US State Department did not evaluate civilian risk in Saudi Arabia arms transfers: report
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US State Department did not evaluate civilian risk in Saudi Arabia arms transfers: report

The US State Department did not evaluate risks of civilian casualties and implement measures to reduce them when it approved $8.1 billion arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in May 2019, according to an Office of Inspector General (OIG) report released Tuesday.

The unredacted version obtained by Politico raises doubts over Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s assertions that an emergency situation existed to bypass congressional review even as it objected to the sales over human rights abuses including the state-sanctioned killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi-led war in Yemen that has led to a massive civilian death toll. The timeline of events related to the emergency certification as well as the fact that only four out of the 22 arms transfer cases were taken delivery of at the time of the review of the certification indicates that no such emergency existed.

This report came after lawmakers asked the OIG to investigate the transfer of military equipment to the Middle Eastern countries through the use of emergency authority conferred by the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). The inspector general’s office found that the exercise of emergency authorities was in compliance with AECA requirements.

Steve Linick, the inspector general under whom the investigation had begun, was dismissed recently, making him the fourth official in the post to be terminated since April. The report was released by Diana Shaw, who is now the acting Inspector General.

Congress had sought to block the transfers by passing three joint resolutions. It was feared that the military equipment could be used to target civilians, but President Donald Trump had vetoed those efforts. The Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT) Policy prohibits the US from approving arms transfers having the knowledge that they would be used to target civilians. 

In a statement, Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, showed concern over State Department’s press briefing and redactions before the report was released. He said, “The lengths to which the State Department has gone in the last day to spin and obscure the facts show how desperate they are to hide the truth.”