The missile that killed 23 people attending a wedding in northern Yemen in April came from a factory in southern Arizona.
The missile was fired on the night of April 22 by Saudi-led coalition forces, which have been waging war on Yemen’s Houthi clans for three years. The Guardian reported the majority of casualties were women and children. Survivors described how the jets continued to circle the bombing site after the attack, preventing first responders from reaching the victims. The 20-year-old groom, Yahya Ja’afar, and his bride, Fatum Allam, escaped harm, but dozens of friends and family were not so lucky.
In the rubble, the survivors found shards of a missile with a serial number. Local media in Yemen published a photograph of the remnants taken by the Ansar Allah Media Center, which has extensively documented the airstrike on Telegram, Facebook, and Twitter. Using a defense contractor database, investigators from the investigative site Bellingcat traced the weapon to Raytheon’s factory in Tucson.
It wasn't the first time a Raytheon weapon had killed innocents in Yemen, writes Patrick Wilcken, a researcher for Amnesty International, in Medium:
“â€Šthe bulk of this war’s civilian casualties have come from the Saudi-led coalition’s technological superiority and exclusive domination of the air. In the process, coalition airstrikes have left a trail of material evidence in their wake, including the remains of many Raytheon-manufactured systems.”
But the war that has been terrible for Yemen’s civilians has been lucrative for the shareholders of the defense contracting giant, headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts. The Saudi coalition’s indiscriminate attacks have coincided with the sharp rise in Raytheon’s share price, prompting human rights lawyers to ask: Is the $55 billion firm “aiding and abetting” war crimes?
According to the law, probably not. It depends on what the company, namely its officers and board of directors, knows about the targeting practices of the Saudi coalition forces. Local and international human rights groups have documented a reckless disregard for the lives of non-combatants in this remote desert society.
In September 2016, Saudi coalition fighter jets bombed a water drilling rig near Beit Saadan village, killing at least 31 civilians and wounding 42 more. Researchers from Human Rights Watch recovered remnants of Raytheon Paveway-series guided missiles at the site of the attack.
Raytheon fragments were found in the ruins of two homes in the city of Sana’a destroyed by a Saudi coalition airstrike in October 2015. A woman and her three-year-old son were injured in the attack.
In August 2016, a missile guided by the Paveway system (currently manufactured by both Raytheon and Lockheed Martin) hit a hospital run by MÃ©decins Sans FrontiÃ¨res, killing 11 people, including an MSF staff member, and injuring 19 others.
A month later Saudi-led forces used a Raytheon-made bomb in a deadly strike on a funeral ceremony in the city of Sana’a, killing more than 140 people. A recovered remnant indicated that the fin of the missile was created for an MK-82 bomb manufactured by Raytheon.
In August 2017, a laser-guided bomb launched by a coalition jet struck a cluster of houses in Sana’a. Of the two parents and six children who lived there, only one survived, a five-year-old girl named Buthaina.
A local photojournalist found a scrap of metal in the debris and sent the images to Amnesty International researchers. The fragment included a clear, if cryptic, set of markings stenciled onto the gray sheet metal: MAU-169L/B EC42; ASSY2252788–1; and NSN 1325–01–524–9697. The researchers traced the fragment to Raytheon’s bomb-kit production division in Tucson.
Since Saudi Arabia launched its war on Yemen in March 2015, at least 212 civilians have been killed in attacks involving Raytheon’s missiles, according to confirmed news reports.
As of March Amnesty International had documented 36 coalition airstrikes “that appear to have violated international humanitarian law, many of which may amount to war crimes. These have resulted in 513 civilian deaths (including at least 157 children) and 379 civilian injuries.”
At the same time, the war in Yemen has been very good to Raytheon shareholders. When the war started in March 2015 the company’s stock was selling at $108.44 per share. By June 2018 share price had risen to $210.70, a 94 percent increase in three years.
Washington’s alliance the Saudi monarchy is fuel for the company’s growth engine.
In 2015, five months after the Saudis first intervened in what had been a civil war, the Obama administration approved the sale of 4,020 GBU-12 Paveway II guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, according to the Pentagon.
During President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in June 2017, he reportedly offered to sell “over 104,000 air-to-ground munitions,” which includes GBU-12 bombs, along with four other U.S.-made guided bombs. In November Reuters reported that Saudi Arabia had agreed to buy $7 billion worth of precision-guided munitions from Raytheon and Boeing in coming years.
In short, business is brisk for Raytheon’s bomb division. Sales rose from just over $7 billion in 2016 to around $7.8 billion in 2017, driven in part by sales of Paveway laser-guided bombs.
Now Raytheon is a hot stock. Four days after the April 22 attack on the wedding party, the company reported quarterly earnings had risen to $633 million for $2.20 per share. Financial tip sheet The Street says Raytheon is a better investment than its chief competitor, Lockheed Martin.
“Raytheon is much more leveraged to the international market and so our view is that with a heightened threat environment internationally, that will support higher international defense spending,” one defense sector analyst told an investors conference.
As William Hartung, arms trade analyst for the Center for International Policy in Washington, put it, “The windfall for Raytheon is the big arms deals that both Obama and Trump have used to cement the U.S.-Saudi relationship. The sale of weapons for the war is a bonus on top of that.”
Isn’t There a Law?
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen and pattern of indiscriminate attacks have prompted human rights activists and legal scholars to ask if the allies and suppliers of the Saudi coalition are complicit in war crimes.
In Italy a coalition of human rights organizations filed a criminal complaint in April against the managers of RWM, an Italian arms manufacturer, and senior officials of Italy’s National Authority for the Export of Armament. The plaintiffs argue the company managers and the Italian authorities sent weapons used in a lethal attack that killed six civilians in October 2016 with full knowledge that they might be used to violate international human rights and humanitarian law.
In an article for the Just Security blog, Yale Law School Professor Oona Hathaway and four of her students note that the Alien Torts Statute (ATS) allows non-U.S. citizens to sue in federal district court for violations of international law.
“Although sovereign immunity protects officials and States involved in the Saudi-led coalition from suit under the ATS,” Hathaway writes, “U.S. corporations that manufacture and supply weapons to the coalition could potentially be liable for aiding and abetting violations committed using those weapons.”
But in an email interview Hathaway expressed doubts that Raytheon is legally liable for the attacks on civilians because its missiles—unlike land mines, for example—are not inherently indiscriminate:
“Liability for aiding and abetting violations of international law under the ATS requires that the defendant (here, Raytheon) knows the sale of munitions would assist violations of international humanitarian law,” said Alexandra Francis one of Hathaway’s co-authors, in an email. “As Prof. Hathaway notes, this is difficult to prove legally since the weapons could possibly be used for legitimate purposes.”
But maintaining good corporate citizenship is a larger enterprise than mounting a narrow legal defense.
“Can the company, hand on heart, really claim that they have taken all feasible measures to prevent and mitigate the risk of their products being used in further catastrophic air strikes?” writes Amnesty researcher Wilcken. “How can Raytheon be sure that one of its guided bombs is not this very moment heading towards another household in a densely populated residential neighborhood, somewhere in Yemen?”
I reached out to two members of Raytheon’s board of directors for comment: Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser to President George W. Bush, and Letitia Long, former director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. I assume that Hadley is well-informed about U.S. military policy in Yemen, and Long is knowledgeable about targeting issues. Neither responded to emailed questions about civilian deaths in Yemen.
Raytheon’s corporate communications department did not respond to written questions.
This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
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