, to help build support for this upcoming opportunity to make history, and to end U.S. support for the deliberate starvation of millions of people in Yemen.

Kate Gould

  • Legislative Director, Middle East Policy

Kate Gould is FCNL's Legislative Director for Middle East Policy. Kate is one of only a handful of registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C. working to advance human rights objectives and support diplomatic solutions to resolve disputes between the U.S. and Iran and the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Israel/Palestine.