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US watchdog blasts Pompeo over arms sales to Saudis

THE Trump administration used emergency powers last year to bypass Congress and sell arms to Saudi Arabia while evading scrutiny over civilian deaths and atrocities in the Yemen war, US Inspector General Michael Horowitz has found.

Investigations were opened after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued an emergency certificate allowing US companies to press ahead with $8.1 billion (£6.1bn) of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, despite allegations of war crimes by Saudi-led forces.

The certificate allowed the deadly trade to avoid the need for approval by Congress, which was known to be hostile to any deal with the reactionary Gulf kingdom.

Weapons sales are usually subject to the 1976 Arms Export Control Act, which requires foreign governments receiving weapons from the US to use the armaments for legitimate self-defence. 

While the Office of the Inspector General found that the State Department had not broken US law, the report stated that it “did not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns.”

The State Department was found to have “regularly approved arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that fell below” the required threshold for the notification of Congress.

The report’s most damning section accused the State Department of withholding “significant information” and circumventing democracy in bypassing review by Congress, which had sought to block arms sales to Riyadh over allegations of potential war crimes.

Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in Saudi-led coalition air strikes in Yemen since 2015. The United Nations has branded the war the world’s largest humanitarian disaster.

Some 24 million people, 80 percent of the population, require humanitarian aid, according UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres.

Two million Yemeni children suffer acute malnutrition and 110,000 people have contracted cholera so far this year, as flooding also increases the risk of malaria and dengue fever. At least four million are internally displaced after fleeing their homes to escape bombing.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence recorded more than 500 air raids in Yemen that were in possible breach of international law in May alone.

Last year a judicial review found that Britain had acted unlawfully in continuing arms sales as the government had failed to assess the legality of the Saudi-led bombing campaign.

Arms sales to Riyadh resumed last month, with the government insisting that there had been only isolated violations without any pattern.

Ministers insisted that such a review had been carried out, so the government was now empowered to grant arms-export licences.

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