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Biden and MBS

U.S. President Joe Biden (L) being welcomed by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) at Alsalam Royal Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on July 15, 2022. (Photo: Royal Court of Saudi Arabia/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Progressives Demand Biden Increase Pressure on Saudis to End Yemen Atrocities

"The United States should no longer prop up that regime's unconscionable war in Yemen that killed nearly 400,000 people, including untold children," said one human rights defender.

Brett Wilkins

U.S. progressives in recent days have renewed efforts to push President Joe Biden and Congress to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for atrocities including war crimes in Yemen and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"Our foreign policy should not be based on a dependence on oil or the geopolitical whims of foreign despots."

Last week, the Biden administration angered human rights defenders by seeking sovereign immunity status for Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman—commonly called by his initials, MBS—in a lawsuit over the 2018 kidnapping and brutal murder of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist with permanent U.S. residency.

Activists were already infuriated with Biden for "letting MBS get away with the murder," as one writer put it, as well as for his summer summit and infamous fist-bump with the crown prince, and for continuing to support the Saudi-led war in Yemen after an initial temporary freeze on arms sales.

"President Biden vowed to hold accountable Saudi ruler MBS for Khashoggi's murder by making him a 'pariah,' and Congress should help Biden keep his word by passing a War Powers Resolution that cuts off U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen," David Segal, executive director of the online-intensive activist group Demand Progress, said in a statement Tuesday.

"Saudi Arabia is controlled by an outlaw regime, as demonstrated by the murder of a U.S.-based journalist and by deliberately holding down oil production to support Russia's illegal war in Ukraine," Segal added. "The United States should no longer prop up that regime's unconscionable war in Yemen that killed nearly 400,000 people, including untold children."

Additionally, a Saudi-led blockade has exacerbated starvation and disease in Yemen. Of Yemen's approximately 30 million people, more than 23 million required some form of assistance in 2022, according to United Nations humanitarian officials.

In June, 48 bipartisan U.S. House lawmakers introduced a War Powers Resolution to end the nation's unauthorized involvement in the Saudi-led war. The following month, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) proposed a similar measure in the upper chamber. 

Interviewed for an Intercept article published on Monday, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)—one of the 48 co-sponsors of the House resolution—asserted that "our foreign policy should not be based on a dependence on oil or the geopolitical whims of foreign despots. It should be based on the rule of law and human rights."

Omar and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) led a letter signed last week by 13 House Democrats to Secretary of State Antony Blinken "to express our strong support for the United States to use its influence at the United Nations Human Rights Council to work towards the establishment of an independent, international investigative mechanism on Yemen at the earliest opportunity."

"This new mechanism should have the authority to collect and preserve evidence of violations for future consideration, by competent judicial authorities, of possible crimes committed by all parties to the conflict," the lawmakers' letter added. "Having an international mechanism would play a crucial role in ensuring accountability for the atrocities that have taken place for more than a decade in Yemen."

Omar contended that "true peace demands justice" and that "international institutions have a responsibility to account for any and all atrocities that took place in Yemen, and the United States has a responsibility to advocate for them."

"Truly centering human rights and a rules-based order in our foreign policy," she added, "requires full accountability when those rights are violated."

Joey Shea, a researcher on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates at Human Rights Watch, noted Monday that Biden's July meeting with bin Salman "was followed by an uptick in serious violations of human rights by Saudi authorities."

"In August, a Saudi appeals court dramatically increased the prison sentence of Saudi doctoral student Salma al-Shehab from six years to 34 years, based solely on her Twitter activity," she continued. "Other people—including at least one U.S. citizen—critical of the Saudi government on social media have received extreme prison sentences from Saudi courts."

"Biden's campaign promise to make Saudi authorities 'pay the price' for Khashoggi's heinous murder has not been met," Shea added. "Absent real sanctions against the Saudi government for its transnational repression, MBS will read U.S. policy as a 'green light' to continue committing abuses at home and abroad while enjoying generous U.S. military, diplomatic, and political support."

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