Cluster bombs are some of the cruelest available weapons of war, banned in 119 countries and counting. This June, in a close vote of 204-216, the House of Representatives voted against an amendment to stop the sale of US made cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, which uses them to commit grievous human rights violations in Yemen. Now, as the bill moves on to the Senate, one of its major opponents is Democratic Senator Jack Reed, the senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees. While 164 Democrats in the House voted to stop the sale of cluster bombs, Senator Reed opposes the proposal and his colleagues for one simple reason: the cluster bombs are produced in his state.
Textron Systems is the last remaining American producer and the US military’s sole supplier of cluster bombs and Jack Reed is the senior Senator from Rhode Island, where Textron’s cluster bombs are produced. Coincidentally, he also happens to be the recipient of $11,000 in campaign donations from Textron. In 2011, he refused to cosponsor a proposal to require the US and its allies to minimize civilian casualties of cluster bombs, and now, despite the concerns of international bodies like Oxfam and Human Rights Watch, he is once again siding with cluster bombs instead of human rights.
Cluster bomb munitions hold dozens of bomblets that, once air-dropped, spread over large swaths of land. Bomblets often end up in high population area and can fail to detonate immediately, leaving unexploded ordnances scattered for innocent people to find. The leftover bomblets can detonate at any point afterward, posing a threat to civilians for decades to come. While there are no exact numbers for cluster bomb casualties in Yemen, it is well documented that cluster bombs have already maimed and killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Vietnam, Iraq, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, and beyond. The evidence of human rights abuses is so clear that 119 countries around the world have signed a treaty prohibiting the development, sale, and use of cluster bombs, but the US and Saudi Arabia have continuously refused.
Saudi Arabia has been known to use US made cluster bombs in its war against Yemen, an action that has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations, the European Union, and Amnesty International. Saudi-led airstrikes have already led to over 8,000 civilian casualties. The continued use of cluster bombs makes more casualties inevitable, especially children, who are often attracted to the small, shiny remnants of undetonated bomblets.
In 2015, Rhode Island-based Textron raked in over $13.4 billion in profits, of which $1.5 billion came from weapons sales. It sold more than 8,200 cluster bombs, each of which contained dozens of bomblets. It then poured $4.5 million into lobbying efforts, including $350,000 to Republican congresspeople, $11,000 to Senator Jack Reed, and over $30,000 to House Democrats who voted against this year’s proposed ban on cluster bomb sales. The devastating reality is that Textron and Senator Reed stand to benefit from increased use of cluster bombs while thousands of innocent Yemeni men, women, and children will pay the price.
There is no excuse to prioritize profit over human rights. Senator Jack Reed and the rest of Congress have made themselves fully complicit in Saudi Arabia’s war crimes and the destabilization of Yemen. The continued sale of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia violates the Arms Export Control Act and Presidential Policy Directive 27, both of which dictate that US made weapons should not be used to further human rights violations.
If you believe in ending war and ensuring human rights for all, then tell Senator Jack Reed that continuing to sell cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia is both illegal and immoral. Reed should renounce his support of cluster bombs and refuse Textron’s donations to his campaign, money that could be put to better use helping survivors of cluster bomb explosions, because life is worth more than $11,000.
Aniqa Raihan is a senior at the George Washington University and an intern with CODEPINK: Women for Peace. She gets fired up about feminism and politics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @niqray.