Episode 30: ‘Open Arms’
Producer/Director Alyse Shorland
U.S. defense contractors used the promise of new jobs to persuade the government to approve billions of dollars’ worth of arms sales to foreign allies with little regard for how the American-made bombs, jets and other weapons are used.
The Trump administration has repeatedly cleared the way for lucrative contracts with Saudi Arabia, building on a 2015 decision by the Obama administration to support the Saudi-led war in Yemen — a conflict that’s killed thousands of civilians and led to a dire humanitarian crisis with no end in sight. “We found ourselves locked into this terrible situation, unable to wrap it up, and handing it off to an administration that was going to handle it even worse than we did,” Stephen Pomper, a former special assistant to President Barack Obama, told “The Weekly.”
New York Times investigative reporters Walt Bogdanich and Michael LaForgia wanted to know why the war in Yemen continued despite reports of massive civilian casualties. Their reporting led them to look at the role of American defense contractors, including Raytheon, which makes precision-guided bombs that the Saudis have been using in Yemen. Raytheon, which has close ties to the Trump administration, depends on Saudi Arabia for 5 percent of its annual revenue, and needs U.S. government approval to sell its weapons overseas.
“Everybody in Yemen knows that the bombs causing this suffering are made in the United States,” said Representative Tom Malinowski, Democrat of New Jersey, who served as a senior State Department official during the Obama administration.
Walt Bogdanich is an investigative reporter. He previously produced stories for “60 Minutes,” ABC News and The Wall Street Journal. In 2008, Mr. Bogdanich won the Pulitzer Prize for “A Toxic Pipeline,” a series that tracked dangerous pharmaceutical ingredients flowing from China into the global market. He also won a Pulitzer in 2005 for “Death on the Tracks,” a series that examined the safety record of the United States railroad industry. He won his first Pulitzer in 1988 for a series in The Wall Street Journal on substandard medical laboratories. Follow Walt on Twitter at @waltbogdanich.
Michael LaForgia is an investigative reporter. He joined The Times in 2017 after working as an investigative reporter and editor for The Tampa Bay Times. He won the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting twice, in 2014 for exposing problems in a Florida homeless program and in 2016 for a series on one Florida county’s neglect of schools in black neighborhoods. Follow Michael on Twitter at @laforgia.
More than 12,000 civilians have been killed and millions are on the brink of starvation since the war in Yemen began five years ago. It started when a rebel group, the Houthis, took control over much of the country. Saudi Arabia, the Sunni superpower in the region, saw the Shiite Houthis as a proxy force of its regional rival, Iran.
The Saudis began bombing Yemen in March 2015, with help from other Persian Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait, as well as African countries, like Sudan and Egypt. But its most important support came from the United States.
The Obama administration blocked the sale of Raytheon weapons to Saudi Arabia in 2016 out of concerns for the “high rate of civilian casualties.” President Trump reversed the suspension six months later. On his first foreign trip as president — to Saudi Arabia — he announced that he would resume the sale of weapons.
The Trump administration issued an emergency authorization last year that fast-tracked the sale of more American arms to Saudi Arabia and allowed Raytheon to team with the Saudis to build high-tech bomb parts in the country.
Producer Lora Moftah
Senior Story Editors Dan Barry, Liz O. Baylen, and Liz Day
Directors of Photography Andreas Burgess
Video Editors Marlon Singleton and Pierre Takal
Post Producer Lizzie Blenk
Associate Producers Brennan Cusack and Wesley Harris