Documents, obtained by Reuters from a Freedom of Information Act request, showed US officials were worried the American military support and funding of Saudi war crimes in Yemen could implicate Washington under international law.
One email made a specific reference to a 2013 ruling from the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor. That case significantly widened the international legal definition of aiding and abetting with regard to war crimes. The ruling was built on an earlier precedent that the accused can be guilty of “aiding and abetting” if “practical assistance, encouragement, or moral support which had a substantial effect on the perpetration of a crime” is provided.
US government lawyers worried the same legal reasoning could be used to prosecute US officials who continue to provide weapons and military assistance to the Saudi-led coalition, with the mounting evidence of war crimes.
In October 2016, Saudi warplanes bombed a funeral gathering at a community hall in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, killing at least 140 people and wounding hundreds more. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for an investigation into the attack to determine if it constituted a war crime. “Aerial attacks by the Saudi-led coalition have already caused immense carnage and destroyed much of the country’s medical facilities and other vital civilian infrastructure,” Ban said, adding “A man-made catastrophe is unfolding before our eyes.” The UN chief went on to state that “more broadly, there must be accountability for the appalling conduct of this entire year.”
From 2009 to 2016, Obama authorized a record $115 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia, far more than any previous administration. Of that total, US and Saudi officials signed formal deals worth about $57 billion, and Washington delivered $14 billion worth of weaponry.
In May 2017, Trump chose Saudi Arabia as the first destination on his maiden foreign trip as president. In Riyadh, he announced with great fanfare a series of weapons sales to the kingdom that would total nearly $110 billion over 10 years.
The funding of the war on Yemen has been a glowing example of non-partisan politics in the US. Across Democratic and Republican administrations, there has been a continuous policy favoring weapon sales and alliances with autocratic regimes.