A US government watchdog investigation into the “emergency” sale of more than $ 8 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies found that the State Department had not “fully assessed ”or mitigated the risk of civilian casualties in Yemen.
The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report found that Mike Pompeo acted within the law in May 2019 by authorizing the sale of bombs and other weapons through a declaration of emergency, bypassing opposition from Congress.
But the report noted that the relevant law, the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), gives the executive the right to define what constitutes an “emergency” so investigators do not have to. inquired whether the statement was warranted, “neither does the OIG assess any policy decisions underlying arms transfers and the associated emergency.”
State Department officials took the unusual step of briefing the press the day before the report was released, presenting it as justification for Pompeo and arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They also claimed that the overall conclusion was unaffected by Donald Trump’s dismissal, at Pompeo’s urging, of the inspector general who launched the investigation, Stephen Linick.
Linick had also opened investigations into Pompeo’s use of State Department resources for personal errands. He was replaced in May by a seasoned diplomat, Stephen Akard, who abruptly announced his own resignation last week.
The report found that “the OIG found that the Department had not fully assessed the risks and implemented mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal issues associated with the transfer of PMMs. [precision guided munitions] included in the Secretary’s emergency certification of May 2019 ”.
The report also found that the State Department sold PGMs in parts, so each individual transfer fell below the threshold requiring Congressional approval. There have been “4,221 below-threshold arms transfers involving Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with a total estimated value of $ 11.2 billion since January 2017,” the OIG said.
Pompeo had presented the emergency sales as essential to contain Iranian “malignant activity” thanks to the support of the Houthis in Yemen. However, the OIG found that most arms sales did not take place by January 2020, in about half of the cases because the host country had either rejected the sale or had not yet signed. letter of acceptance.
In response, R Clarke Cooper, the deputy secretary for politico-military affairs, said more of the emergency sales had taken place since the start of the year.
Britain’s Defense Ministry revealed in May that it had recorded more than 500 Saudi airstrikes in possible violation of international law in Yemen.
William Hartung, director of the armaments and security program at the Center for International Policy, said the OIG had shirked its responsibility by not ruling on the legality of Pompeo’s declaration of emergency.
“If the OIG is to be believed, when it comes to arms sales, the president can ultimately do whatever he wants when he wants – a position that violates the spirit and the letter of the law current, ”Hartung said. “Overall, a shameful abuse of executive power that calls for a strong congressional response, including more stringent legal restrictions on executive power to approve and assess arms sales.