The Stew Reporting on government and politics

U.S. may ignore Saudi use of child soldiers

Politics | Children fighting in Yemen caught in political tug-of-war over U.S-Saudi relations
by Harvest Prude
Posted 6/20/19, 05:35 pm

WASHINGTON—Speculation that the Trump administration would give Saudi Arabia a pass for using child soldiers sparked criticism this week from congressional lawmakers already frustrated with U.S. relations with the kingdom.

The U.S. State Department does not include Saudi Arabia on a congressionally mandated list of countries that use underage soldiers despite evidence showing that Saudi-led forces have used children in combat in the Yemeni civil war, according to Reuters. The news service reported Tuesday, citing four anonymous sources, that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo overruled State Department experts and decided to leave the kingdom off the list, which is set to be released June 27.

The 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act requires the State Department to annually report on countries that recruit and use children in combat or other forced labor such as spying or sex trafficking. The law says the United States should block offending governments from receiving certain kinds of military aid, including training, funding, and other assistance.

Sudanese soldiers and lawmakers have estimated that since 2016, the Saudi coalition fighting Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen has hired an estimated 14,000 Sudanese fighters, many of them young as 14. In March, more than a dozen lawmakers wrote a letter to Pompeo expressing grave concerns with the “credible reports” of Sudanese child fighters in Yemen. They asked for a U.S. investigation.

A spokesman for the coalition, Col. Turki al-Malki, denied the use of child soldiers in a statement to Reuters. Other officials argued that it was unclear whether the Sudanese forces were directly reporting to Saudi officials in Yemen or were known only to Sudanese officers. Instead of putting Saudi Arabia on the list, the State Department will reinstate Sudan, Reuters reported.

“This is reprehensible,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted in response to the news. He asked why the administration would give “cover for [Saudi Arabia’s] human rights abuses and violations of international norms?”

In recent months, some lawmakers have soured on the U.S.-Saudi alliance due to concerns over the kingdom’s poor record on human rights and the humanitarian crisis resulting from the Yemen conflict. After the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last October, Congress approved a bipartisan resolution calling for an end to U.S. assistance to the Saudis in Yemen. President Donald Trump vetoed the measure in April.

On Thursday, the Senate voted to block a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Seven Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in the vote. The House of Representatives is likely to pass the resolution, as well, but neither chamber is expected to muster the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he voted against the sale to “send a signal to Saudi Arabia that if you act the way you’re acting, there is no space for a strategic relationship. … There is no amount of oil you can produce that will get me and others to give you a pass on chopping somebody up in a consulate.”

Instead of simply leaving Saudi Arabia off the list of countries that use child soldiers, the Trump administration could include it but issue a waiver based on “national interest.”

Every year since President George W. Bush signed the bill into law, the White House has granted either whole or partial waivers to countries on the list. President Barack Obama waived sanctions for countries like South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen, citing national interest. Others, like Afghanistan, Obama left off the list altogether despite evidence the country used underage soldiers to carry out military operations.

When enforced, the Child Soldiers Prevention Act has been effective. In 2012, the Obama administration withheld military training and funding from the Democratic Republic of Congo after reports that the country had an estimated 30,000 child soldiers. Less than a week later, the Congolese government agreed to sign a UN action plan to end recruiting children. By 2014, the United Nations had documented only two cases of the Congolese national army recruiting underage soldiers.

Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Rep. Will Hurd

Seen but not Hurd

When the Black Hat USA cybersecurity conference announced Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, as its keynote speaker June 13, organizers highlighted the congressman’s numerous qualifications, including his record of pushing cybersecurity initiatives in Congress, previous work as an undercover CIA officer, and experience as a senior adviser for a tech security firm. But a day after touting his accomplishments, the conference dropped him.

None of Hurd’s qualifications had changed, but TechCrunch, an online tech-focused news site, published a report citing his poor “voting record on women’s rights,” which included votes for pro-life measures. Potential conference attendees expressed their displeasure with the choice of Hurd, and Black Hat accommodated them by axing him.

NARAL Pro-Choice America, a pro-abortion advocacy group, gave Hurd a zero percent rating on his congressional voting record for pro-abortion laws. By most other measures, the congressman votes far more moderately than most Republicans. Hurd was one of only eight GOP members of Congress to vote for the Equality Act, which would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes and potentially decrease protections for religious conscience objections. He has also accused President Donald Trump of being manipulated by Russian President Vladimir Putin and is close friends with Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke, a former congressman from Texas.

The Democratic National Committee has targeted Hurd, whose West Texas seat could be vulnerable in the 2020 election. He won in 2019 by fewer than 1,000 votes in the only district along the Mexican border to elect a Republican to the House. Democrats already launched their first Spanish-language ad of the 2020 season against Hurd for his immigration views even though he has broken with his party on immigration policy and has suggested a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers who were brought to the country illegally as children.

With public pressure on the abortion issue mounting over the past year, pro-life members of Congress in swing districts like Hurd’s will face an important choice: Do they continue to stand strong on their stance in favor of unborn children, or do they sweep it under the carpet to protect themselves and the Republican Party? —Kyle Ziemnick

Associated Press/Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais Associated Press/Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais Sen. Cory Booker at a House subcommittee hearing on slavery reparations on Wednesday

Counting the cost

Long-standing efforts to secure reparations to the descendants of slaves took center stage at a congressional hearing for the first time in more than a decade Wednesday.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who is seeking his party’s 2020 presidential nomination, testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee in support of a measure, first introduced in 1989, that would establish a commission to study the legacy of slavery and the possibility of reparations. Other Democratic candidates, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California have also endorsed the idea.

“As a nation, we have yet to truly acknowledge and grapple with the racism and white supremacy that tainted this country’s founding and continues to cause persistent and deep racial disparities and inequality,” Booker said. He has introduced similar legislation in the Senate.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., promised to bring the bill to a vote on the floor if it passes in committee.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dismissed the effort, noting “none of us currently living” is responsible for the evils of slavery. “We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African American president,” he told reporters.

Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, who revived the debate about reparations with a 2014 article in The Atlantic, told the committee that though McConnell was “not alive for Appomattox,” a reference to the Confederate surrender at the end of the Civil War, he was alive to see violence and discrimination against African Americans before and during the civil rights era.

Coates argued that a reparations study might find the price to be incalculable, but the process would provide “a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal.”

There is little support among the public for the idea, with 60 percent of respondents in a Fox News poll this year opposed to it. —Anne Walters Custer

Associated Press/Photo by Susan Walsh Associated Press/Photo by Susan Walsh Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigns earlier this week in Washington.

2020 update

The Democratic National Committee announced Friday the lineup of the 20 candidates for next week’s primary debates, the first of the 2020 presidential campaign season. The DNC randomly placed the party’s front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden, and the current second-place contender, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, in the second debate next Thursday, while Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey lead the first debate’s field on Wednesday.

The random selection process was designed to avoid creating an “undercard” debate that would attract fewer viewers, which happened to Republicans during the 2016 campaign. But four of the top five candidates, according to a poll summary by the website FiveThirtyEight, ended up in the Thursday debate: Biden, Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota attempted to boost their standing in the polls prior to the debate by attending the DNC’s annual LGBTQ gala in New York Monday night. They framed themselves as warriors for the gay rights movement and attacked Republicans for restricting transgender individuals’ service in the military. Buttigieg, the only openly gay candidate in the race, did not attend the event.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump kicked off his reelection campaign Tuesday night at a packed rally in Orlando, Fla. He unveiled his new slogan, “Keep America Great,” and attacked Democrats, saying they “want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.”

The president’s campaign raised almost $25 million in the first 24 hours after the rally, more than Biden, Sanders, Harris, Warren, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas raised in their first days combined, according to The New York Times. —K.Z.

Associated Press/Photos by Evan Vucci Associated Press/Photos by Evan Vucci President Donald Trump speaks at his reelection launch rally in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday.

Poll predicament

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign recently fired three pollsters after internal numbers leaked this month showed Trump trailing Democratic front-runner Joe Biden in crucial swing states.

Earlier this month, someone shared with news organizations several polls from March that showed Biden ahead of Trump in a head-to-head contest in 11 states. The polling gave the former vice president a 16-percentage-point lead in Pennsylvania (55-39) and a 10-point advantage in Wisconsin. It also showed Biden leading by 7 points in Florida. The polls did not include matchups between president and other Democratic candidates. After the leak, the campaign fired pollsters Brett Loyd, Adam Geller, and Michael Baselice.

Campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement that the numbers were flawed. Since the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative report, which did not find evidence of collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia, “the president’s new polling is extraordinary and his numbers have never been better,” Parscale said.

Trump denied the negative polling in an ABC News interview, calling them “fake polls.” He added that he had seen other polls that showed him “winning everywhere.” —H.P.

Harvest Prude

Harvest is a reporter for WORLD based in Washington, D.C.

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  • RC
    Posted: Fri, 06/21/2019 03:07 pm

    Counting the Cost - If blacks from Africa had not been brought over to America to be slaves, they never would have come to America. Since most blacks in Africa today are living in dire poverty, (“…Today, one in three Africans—422 million people—live below the global poverty line. They represent more than 70 percent of the world’s poorest people.” – Brookings Institution) I think most African Americas, no matter what economic status, would say they are glad their distant relatives came to America. The idea of reparations based on what was done to people in the past, just because you are related to them, is just a deceptive attempt for a free handout. There is no way to identify exactly who would and should be justifiably awarded something and exactly what should be is undefinable.   

    When it comes to slavery any “reparation” money would be way better spent on fighting modern day slavery.  There is current day slavery present in America generating massive suffering. The injustice from current day slavery is a way more important issue than what happened to past generations who are all dead and gone.  

  • Laura W
    Posted: Fri, 06/21/2019 07:54 pm

    I wouldn't recommend suggesting that someone is better off because their ancestors were kidnapped, enslaved, beaten, raped, murdered, or all of the above as a rhetorical strategy. Especially not if any of your ancestors might have had something to do with that. Sure, there are a lot of problems with how and to whom money would be distributed if we tried to address it now (and I'm sure there are some who would still want more), but I don't think it's a very loving or helpful response to dismiss the idea out of hand either. If our country, as a whole, has seriously hurt people (no matter how long ago) I don't think it's at all unreasonable to think that our country, as a whole, should pay some sort of compensation to living relatives. It's just the details that get tricky.

  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Sat, 06/22/2019 12:29 am

    I agree with Laura W. I would add that it wasn't just that generation of Africans who were harmed--it was future generations down to the present moment as well. Children born of slaves were born into slavery. Children of rape were rejected by their fathers. In the vicious selling and reselling of slaves, families were torn apart. Education was withheld from slaves. Not the least harmful is the legacy of hatred that was passed from generation to generation of slave owners, much of which still exists today in the south and many cities elsewhere. To say that current descendants of African slaves have not suffered and are not suffering irreparable harm is blind and callous to the extreme.

  • OldMike
    Posted: Sun, 06/23/2019 12:20 am

    Say, I think I belong to a group that deserves reparations too.  My ancestry is probably 50% Irish.  It is very well documented that for quite a few years there was rampant discrimination against the Irish who came to America, after being brutalized and starved by the British landlords who were allowed to take away our own homeland. But here in the US, when we tried to find employment, we found signs saying, “Irish need not apply.”

    Come to think of it, I belong to another group that deserves reparations. When I came back in 1969 from serving my country in Viet Nam, I was treated pretty badly.  In fact, around  1974 I was having an extremely difficult time finding work, and finally one prospective employer asked me straight out, “Do you have any kind of drug problem?  Because we’ve heard all you guys who went to Nam came back hooked on drugs.”

    So despite the excellent work ethic of my grandparents, I was denied a substantial inheritance because of the employment discrimination they faced. And despite my own skills and work ethic, I was denied the critical first years of good earnings in the beginning of my working life, due to discrimination. 

    I demand I and other members of my harmed classes be compensated!

  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Tue, 06/25/2019 02:06 pm

    If the United States set out to undo all the wrongs of bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and racial persecution Od Mike listed (oh, and let's not forget our own native Americans), don't you think our country would be a far better place in which to live? I do! We should all have such a spirit of repentance in our hearts. As it is, we keep repeating our failures.

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Mon, 06/24/2019 03:15 pm

    Well of course we're going to ignore Saudi use of child soldiers.  Of course we are.  Why not?  We ignored North Korea killing their own citizens and one of ours.  We're ignoring China locking up Muslims in reeducation camps.  We're ignoring Russia manipulating our own election through online trolls.  Why shouldn't we turn to helping out another one of our age-old enemies?

  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Tue, 06/25/2019 02:02 pm

    Absolutely, sarcastically correct!