US Can Do Little To Stop Saudis Using White Phosphorus

| by Nik Bonopartis
A U.S. Air Force Douglas A-1E Skyraider drops a white phosphorus bomb during the Vietnam War in 1966.A U.S. Air Force Douglas A-1E Skyraider drops a white phosphorus bomb during the Vietnam War in 1966.

We don't know anything, and we're not responsible.

If President Barack Obama was a crooner like Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett, that'd be one of his standards, a song he can reliably turn to when an audience needs priming. His chosen successor, Hillary Clinton, has also become adept at singing the tune whenever there's an email scandal, health scare, accusation of charitable malfeasance, server to wipe or probing question thrown her way.

The crooners in the White House and their band members in the Pentagon and State Department have been hitting those notes again this week as they deny any involvement in Saudi Arabia's reported use of white phosphorus against civilians in Yemen, where the Saudis have been prosecuting a war since 2015.

In August, when the Saudis bombed a hospital and a civilian factory, Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump sang the standard to deny the U.S. was responsible for more than 40 civilian deaths. Despite the fact that the U.S. was providing tankers to refuel Saudi Arabia's bombers, providing munitions, sharing intelligence and helping out with a military advisory team, the government claimed ignorance when it came to dead civilians.

"At no point did U.S. military personnel provide direct or implicit approval of target selection or prosecution," Stump told CNN.

Now the Obama administration is claiming ignorance in the white phosphorus attacks, even though Obama has sold more arms -- $115 billion worth -- to the Saudis than any previous president, according to The Washington Post. No wonder Obama bowed to King Abdullah when he first met the Saudi monarch back in 2009.

The State Department wouldn't officially comment on the accusations that Saudis have used U.S.-supplied white phosphorus against civilians. Commenting anonymously, a State Department official told The Washington Post that the U.S. "expects any recipient of U.S. military assistance to use those items in accordance with international law and under the terms and conditions of any U.S. transfer or sale."

The relatives of the Yemenis killed in a hospital ought to breathe a sigh of relief!

What about the Saudi embassy in Washington? It didn't respond to requests for comment.

And the Pentagon? Surely Navy Cmdr. Patrick Evans, a Pentagon spokesman, could shed some light on when the phosphorous was sold to the Saudis, and how much was provided. But it turns out Evans is a crooner too, and he knows the lyrics to "We don't know anything, we're not responsible" quite well.

Evans told The Washington Post that, "as a matter of policy," the Pentagon "does not disclose specific deliverables or the details" of arms sales to foreign governments. Translation: American taxpayers aren't entitled to know where American weapons are sold.

What about General Dynamics Ordnance Tactical Systems, whose markings were seen in social media images of the white phosphorous rounds used by the Saudis?

"It wouldn't be appropriate for us to comment," company spokeswoman Laurie VonBrocklin told The Washington Post, referring the reporter back to the State Department like a tech support operator fobbing off a user.

To summarize, for those who aren't following along with a pencil and paper: The Saudi government purchased munitions from the U.S. that have effects similar to those of napalm and cause people to die horribly, and there's abundant evidence -- including dozens of photos on social media -- indicating the Saudis are using the chemical as a weapon against civilians.

But neither the Obama administration, nor the State Department, nor the Pentagon, nor the Saudi embassy, nor the company that makes the chemical is willing to comment.

"We don't know anything, and we're not responsible."

In response to the deeply upsetting images and news coming out of Yemen -- where the Saudis are meddling to make sure whoever ends up ruling Yemen is favorable to Saudi Arabia -- some have called for the U.S. to do something, to step in or condemn America's nominal "allies" in the Saudi government.

That's like asking a blacksmith to stop people from using swords to murder each other. How can the U.S. have any moral authority in this situation when it's providing the weapons and helping prosecute the war? Short of halting all arms sales to Saudi Arabia, now and into the future, the U.S. itself is half the problem.

“The United States must not provide or sell white phosphorus munitions to Saudi Arabia or any other military that would use them in the Yemen conflict,” said Amnesty International's Sunjeev Bery. “As a major arms seller to Saudi Arabia, the U.S. risks being complicit in Saudi Arabia’s likely war crimes in Yemen.”

The only thing Bery gets wrong is saying the U.S. "risks being complicit" in likely war crimes -- the U.S. already is complicit.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: The Washington Post, CNN, BBC / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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