AMY GOODMAN: Documents obtained by Reuters show the U.S. government is concerned it could be implicated in potential war crimes in Yemen because of its support for a Saudi-led coalition air campaign. The Obama administration has continued to authorize weapons sales to Saudi Arabia despite warnings last year from government lawyers that it might be considered a co-belligerent under international law. This comes as a Saudi airstrike on a funeral home in the capital Sana’a on Saturday killed at least 140 mourners and wounded more than 500 others. Survivors spoke of back-to-back bombings during a funeral service for the father of an official with the rebel Houthi government, which controls Sana’a.
WAHEEB AL-SARARI: [translated] This is a heinous crime one can barely imagine. No one ever thought they would strike a mourning hall. Can anyone imagine hitting people mourning to death? The battle is taking place on the borders and several other places, yet they bomb a hall. And now they deny it was their missiles. We are all here. Our homes are nearby. We heard the missiles and the planes. There were two planes and four airstrikes, not just two.
AMY GOODMAN: Thousands of Yemenis gathered at the United Nations building in Sana’a on Sunday calling for an international investigation into the assault. The attack was carried out with warplanes and munitions sold to the Saudi-led coalition by the United States. The U.S. Air Force continues to provide midair refueling to Saudi warplanes.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military has said one of its missile destroyers was targeted Sunday in a failed missile attack from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the United States accuse Iran of supplying weapons to the Houthis.
According to the U.N., more than 4,000 civilians have been killed and over 7,000 injured since the Saudi-led coalition bombing began last year. Airstrikes have reportedly caused about 60 percent of the deaths. The latest attack came as the U.N. warned the civil war is leading to famine in Yemen, where some one-and-a-half million children are currently malnourished and 28 million people are short of food.
To talk more about the situation, we’re joined by Sarah Leah Whitson. She is executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division. She’s made numerous trips to Yemen, including a visit this year to examine the impact of the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes.
This latest attack on a funeral, can you explain what you understand happened, Sarah Leah?
SARAH LEAH WHITSON: Well, what we know so far is that the funeral was actually publicly announced on Friday, so that it’s clear that the coalition knew that there was a funeral planned at this site, which is used for weddings, funerals, parties and so forth. And we know that it has been regularly used for such public civilian gatherings, you know, over the past year.
There were two strikes that we know of on the funeral, during the funeral, one followed by a second strike, which actually ended up injuring some first responders. So, again, we saw a repeat strike, clearly indicating this was not an accident. Initially, the Saudis denied the airstrike, but they have since, according to the BBC, acknowledged that this was a Saudi coalition airstrike on this funeral home. What we do know, as well, is that there were at least a dozen senior Houthi and GPC officials, including military officials from the Houthi armed group, who were killed in the strike. But we also know that there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of civilians there, including children, who we know were among the dead.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re calling this a war crime?
SARAH LEAH WHITSON: We are saying it is a likely war crime, the extent to which it was foreseeable and knowable that this would result in a mass killing of civilians.
AMY GOODMAN: You talked to eyewitnesses to the attack?
SARAH LEAH WHITSON: We have talked to eight eyewitnesses, and we’re continuing to talk to more, people who are documenting who was at the funeral, what happened, how the attacks took place, what the results were, the first responders who were hit in the second strike.