As Civilian Casualties Grow in Yemen, Capitol Hill Questions U.S.-Saudi Arms Deals

As casualties mount in the Saudi-led war in Yemen to reinstate the legitimate U.N.-recognized Hadi government, some U.S. lawmakers are considering whether to block the sale of additional arms to Saudi Arabia.

It is not known if the potential block has significant backing on Capitol Hill, and criticism of past arms sales to Saudi Arabia has failed to gain steam in Congress. The latest initiative to block the sale comes from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), who has consistently criticized Saudi Arabia, calling the Kingdom a “unreliable ally with a poor human rights record.”

“We should not rush to sell them advanced arms and promote an arms race in the Middle East. I will work with a bipartisan coalition to explore forcing a vote on blocking this sale,” Paul said in a statement to ABC News today.

Saudi soldiers on the Kingdom's southern border with Yemen.

Saudi soldiers on the Kingdom’s southern border with Yemen.

Rep. Ted W. Lieu, (D-California), also spoke critically of the arms sale and of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, as did Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), according to ABC news. 

“I believe the Saudi military’s operational conduct in Yemen and the killing of civilians with U.S.-made weapons have harmed our national security interests, and I will continue to oppose any arms sale that contributes to its operations in that arena,” Lieu said via ABC. 

But others – from officials in the Obama administration including the President himself, the head of the CIA, as well as leaders in Congress and the military have praised Saudi Arabia as a reliable partner in fighting terrorism and countering the spread of rival Iran’s interests in the region.

The State department is quick to downplay the impact that the recently announced sale of tanks to Saudi Arabia would have on civilians, but as images from strikes on civilian targets and a reported second attack on a  Doctors Without Borders hospital in less than a year, concern in the U.S. is growing that American-made weapons are being used without proper discretion on civilian targets.

Congress has 30 days to review the latest sale.