Dear President Obama,
On August 9, your administrationnotified Congressof intent to sell $1.15 billion of weapons to Saudi Arabia, including tanks which would replace tanks destroyed in Saudi Arabia's war against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
We respectfully urge you to postpone this plan and withdraw the notification for the following reasons.
Past Congressional concerns about Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen have not been addressed. In October,Members of Congress wrote to youurging greater efforts to avoid civilian casualties in Yemen and achieve a diplomatic solution to the conflict. In June,204 Members of the House, including 40 Republicans and all but 16 Democrats, voted to block the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia after reports of their use in civilian areas in Yemen. Yet, just in the last several days, a Saudi airstrike on a school in Yemen killed 10 children – some as young as 6-years-old – and a Saudi airstrike on an MSF hospital in Yemen killed 11 people.
Indeed, Amnesty International has documented at least 33 unlawful airstrikes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition across Yemen that appear to have deliberately targeted civilians and civilian facilities, such as hospitals, schools, markets, and places of worship. These attacks may amount to war crimes.
This military campaign has had a deeply troubling impact on civilians. According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 3,704 civilians, including 1,121 children have been killed during the conflict. 2.8 million Yemenis have been internally displaced by the fighting, with 83% of the population now dependent on humanitarian assistance for survival. Any decision to sell more arms to Saudi Arabia should be given adequate time for full deliberation by Congress.
We are concerned, however, that the timing of this notification during the August Congressional recess could be interpreted to mean that Congress has little time to consider the arms deal when it returns from recess within the 30 day window established by law. We are not aware of any compelling reason why Congressional approval of the sale could not be postponed to allow for meaningful Congressional debate on this issue that has major implications for both civilians in Yemen as well as our national security.
In announcing your decision to seek Congressional authorization for the use of force against the Syrian government in 2013, youstated that: "I've long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people." We strongly agree. We urge you to delay this proposed arms deal so that the people's representatives in Congress can give these issues the full deliberation that they deserve.
Thank you kindly for your attention to this matter.
[Members of Congress]