Daniel Zhao

A group of U.S. senators, including Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is hoping to use a decades-old law to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen.

The law in question is the War Powers Resolution, which Congress passed over President Richard Nixon’s veto in 1973 after the revelation that he had bombed Cambodia in secret. The bill applying the law to the present crisis — S.J. Resolution 54 — passed the Senate during its last session but failed to become law because the House did not vote on it. The sponsors of the bill, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., and Murphy, reintroduced the bill this session, which will likely need a two-thirds majority in order to override President Donald Trump’s veto.

“This is a humanitarian crisis, according to the U.N.,” said Daud Shad ’21, the co-founder of Students for Yemen, a new student group dedicated to raising awareness on the crisis. “There is not a very direct link because these are not U.S. troops, but literally all the weapons used [by Saudi Arabia in Yemen] are from the U.S.”

The War Powers Resolution requires the president to inform Congress within 48 hours of sending U.S. troops into action and allows troops to remain engaged for a maximum of 60 days without congressional permission or a declaration of war.

The crisis in Yemen started in 2014, when Houthi rebels, who are members of the Shi’a sect of Islam, took control of the capital Sana’a. Led by Saudi Arabia, a coalition of Arab states responded in 2015 with a military campaign to defeat the Houthis and restore the government. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called the civil war, which has cost tens of thousands of lives, the worst humanitarian crisis of 2018.

However, the resolution’s scope may be limited. According to Shad, American troops have already stopped refueling Saudi planes en route to Yemen inflight, a practice which would fall under the jurisdiction of the legislation. The sale of American weapons to the Saudis, however, does not.

“The resolution has raised awareness and put pressure on Congress,” Shad said. “But it is limited in its scope and the impact it could have.”

According to the international nonprofit Mercy Corps, Saudi bombings in Yemen have resulted in the displacement of around 2 million civilians, and 14 million are in desperate need of food. The victims of the crisis include 58,000 children under the age of five, who have died due to famine and disease, according to a tweet by Murphy on Jan. 30.

Publicity surrounding the bill has increased since a bombshell CNN report last week reported that U.S.-produced weapons sold to Saudi Arabia have ended up in the hands of al-Qaida militants.

“There is a U.S. imprint on every civilian death in Yemen,” Murphy tweeted on Jan. 30 as he urged senators to vote for his resolution.

The United States’ lack of attention to the escalating violence and humanitarian crisis in Yemen has also spurred action from the Yale community.

About 10 Yale students are now involved in Students for Yemen, which was formed toward the end of the last semester. The group has organized two phone banks to call representatives about the war powers bill in conjunction with the activist organization Action Corps.

According to Students for Yemen member Tyler Jager ’22, many of the freshman representatives’ aides that the group called during the phone bank were not even aware of the resolution.

“Sometimes it’s just about putting something on their radar, then it gets on their agenda,” Jager said.

Connecticut’s senior senator, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has also opposed military involvement in Yemen. Blumenthal penned a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis in March 2018 to condemn the use of taxpayer dollars to aid Saudi Arabia and to call for greater transparency from the Department of Defense.

“We have significant concerns about the ability of Congress to oversee the use of this authority and expenditure of U.S. taxpayer dollars in support of U.S. partners and allies,” the letter read.

Both Blumenthal and Murphy have been outspoken in their opposition to Trump and their support for progressive causes, especially increased gun control.

Yemen is home to approximately 28 million people.

Nathalie Bussemaker | nathalie.bussemaker@yale.edu