Leahy Statement On U.S. Participation In The War In Yemen

Mr. President, it is about time we had a debate, if only for a few hours, on the participation of the U.S. military in the civil war in Yemen.  Frankly, I cannot comprehend, nor am I able to explain to my Vermont constituents, the ongoing involvement of U.S. troops in support of the Saudi-led coalition as it flies U.S.-origin planes and drops U.S.-made bombs – purchased at a discount thanks to American taxpayers – amid continued reports of indiscriminate targeting and horrific civilian casualties.

These are not isolated incidents in Yemen.  They have occurred time after time over the past three years.  Houses, health clinics, and markets destroyed.  Millions of people uprooted from their homes.  Whether extreme negligence or intentional and a war crime, the effect is the same for those who are killed, wounded, or displaced.  There is no evidence that U.S. military involvement, nor the recurrent appeals of international humanitarian and human rights organizations, has improved the situation.

This is not just a matter of the carnage we have observed.  It is that we are supporting these military operations at all.  Only Congress has the power to declare war, and the ongoing participation of U.S. forces in the Saudi-led coalition’s war against the Houthis in Yemen clearly meets the definition of the “introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities” under the War Powers Resolution.  The War Powers Resolution also authorizes Congress to direct the removal of U.S. forces if their introduction has not been authorized by law, as is the case in the war against the Houthis.

That is why I support the Resolution before us, S.J. Res. 54, which would exercise Congress’ prerogative to limit the involvement of U.S. forces, in this case to the narrow purpose of combatting al-Qaeda, which does serve our national security interests in the region.  I recognize, as some others have pointed out, that the war in Yemen is part of a larger conflict of interests and ideology between Iran and Saudi Arabia.  If there are other legitimate and compelling national security interests that justify the deployment of U.S. forces in that region, let us debate them. 

We should also be doing more to demand greater transparency and accountability for civilian casualties in Yemen regardless of the context in which they occur.  If the Saudis want U.S. taxpayer subsidies, they need to focus their efforts on terrorists, take effective steps to minimize civilian casualties, and credibly investigate such casualties when they occur. 

I have heard Senators who oppose this Resolution say they intend to hold hearings and focus more attention on what is happening in Yemen.  I welcome that, but I have to wonder why it has taken so long and whether anything will change as a result.  Yemen has been a humanitarian disaster for years and there is no end in sight.  The Foreign Relations Committee should have held hearings and voted to invoke the War Powers Resolution when the U.S. military first became involved in Yemen. 

This is not a new crisis, and other than the increasing toll of death and destruction the facts on the ground have not materially changed.  The Saudis have seemingly done nothing to improve the conduct of their Air Force in Yemen. 

The least we can do is support this sensible Resolution to put an end to the unauthorized involvement of the U.S. military in this civil war, as the War Powers Resolution compels us to do.  The alternative is conceding unchecked power to the Executive branch to use U.S. troops in support of any armed conflict, without congressional debate or authorization.  That is just what the War Powers Resolution was designed to prevent.  It is time to live up to the responsibility entrusted to us in the Constitution.  Only Congress can declare war.  If we are unwilling to do so, we have no business asking the men and women of the U.S. military to risk their lives in Yemen today.   

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