Senator Warren Gets Answers from CENTCOM Commander About Yemen Operations
"Turning a blind eye is not acceptable," said Senator Warren with regard to reports of human rights abuses in the region."
Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) yesterday got answers from General Joseph L. Votel, Commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), during Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) testimony regarding the extent to which CENTCOM is able to track how the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners carry out military operations in Yemen.
The senator's questioning followed recent reports that called into question statements made by General Votel and other CENTCOM officials that CENTCOM does not track information about missions carried out in Yemen by coalition warplanes:
"As you know, I have serious concerns about our support to the Saudi-led coalition and its military campaign in Yemen. Last year, I asked you if the U.S. government knew where coalition jets went and what targets they bombed after receiving fuel from U.S. tankers. And you said that CENTCOM does not track that information," said Senator Warren. "In late December, The New York Times reported that American military personnel assigned to the coalition's headquarters in Saudi Arabia readily had access to a 'database that detailed every airstrike: warplane, target, munitions used and a brief description of the attack.' So let me just ask you, does this database exist?"
In response to her question, General Votel confirmed: "Today, we do have a database that does have that information and we have the ability to see that."
Today, the Senator released the following statement with regard to this new information:
"We have the data to determine if Saudi jets killed Yemeni civilians with our support. We need to face the ugly truth - by continuing to enable Saudi Arabia, America is complicit in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. We must end our support for this war now," said Senator Warren.
During yesterday's SASC hearing, Senator Warren also raised her deep concerns about reports of detainee abuse at Emirati detention centers. General Votel replied that CENTCOM has not itself observed such abuse. Senator Warren committed to remain vigilant in her oversight of the issue, "I remain very concerned about abuses in the region. Turning a blind eye is not acceptable, and I'm going to keep asking questions to make sure we're staying accountable."
A transcript of Senator Warren's exchange with General Votel is below.
Transcript: Senator Warren Gets Answers from CENTCOM Commander About Yemen Operations
Tuesday, February 5, 2019
U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee
SENATOR WARREN: Thank you Mr. Chairman, and thank you General Votel for being here. I appreciated the opportunity to meet with you last week.
As you know, I have serious concerns about our support to the Saudi-led coalition and its military campaign in Yemen. Last year, I asked you if the U.S. government knew where coalition jets went and what targets they bombed after receiving fuel from U.S. tankers. And you said that CENTCOM does not track that information.
In late December, The New York Times reported that American military personnel assigned to the coalition's headquarters in Saudi Arabia readily had access to a "database that detailed every airstrike: warplane, target, munitions used and a brief description of the attack."
So let me just ask you, does this database exist?
GENERAL VOTEL: Today, we do have a database that does have that information and we have the ability to see that.
WARREN: And CENTCOM has access to this database?
VOTEL: We do have access to the database.
WARREN: You know, this is troubling information because it suggests that we could determine retroactively if coalition warplanes that bomb civilians did so with American assistance.
There is clear evidence that we enable and support the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Until recently, we refueled their jets. We provide military advice and intelligence support. We continue to sell them American-made bombs - bombs that public reports indicate kill Yemeni civilians. We provide their air force with sustainment and logistics support for their American-made fighters.
I'm asking you questions about the details of the help we give the Saudis because they continue to conduct bombing runs. They continue to perpetuate one of the worst made-made humanitarian disasters of the modern era. During this civil war, more than 85,000 children under the age of 5 have starved to death and tens of thousands of civilians have been killed.
This military engagement is not authorized. We need to end U.S. support for this war now.
So, let me ask you about detainee abuse. Section 1274 of the FY19 NDAA required the Secretary of Defense to review whether members of the Armed Forces or coalition partners of the US abused or witnessed abuse of detainees during operations in Yemen.
DOD submitted this report to Congress last month and in the unclassified summary concluded that "DOD has determined that DOD personnel have neither observed, nor been complicit in, any cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of detainees in Yemen."
Can you just say a brief word-I just have a little bit of time-about how DOD reached this conclusion?
VOTEL: We principally derive that based on the discussions and reports from the people that we do have on the ground. We obviously take this very seriously Senator and our individuals that are in positions where they might see some of this are under the obligation to report this. And I do routinely receive reports, many of them unsubstantiated, not just linked to Yemen but to other areas in which we operate where our people have received a report of abuse and we have a reporting mechanism for that and so we do take that extraordinarily seriously.
WARREN: But this report says, "Neither observed nor have been complicit in any cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment."
The Associated Press, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United Nations all conducted their own investigations and came to a different conclusion. They determined that our Emirati partners oversaw a network of detention centers that regularly engaged in torture and other abuse.
Does DOD find these independent investigations credible?
VOTEL: We certainly take all of these investigations seriously Senator but I think what I'm saying to you is that we have no observations of our own - our people that have actually seen this.
WARREN: Fair enough then let me ask it this way, has DOD reached any conclusions about whether or not our Emirati partners are engaging in detainee abuse when DOD personnel are not present?
VOTEL: I have not reached any kind of conclusion that they are conducting these activities certainly in our interaction with all of our partners in this conflict and across the region we continue to emphasize obligations under the law of armed conflict in the proper detention and treatment of detainees across the board.
WARREN: I appreciate you walking me through your assessment of these independent reports. But I remain very concerned about abuses in the region. Turning a blind eye is not acceptable, and I'm going to keep asking questions to make sure we're staying accountable.
VOTEL: Senator I have received your letter and we will provide a response to you, thank you.
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