Leahy Floor Speech On The Senate Joint Resolution On Yemen

Mr. President, today we will vote on Senate Joint Resolution 54, which would remove the U.S. armed forces from hostilities in or affecting the country of Yemen, except those forces engaged in operations directed at al Qaeda or associated forces, unless and until a declaration of war or specific authorization for such use of U.S. armed forces has been enacted. 

I want to commend my distinguished friend from Vermont, Senator Sanders, for the leadership and perseverance he has shown on this issue.  He has rightly insisted that the Congress, which alone has the power to declare war, act in response to the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen.  

A catastrophe, we must acknowledge, that the United States shares responsibility for causing as a result of our support for the Saudi military, which is by any objective measure guilty of war crimes.  It is long past time for us to say:  enough.

International outrage over this issue has been building steadily as the number of civilian casualties in Yemen – one of the world’s poorest countries – has swollen into the thousands as a result of Saudi Arabia’s intervention and ongoing aerial bombardment. 

We have all seen the photographs of the dead and dying; of children who are nothing but skin and bones.  Some  85,000 children have starved to death.  Another 13 million Yemeni civilians are at risk of starvation, according to the United Nations.

Of course, the Houthis and the Iranians who support them share the blame for the death and destruction in Yemen.  But we are not supporting them.  We are not sharing intelligence with them or providing targeting assistance.  We are not selling them weapons.  That is what we are doing for the Saudis.   

But this Joint Resolution is about more than that.  As if the kidnapping of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, the blockade of Qatar, the imprisonment of Saudi women’s rights activists, and the carnage in Yemen were not enough, the outrage towards Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Saman finally boiled over with the horrific, premeditated murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a respected journalist who had criticized the royal family.   

Mr. Khashoggi’s murder by Saudi government agents at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and the blatant lies by top Saudi officials who tried to cover it up, exposed the depth of depravity of the Saudi royal family. 

I have spoken about that despicable crime multiple times already so I will not repeat what I have said.  But there is every reason to believe that the Saudi royal family is still lying about who was involved. 

And we know that since long before murdering Mr. Khashoggi, the Saudi government has had a sordid history of abducting, imprisoning, and executing dissidents and others after sham trials in violation of international law.  

The vote today on Senate Joint Resolution 54 is the Senate’s first response to the Saudi royal family, and to the Trump Administration.  The disaster in Yemen is so appalling, and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was so wicked, so repulsive, that no amount of money, no amount of oil, and no amount of lies can obscure it. 

The Trump Administration lobbied hard against this Resolution, warning that despite the Saudi royal family’s many misdeeds the U.S. – Saudi relationship is too important to risk.  No one is seeking to sever relations with Saudi Arabia. 

But far more important is that the United States stands for the truth, for justice, for the laws of war, and that we don’t stand by when a whole society of impoverished, innocent people is being destroyed, or when top officials of another government, whether ally or adversary, conspire to murder a journalist or dissident and lie about it.

If the Saudi royal family hopes to salvage its tattered reputation and relations with the United States, it will need to take far more decisive action to end the war in Yemen and bring to justice all those responsible for murdering Jamal Khashoggi.

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