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The Double Standard on Yemen's Suffering

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King Salman of Saudi Arabia and his entourage arrive to greet President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 27, 2015.
King Salman of Saudi Arabia and his entourage arrive to greet President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 27, 2015.
(Image by (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza))
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The long-running U.S.-backed Saudi war against a Yemeni rebel group has led to mass hunger and civilian slaughter -- suffering comparable to the humanitarian crisis of Aleppo in Syria though treated very differently by the U.S. establishment, according to investigative journalist and historian Gareth Porter.

I spoke with Porter, who has written extensively about U.S. policies toward Iran and is the author of Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, on Jan. 31.

Dennis Bernstein: You said today -- if I have this right -- the U.S. media covered Russian/Syrian air-strikes in Aleppo were reported as the worst air campaign in an urban area in modern post-World War II history, highlighting the suffering of civilians, and especially, of children. Then you go on to say, "Now it has been revealed that millions of Yemenis are suffering starvation because of the almost complete disruption of Yemenis society from Saudi-led coalition air strikes." You say, "Children are suffering the most horrible starvation."

So, this needs to be a bit of a primer, Gareth. Please start by outlining the situation on the ground in Yemen. And then please explain what exactly does the United States have to do with what is being reported as a wide ranging Saudi bloodbath?

GP: Well, those are two very big questions. Each of which requires a bit of explanation. Let's start with the situation on the ground. That is that there are millions of Yemenis in areas of the country which have been under bombardment by the Saudi led coalition.

And as a result of that bombing, which has been going on now since March of 2015, there has been a huge and very deep disruption of normal life, throughout a huge part of Yemen, the part of Yemen that was under the control of the Houthis, as well as their allies, coming from the old... the military that was associated with the previous regime -- the Saleh regime -- which the United States had been supporting for many years. So, this is a large part of the territory of Yemen.

And what we know is that some millions of people have been, to some extent, suffering from lack of adequate food. And particularly, of course as is usually the case, children are the ones who are suffering the most. The stories that I ... sighted and tweeted yesterday [January 30], had figures that showed that 31% of children under the age of five are now suffering from acute malnutrition.

And, of course, that's the category that includes people who are really starving to death, or close to death, as well as those people who are in the process of moving towards that condition. So those are the worst hits.

At one point, that would be -- according to my estimate looking at the age distribution of Yemen -- that would be about 1.7 million children under the age of five in Yemen who are either ... in an advanced stage of malnutrition, or who are headed very far, and have gone very far in that direction.

And the same article used the figure of 7 million people who are in what they call "severely food insecure areas" of the country. Meaning that these are areas that have been bombed severely, and where the food production has been, virtually, brought to a halt. It's been extremely limited, and therefore, access to food has been very limited. So, that's an extremely serious situation.

It's a humanitarian catastrophe, there's no doubt about that. And, it is certainly on a scale similar to Syria, and in many ways, maybe worse than the catastrophe that has occurred... humanitarian catastrophe that has occurred in Syria. And I say that because, as I go back and look at the coverage of starvation, malnutrition in Syria, the only place where it has been reported that there were cases of such severe malnutrition that people were starving to death, was in a town called Madaya, which was subject to being besieged by the Assad government troops.

And now there may be other places, but there certainly has not been other widespread coverage of this kind of severe malnutrition in Syria over the last couple of years. So that is a picture of, you know, a real catastrophe which, I must say, has not been covered by the U.S. press...

DB: Okay, now let's talk about... you say the United States is complicit in this crime. I guess you mean war crime. Explain the U.S. role, and why the U.S. is involved.

GP: Well, first of all, the complicity begins with the fact that the Saudi government, which, of course, is the primary national entity behind ... carrying out this bombing campaign against the Yemeni people, approached the Obama administration before it went to war. Before it started the bombing campaign, it went to the Obama administration, told the administration what it wanted to do, and that administration said, "Okay, yes, we'll support you."

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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